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Field Immersions for In-Depth Investigation

A need for Field Immersions for Human-Centered Design & Story Telling to better understanding global issues

Photo of Aaron Wong

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Human-Centered Story Telling 

Opening the dialogue, and changing the narrative to open up the way we think about collaboration

       Main stream media plays a pivotal role on what and how we think. When all we see on the news are U.S. shootings, we may think that the U.S. is plagued with danger. Today, we are almost unlimited in the amount of media we are exposed to, and anyone can be a "storyteller". We tell stories on youtube, on podcasts, and on the news. The problem is we tend to tell stories of us - ourselves and people like us. 
        There is little diversity in mainstream media and when there is, we often misconstrue the stories of others - these are stories of people foreign to us, unfamiliar, and seemingly distant. When we misconstrue stories, we do ourselves and others a disservice. The way we can combat prejudice and incorrect preconceptions is through human-centered story telling. 
        Human-centered story telling gives us the opportunity to step into the lives of others as equals and active participants from all sides. It is then that we can collaborate openly. By immersing ourselves in new places and leveling ourselves with active participants, we can open up path towards more progressive open innovation.

Global Network of Local Networks

Global ideas for local innovation

        Media crosses borders and boundaries and has brought to our attention new topics and opened up conversations we may not have had. OpenIDEO has been a beautiful platform for sharing and bringing to our attention issues we may not have known or have ever thought about.  
        OpenIDEO encouraged me to further explore sustainable change in a global scale. This led me to a media project hosted by  Designing for Social Innovation Leadership Global (DSIL) accredited by the United Nations-mandated University for Peace taking place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in conjunction with  Studio DíLITT and Sarus Exchange Program. This project brought together social innovators from around the globe in a multi-disciplinary, cross-cultural, and cross-generational cohort. 
        We came from different places, united in an effort to authentically share our stories, and the stories of local Cambodians. The result was an active participation from both sides in creating a story that would have otherwise been overlooked or inauthentic. Because of OpenIDEO and DSIL, my network and resources for social innovation has grown tremendously. 

Open Collaboration to save the world

Open Collaboration for Open Innovation

        Media today very rarely covers every-day stories that aren't as exciting, or success stories that don't seem as important, when those are the stories we actually need to be seeing. If necessity is the mother of invention, we must be overlooking possible inventions and innovation across the globe! 
        In her article,  Why the Next Generation of Designers Will Save the World, Courtney Lawrence, DSIL founding director, sites that 80% of the global population live on less than $10.00 a day; that 40% of the global population lack access to sanitation services, and that 60% of the global population do not have internet connectivity, with 90% of them living in developing countries. 
        Most of us reading this probably have no idea how that feels. Lawrence designed the  Designing for Social Innovation and Leadership (DSIL) program in anticipation for the future of open collaboration and innovation requiring both field immersion as well as continual virtual connectivity. The new generation of designers will undoubtedly save the world, but how we define open collaboration and how we relate to others will determine the success for future innovation.

Field Immersions

        A field immersion is not a work trip and definitely not a vacation. Field immersions are intensive, and can be strenuous or uncomfortable. However, field immersions allow researchers to understand our active participants better. Field immersions that last at least a week allow us to live as our participants live and struggle with the same problems that they deal with, for at least a week.

        In the duration of a week living as a local, we begin to understand the everydayness of living there. We begin to see how difficult it is to get cheap food or clean water; how difficult transportation may be or how lacking educational institutes are. The point of the field immersion is to gain insights from direct observation and bring that knowledge back to their organization. Researchers may gain insights that they would have missed and insights that even locals may have missed.



        My hope for OpenIDEO is to allow for open applications to field immersions with the OpenIDEO team. When people from diverse backgrounds come together, we get a diverse range of solutions as evident on If field immersions bring researchers better perspective, then we should open that opportunity up just like OpenIDEO opened up for greater collaboration. 

        OpenIDEO has an active and engaged audience, and we should call on that audience to do more than just participate online. I believe that a large amount of OpenIDEO's audience would like the opportunity to travel, experience, and actively participate the OpenIDEO projects first hand. I believe that the audience would want to gain further knowledge on the matter, gain some new hard and soft skills, and be more comfortable working with international teams both virtually and in immersive settings.


        Designing for Social Innovation (DSIL) is experienced in field immersive training programs, working with both educational institutes and non profits. DSIL in conjunction with Studio DíLITT and Sarus Exchange Program trains both local and international participants in locations across the globe so that the entire cohort gains experience working in multi-disciplinary, cross-cultural, and cross-generational groups towards the single goal of creating lasting change through human-centered design and storytelling. 

        As a member of OpenIDEO, and alumni advisor of DSIL, an immersive training program for social innovation, my wish is for us to work together to capture both of our audiences and guide participants towards better understanding and further collaboration towards sustainable change. By working to both organizations strengths, we could give OpenIDEO's audience greater access to creating greater open innovation.

If you'd like your name to appear in our report on open innovation, please include it below as you'd like it to appear.

