Designing on mars: Participatory techniques for designing and training in unfamiliar environments


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How to introduce young adults living in a city in the north-west of Burkina Faso to the potential uses of Internet services? How these would impact / change different aspects of their daily lives?

This talk - presented at the Service Design Network Conference 2010 ( - describes a project done by Giovanni Innella and Franco Papeschi. It also introduces a bespoke set of techniques (Transformational Probes) used during the training and workshops.

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  • Welcome to ‘Designing on Mars’. We are going to share with you something we have learnt during a project done last year. We will also reflect on how participatory techniques can be used for service creation, training and research in very unfamiliar environments.
  • I’m Giovanni, PhD candidate atNorthumbria University in Newcastle, UK. I’ve worked as a researcher at the Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute during the last year.This is a project I’ve followed while there. briefly it was about introducing the Internet to a small community in the north of Burkina Faso.I’m Franco, and I usually work in the user experience team of a large telco, but you can find me in many other places and occasions, talking and thinking about service design, co-design and innovation. One Giovanni calls me: I’m about to go to Burkina Faso, to introduce Internet there, fancy joining? and I decided that’s a good way to spend a long holiday for this. To be honest, I didn’t even know where Burkina Faso was, so I had to search it a bit.
  • There it is. And what happens there?
  • Well, it’s a very poor country, with GDP - per capita (PPP): $1,200 (2009 est.) (country comparison to the world: 204 out of 227).
  • The population below the poverty line is 46.4%.
  • Its unemploymentrate is 77% (country comparison to the world: 197)
  • Interesting for our case is to understand how technology is evolving there. And this is another big challenge: 140.000 of Internet users (less than 1% of the population), and approximately 2.5 million users of mobile phones (16.7%). Definitely this is a very different place than where I'm used to live. It's like a different planet
  • The best way to design in Burkina Faso is to think of it as a different planet, where anything you think you know, might work differently. With all the red sand around there, for us that’s Mars.
  • That Burkina Faso is another planet, you realize it on the everyday things, for example one dayFranco and myself felt some food nostalgia. Shamefully we communicated our desire for pizza to Sylvie, one of our local friends.
  • Now, we know very well that the closest pizzeria is in the Capital, 200km away. Sylvie doesn’t seem to see any problem in that:
  • She calls her cousin in the capital - Any Burkinabé has one sister, brother or cousin in the capital -. She tells her to be at the bus station when the bus from Ouahigouya is supposed to arrive.
  • She goes to the local bus station in Ouahigouya and hands in the money for the pizza to the driver. This is a standard service, offered by the bus company for low fees.2 hours later the cousin receives the money,
  • Another 2 hours passed, and we can eat our cold, but delicious pizza.This just to explain that things work in a different way than what we are used to, but finally they do work.[in the photo: Giovanni and Sylvie eating the cold + delicious pizza]
  • So, why did we choose INTERNET?
  • As it happens in the world of NGO’s, actually, most of the programmes can be positioned under two categories: solve very short-term needs (illnesses, food,…) or aspirational, long-term improvements. The classic example is opening a school, which will generate concrete benefits in, let’s say, more than 5 years
  • What was missing is the mid-term component: something that helps a community in 3-5 years. I think we share a common view that Internet may help to close a knowledge gap between societies. And it’s not just knowledge, it’s economical benefit
  • We may tend to forget that Internet is not just searching things on Google or poking people on Facebook. Internet is a read/write technology, where active contribution is at its centre.And using Internet in an active way may bring to the creation of new services. We know it by hearth in our daily jobs, that’s what motivates agencies, freelancers, and corporations to embrace Internet-based innovation projects. So this may happen in Burkina Faso too, no?
  • One of the challenges is how Internet and the local culture would influence eachother, and potentially generate new outcomes. Technology and culture always mediate each other.I’ll give you an example to understand this basic principle.
