Human-Centered Design for Community Change

Poverty is a wicked and complex problem. There is no single cause and certainly no single solution. Human-centered design is a helpful problem-solving approach that helps community change leaders and initiatives better understand the problem and work collaboratively with the people they are trying to help. According to a recent webinar through the Tamarack Institute, "human-centered design was popularized by innovation firms such as IDEO and institutions such as Stanford’s, are rapidly being adopted as approaches to innovation across the private, public, and voluntary sector. Seeking to deeply understand the perspective of those impacted by a service, program, or system, and adopting an iterative, prototype-driven approach to problem-solving will result in changes that will benefit all." 

Most likely you have heard the African proverb, "If you want to go fast go alone if you want to go far go together." The change required for transforming a community can come from above in the form of mandated change, or it can be convened in the form of movement-based change. Change that is mandated certainly works, however, it is often temporary and ladened with inequality.  But taking the time to build collaborations and working together can empower the community and lead to sustained change over time. 

Empathy, the first step of human-centered design is the ability to step into another person's shoes. It actually means the ability to enter into another person's experience and connect with it in such a way that you actually experience to some degree what the other person is experiencing. When working to create community change start by seeking to understand the needs and aspirations of the community you are serving. Human-centered design is premised on empathy, on the idea that the people you’re designing for are co-creators to innovative solutions. 

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