Aaron Wong


Join the conversation:

Photo of Arjan Tupan

Great idea, Aaron. I've been living outside my home country for a few years now. And even though I stayed in Europe, simply living somewhere else taught me a lot about daily realities of others. Just as important, was that I was also confronted with my own 'normalities'. I learned very quickly that what I assume to be normal, or common knowledge, or a fact of life; almost never is. It's just normal, common or factual in my own context. I'm still learning, but I do believe this has helped me in breaking down some barriers that stand in the way of seeing and seizing opportunities for change. At the very least it strengthened my empathy, my ability to at least try to see the world through someone else's eyes.

Photo of Aaron Wong

Yes, Arjan! You totally get it. I would love to visit Europe and I'm especially curious to find out whether or not each European country is as I imagined. I think that each country is like a different chapter of the human race, and in order to read on, we must visit more countries and learn the different customs and context. What have you found most surprising?

Photo of Arjan Tupan

Hey Aaron, well, I can promise you, none of the countries are what you imagine them to be. Parts, maybe, but all have their unexpected surprises.
One of the biggest things I learned, and what did surprise me at first, is how little respect 'culture' has for borders. Sure, you can say general things about the Dutch, French, Spanish or Greek. And of course there will be truth in these generalisations. But all across the continent, there are probably as many differences as there are similarities. Specifically in border regions, you see that there is no hard line between different cultures, but there is more like a fluid and hardly noticeable flow of small characteristic changes.
Other than that, I always like to say that a truck driver in Latvia has more in common with a truck driver in Spain than with a lawyer in his own country. Same goes for many other professions, of course. I think identity is too often confused with a too generalistic idea of culture of a certain ethnicity or geography. I think identity is a very complex system in which geography, ethnicity, belief system, profession, personal interest and level of exposure to the unfamiliar all play decisive roles. Not just one or two of these. I belief that in Europe, despite what some politicians and media say, it's very easy to see this, if you look close enough. That's also what makes it so interesting.

Photo of Aaron Wong

You're right Arjan, I think that income/profession does tie people together. I also think that income and upbringing/background has a lot to do with it. There isn't nearly enough exploration into identity as there should be when we research, and it's hard to without physically being there with the people. We can suggest overarching themes but like you said, once we arrive there, we see that lines are blurred, misshaped, and complex.

Photo of Aaron Wong

Arjan Tupan , I've been thinking about this more..
How do you think we could get people of similar backgrounds together?
How might we get people with different backgrounds together?
How does what you say about identity, (geography, ethnicity, belief system, profession, personal interest ) affect how we come together? In terms of working together in teams, people from different backgrounds and with different identities have a harder time coming together and working together. In my experience, field immersions give the time necessary for individuals to come together and become a cohesive whole. But I'm still curious, how can we take advantage of our differences?

Photo of Arjan Tupan

Good points, Aaron. Food for thought. What I see, is that many people already come together. In different ways. But it could very well take field immersions to bring in the people that can make connections to other identities. It also takes people to open their mind. Not just to others, but also to other elements/facets of themselves.
Leveraging the various digital platforms we have available to us these days also helps. As an example, I'm part of a community on Slack for startup people in Germany. It brings together people with a shared interest, and in it, people share ideas and knowledge. It's a relatively open community, and also rather active. What I like from communities like this, is that there are always, what some people here on OpenIDEO have called 'cross-pollinators'. People who see someone with a challenge, and connect them to someone outside the circle. Connectors and community managers play important roles in taking advantage of our differences. And samenesses.

Photo of Aaron Wong

I've been advocating for Slack for a while now; I wish more teams were on Slack and would advertise their channel better. It's a great "instant messenger" professional and reliable enough, but informal/casual enough to get communication across effectively. 

As for the term cross-pollinator, I've come across it a few times on OpenIDEO, but I get it now, and I love the concept! The problem I've seen is that many design firms (architecture to be specific) are so guarded with their "talent" and ideas, they become siloed. Many firms don't every ask for outside help. I'm sure fields other than architecture have this problem. People are afraid of openly sharing their opinions freely because they won't get credit or something else in return, and I think that is poisonous. It seems like a cross-pollinator would  be the perfect solution for that, and it seems that we need to train and promote more cross-pollinators/connectors/community managers.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Aaron Wong

Wow, thanks!

Photo of Shane Zhao

Aaron, great to see you highlight the work you've done at DSIL! I believe a couple of our colleagues at have been guest speakers for DSIL. Does each class of fellows collaborate on the same projects together or does each person pursue his/her own impact project? It'd be great to learn more about how the collaboration process works. We do have a global Meetup program that engages local communities in offline workshops - perhaps there might be an opportunity to think about how in-field immersion can become a part of the conversation:T

Photo of Aaron Wong

Yes Shane! Yennie Lee and Jacqui Watts led a virtual(video) class on Measuring Social Impact in the Field as part of our curriculum. We had numerous speakers from different organizations around the world giving students insights towards social innovation gained from years of experience in their respective location. I think IDEO and DSIL have a lot in common actually.

There are different tracks specializing in different areas of social innovation, and in different locations around South East Asia. However, there is an emphasis on global, not only in respect to the cohort, but to the locations as well. In my experience, we have worked in teams of teams pursuing different paths towards the same goal, and in my opinion, what makes DSIL's field immersions so unique is how inclusive and intentional the creators of DSIL and its partners have designed the program to be.

If you'd like to learn more about the process and talk about how this cross-pollination might work, I would love to talk more and put you in touch with the expert team behind creating the program; one of them being @DeletedUser  here at OpenIDEO.