  • 1930, big conflicts, the world seem to be collapsing. "Carrying structure and internal combustion engine" is the technology enabling the production of faster, more efficient war airplanes,
  • Only 20 years later the same exact technology gives birth to Vespa! Roman Holiday, Romantic trips, independence... all the needs, dreams and moods of the context shape that technology into this object we all know
  • So, when we started this training project, the basic assumptions of the project were:-       Internet has the potential to impact positively on people’s lives;-       Merely deploying an Internet connection would have reduced the adoption of such technology, and limited the potential impact on the community;-       Internet is not something you can easily teach. But it’s something that one can fairly easily learn, if you have a bit of knowledge on how to use a computer. You can teach the technological components, but it’s mainly by using it that it has a long-term effect.  -       Tapping into an existing community of interested people is the best way to help them become teachers and advocates of the technology. Like a chain reaction.-       We had not enough knowledge of the cultural context to be able to say that a certain set of services would have been successful or not. We had to find a way to share what we knew without adopting a top-down technological determinism.
  • The NGO buys it. They are convinced by our proposal and decide to enrich the existing infrastructure, with a fast satellite connection, so that a minimum of 5 computers could connect simultaneously. The project became part of a long-term programme – carried by the NGO. In the past years, they had created a youth centre equipped with some computers, and organized training course on basic informatics’ literacy (use computer, publishing and word processing software,…).
  • The project is now well outlined:We are in Ouahigouya,With 20 locals between 18 and 40 with basic familiarity with computer.Our task is to introduce them to the new medium and explore the impact on people’s daily life.We have two months time.
  • One of the key factors to have this project working was having a core of participants very interested in technology and ready to take over it.Think about some of the people who participated in the course Ollé: when we asked him what was his passion, he replied:  Discover technologies.Or Abel, who hacks and tinkers with objects all the time! Or Agui, who started creating documentaries on child education the first minute she got a digital camera.
  • So, once we had spent some time getting to know the participants, what motivated them, what they were doing in their daily life and what they wanted to achieve, we started with a fairly typical approach: introduce some online site by telling them what are its basic functionalities and mechanics. We introduced tools like google, emails, youtube, flickr, blogs and wikipedia. From all we had understood, this was the learning approach they were more familiar with, after all.[in the photo: the class blackboard, after one of the first days – introducing tools to share pictures. This ‘need’ came from a series of conversations with participants who wanted to create pictures for their mobiles idle screens, and share them with others]
  • The dynamics of a website cannot be thought: we gave them the possibility to be more hands-on with the sites, and practice: register an account, search, save things, eventually upload or contribute with something.[in the photo: Ouagale’, Abel and other people in front of a laptop]
  • And we asked them to keep playing with these services for some days. Considering they don’t have any Internet connection at home, this means people where day and night in the training centre, doing stuff and practicing in any possible moment. Our initial schedule of 4 hours per day - every other day - soon became a 9-hour course 5 days a week.[in the photo: Maurice is talking about his Batik workshop while Maurice is filming with a camcorder]
  • But that’s not enough, we realised: as a very active technology, people were starting to have ideas on how to use Internet for some of the issues or aspirations they have. Great - we thought - let’s push full throttle on this, and organise some brainstorm and eventually some co-design workshop! In the picture for example you can see one of the Product boxes created. If you don’t know the Product boxes technique, it’s a way to allow people design potential services, by starting with the design of the packaging that you may find in a supermarket. it helps clarifying and prioritising what the service is, and what is not.[in the photo: Product box for a food-related service, done by a group of participants]
  • The key question in all our classes was “What would you do with it”
  • What would you do with Google Maps, for example?One of the participants, Abel, had a quite vivid interest in Google Maps. His intention was to create a touristic map of the area. He started taking pictures of interesting places around and place them on his Google Map.
  • At first it seemed a very conventional map, but then he added an unexpected element: He included some telephone numbers to the map. He explained that many locations or elements in the surrounding hide stories which are part of the local culture.
