As the Women’s Safety Challenge comes to a close, I’m inspired by the collaborations and dialogue generated and the possibilities for these ideas to make dramatic improvements in women’s safety and empowerment worldwide. Since this Amplify Women’s Safety Challenge was the first of its kind, the process was all about learning for everyone involved – from new to experienced users and from volunteer community challenge members to core members of the Amplify team. As a new user myself, I was learning along with the rest of the community about how international development and human-centered design interact, complement, and amplify the other’s outcomes. And because of my prior experience within what some might call a “traditional” development paradigm at USAID, experiencing how this innovative online Challenge process worked presented a unique opportunity for growth and learning for me personally.
Time and again throughout the Women’s Safety Challenge, a lot of my own assumptions about international development were challenged, and my understanding of the power of human-centered design has increased and evolved in unexpected ways. Here are some things that got me most excited for this Challenge as a new model for solving some of the most complex development issues.
Understanding the power of diverse viewpoints: I once believed that solutions to development challenges had the most potential for sustainability when they came directly and strictly from the people who were living these challenges. But by seeing how ideas are made better by being encouraged, refined, challenged and seen through new lenses, I now understand the deep value of collaborative idea generation. While solutions are indeed most sustainable and context-appropriate when they come from local communities, the level of innovation and scalability of the idea can be greatly enhanced when refined and supported by other viewpoints.
For example, I was a fan of Mashuda’s Bicycles for Girls in Bangladesh idea since I first saw it posted in its original form. But watching the idea evolve with Suzanne Kirkpatrick’s retroflective clothing design for women suggestion added a new and important element. And when program evaluation specialist Marcela Gutierrez added her comment about how the idea might be grounded in data collection, the benefits of collaborative idea generation became even clearer.
The online collaboration aspect is new for many of us who were students of the ‘old school’ of international development. In traditional grantmaking, organizations are made to feel as though they are in competition with other orgs who have applied for funding. There’s an air of secrecy, idea possessiveness, and one-upmanship that is the opposite of the dynamic that is encouraged through the OpenIDEO platform. The collaborative goodness that has occurred in pursuit of women’s safety is a beautiful thing and a much-needed innovation to the international development field.
Ability to course-correct: The fact that the online platform allows for users to edit their submissions as new feedback and questions arise means that ideators can course-correct and adapt their ideas as new and latent challenges and solutions are uncovered. This is a huge improvement from the traditional grantmaking model where grantees are tied to strict, specific activities and outcomes, regardless of what happens on the ground over the course of the grant. Ability to learn from the beneficiaries of the project is a critical development that is enabled through the online Challenge format. And ideators took full advantage by revising their posts constantly to reflect new information!
Universal appeal of the Challenge format: How inspiring was it to watch the Women’s Safety Challenge community grow exponentially from the existing OpenIDEO users to include hundreds of local people and organizations?! Despite the challenges to Internet access in many developing countries, the reach of this Challenge was incredibly broad and deep. Users from Bangladesh to Benin to Baltimore, Maryland engaged in conversation and let the ideas flow.
Together we have built a more diverse community with viewpoints and perspectives from all over the literal and figurative map. Together we are pushing the boundaries of locally-led, human-centered development solutions. Let’s continue the conversation and invite others to amplify our voices and tackle the world’s most pressing development challenges together.