Tag Archive | international development

Using familiar to make sense of the unknow: from international development to design thinking

Can you kill with a pencil? Yes, and not just literally as pen(cil) truly is mightier than a sword. A mind shaking two-day crash course to design thinking by Katja Tschimmel and Sanna Marttila began with an exercise on creativity and a lesson on the importance of luck. One should strive to be creative – and can train for it – but the uniqueness of your idea often is a matter of pure chance. Suggesting a new use for pencil as an eyeliner calls for creative thinking. But from the group of some 60 eager students attending the same course, others had also come up with the same idea. Being creative is a must, but being lucky can make the difference between success and failure.

classroom laurea

Tim Brown suggests that thoroughly understanding what people want and need in their lives is the very core of design thinking[1]. To someone coming from a background of international development that sounds oddly familiar. We learned that people tend to use what’s familiar to them to boost creativity and make sense of the unknow. As a complete rookie to design thinking, that is exactly what I did.

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Can Design Thinking Provide the Breakthroughs We Need to Reduce Global Poverty and Domestic Violence?



Woman cooking next to the port and market in Cotonou, Benin [Image (c) Jeffrey Allen]

By Jeffrey Allen

25 Sep, LONDON – For the past seven years, I’ve designed and managed projects to improve lives in developing countries, focusing on education, health, good governance, human rights, agriculture, employment, the environment… everything that impacts people’s quality of life. It’s a wildly complex field, where managers have to understand business, sociology, communications, technology, innovation, politics, psychology, and more if they’re going to be successful.

I spent the first several years just getting my head around the basics, learning on the job, by trial and error, and by soaking up what I could from those around me. Before starting the job, I had observed international development work – mostly from the outside – for more than six years as a journalist remixing stories published by organizations working in the field. Looking on through my outsider’s lens, I was consistently impressed by the work development practitioners did every day to make lives better and open opportunities for billions of people in difficult circumstances across the globe. Continue reading