  • In his vision the map should have been handed-in to visitors
  • So that they could, not only reach those spots, but also contact this sort of local guides for having a tour, remotely through the mobile phone.
  • What did we learn from this?- First, Abel’s idea revealed us a layer of information, location based, we were not aware of- Second, opened the possibility to create new set of services, based on the involvement of local people through a digital layer.- Third, it disclosed a very important cultural element: some people have the role of keeping information through oral story telling rather than permanent recording
  • We applied the same teaching and learning method  to several tools freely available on the internet. Introducing Skype.
  • Our participant Ollé proposed a simple idea, he says: “When a Western visitor comes here, most likely he will buy a drum to bring home. I know that after some weeks, when back home, he won’t enjoy his drum much, because he lacks of technique. I would like to combine my drums with my skype contact.
  • So that after I sell it....
  • FRANCOI can provide him with extra lessons on remote, and establish a relationship.”
  • We were impressed by how Ollé combined a service, the lessons, with a product, the drum. He created a strategy aiming to get some revenue out of these ‘drum lessons’ in the long term, as well as gaining in contacts and personal network.[in the photo: Olle’ experiments how to give djembe’ skype lessons with a pilot tester in Italy]
  • As Lucy Kimbell was mentioning in the conference plenary in the morning on the second day, Service design sits at the crossroad between business, anthropology and design. We started with the idea of a typical training course, but at the end we organised Service Design project.
  • Managing our classes in this way, we noticed a series of benefits:- For participants it was a more practical way of learning, and a chance to generate concepts of services and micro-businesses that would make sense into their lives.- For us their ideas, were effective ways to gather insights about the local culture and social context.- The information gathered was usually pertinent to the specific technology introduced and its application.
  • More in detail, our classes/workshops assumed a consistent structure using a series of methods taken from participatory design and constructivist learning. We think the combination of these  techniques is something slightly different from the other techniques; we have called it transformational probes.
  • So if you are a participant, your life will go as we have seen before: get to know the tool, play with it and then start thinking on how to use this to generate new services. But we are not just participants, we are facilitators more often than not. in this case, - Transformational probes consist in introducing a technology into a context,- work as a facilitator for the locals to generate ideas and then- interpret those concepts in order to extract some information about the cultural context.Transformational probes become useful not only to produce concepts for new products: they help gather a lot of information about the cultural context of the participants, their needs, dreams and expectations.
  • Are transformational probes a sub category of cultural probes? Maybe, probably yes. As they also aim to let users depict themselves. But in our case everything spins around an element of disruption, a new technology: something that brings a major change and triggers participants to draw scenarios. Whereas cultural probes seems to focus more on normality, on the daily life, on the present, we were here working directly on future projections. That’s the difference.
  • So, as a designer, what does it mean for my (and your) projects?
  • and this is it. We’d love to get some questions from you or some comments. In case you want to talk to us, lunch is a good time to have a chat!
  • Designing on mars: Participatory techniques for designing and training in unfamiliar environments

    1. 1. DESIGNING ON MARS<br />Participatory techniques for designing and trainingin unfamiliar environments<br />Service Design Conference, Berlin | October 14th2010<br />
    2. 2. GIOVANNI INNELLA<br /> | @giovanninnella<br />FRANCO PAPESCHI<br /> | @bobbywatson<br />
    3. 3. 3<br />HERE<br />
    4. 4. GDP<br />204th<br />/227<br />$1,200 per capita<br />Sources: <br /><br />
    5. 5. Population below poverty line<br />46,4%<br />Sources: <br /><br />
    6. 6. Unemployement rate<br />197th<br />/227<br />77%<br />Sources: <br /><br />
    7. 7. Technology adoption: Internet<br /><1%<br />140 000 Internet users<br />Sources: <br /><br />
    8. 8. Technology adoption: mobile<br />16.7%<br />2 500 000 mobile users<br />Sources: <br /><br />
    9. 9. 9<br />
    10. 10.
    11. 11.
    12. 12.
    13. 13.
    14. 14.
    15. 15.
    16. 16. WHY INTERNET, THEN?<br />
    17. 17. Immediate <br />Long term<br />
    18. 18. Immediate <br />Long term<br />MEDIUM TERM<br />
    19. 19. READ<br />WEB<br />WRITE<br />
    22. 22. SAME TECHNOLOGY,<br />NEW CONTEXT<br />
    23. 23. Internet can impact positively on people’s lives<br />Deploying a technology is not enough to foster adoption and creative usage <br />Internet can be learned by using it, after you understand some basic mechanisms<br />An existing community of interested people can then teach others and start a chain reaction<br />We had not enough knowledge of the local context to say which services would have been successful<br />
    24. 24. GET STARTED<br />
    25. 25. WHERE:<br />Ouahigouya (Burkina Faso)<br />WHO:<br />20 locals between 18-40 with basic familiarity with computer<br />WHAT:<br />Teach Internet and explore the impact on people’s daily lives<br />FOR HOW LONG:<br />About 2 months<br />
    26. 26. Olle’<br />Abel<br />Agui<br />
    27. 27. FROM THEORY<br />
    28. 28. TO HANDS-ON<br />
    29. 29. …AND PLAY WITH IT FOR A WHILE<br />
    30. 30. SERVICE CREATION<br />
    33. 33.
    34. 34. Providevisitorsof a map<br />
    35. 35. Tour guidesthrough mobile<br />Providevisitorsof a map<br />
    36. 36. What did we learn from this? <br />Reveal hidden layer of location-based information, waiting to be surfaced<br />Create new set of services, based on the involvement of local people through a digital layer<br />Disclose cultural elements: some people have the role of keeping information, through oral storytelling<br />
    37. 37. WHAT WOULD YOU DO WITH SKYPE?<br />
    38. 38. Combine Skypecontactwithdrum<br />
    39. 39. Combine Skypecontactwithdrum<br />Sell product + contact<br />
    40. 40. Combine Skypecontactwithdrum<br />Sell product + contact<br />Skypelessons<br />
    41. 41.
    42. 42. From training to Service Design<br />
    43. 43. Whyisthisgood:<br />For participants it was a more practical way of learning, and a chance to generate concepts of services and micro-businesses that would make sense into their lives.<br />For us their ideas, were effective ways to gather insights about the local culture/context.<br />The information gathered was usually pertinent to the specific technology introduced and its application there.<br />
    45. 45. Transformationalprobes<br />FACILITATOR<br />PARTICIPANT<br />GET TO KNOW THE TOOL<br />PRESENT THE TOOL<br />1<br />ABSORB<br />FACILITATE CONCEPT GENERATION<br />2<br />GENERATE POTENTIAL USES<br />INTERPRET<br />3<br />
    46. 46. CULTURAL <br />PROBES<br />Describe the present<br />Depict yourself through normality<br />Continuation<br />TRANSFORMATIONAL PROBES<br />Draw future scenarios<br />Depict yourself through change<br />Disruption<br />
    47. 47. SO, WHAT?!?<br />
    48. 48. DON’T TEACH, MAKE!<br />People are more interested when they practice and have some autonomy<br />
    49. 49. LET THEM DESIGN<br />Concepts reveal people’s culture, needs and dreams much more than a focus group<br />
    50. 50. GROW GRADUALLY FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE, AND ADAPT THE PROCESS<br />People are not accustomed to what they are not accustomed<br />
    51. 51. MISUSING IS DESIGNING<br />Facilitate tinkering beyond what is proposed <br />
    52. 52. ANYBODY LEARNING SOMETHING <br />IS A POTENTIAL TEACHER<br />Create a core of people that can evolveinto a community over time<br />
    53. 53. THANKS<br />GIOVANNI INNELLA<br /> | @giovanninnella<br />FRANCO PAPESCHI<br /> | @bobbywatson<br />