Jointly Exploring Innovative Solutions for Community-Led Development and Human-Centered Design

Human-Centered Design: Placing Human in Humanitarian Aid

agenda October 8, 2020

We believe that power needs to shift from top-down development towards communities in charge of their own sustainable impact. On the 24th of September, we’ve held our sixth session in this series, titled “Human Centered Design: Placing Human in Humanitarian Aid”. This session was organised in collaboration with Butterfly WorksThe Hunger Project, and The Movement for Community-Led Development.

In the last HCD/CLD session we dove into a co-design method used by Orla Canavan from 510, the Data and Digital initiative of the Netherlands Red Cross. 510’s purpose is to improve the speed, quality and cost-effectiveness of humanitarian aid by using and creating data and digital products. Using the human-centred approach ensures that the tools and systems created are answering the daily needs of those giving and/ or receiving humanitarian aid, which is why 510 is actively incorporating this method into its activities.

Co-Desiging Solutions

The participants of the session applied an example of a three-part co-designing method used to identify challenges in one’s own working environment. This process was pro-actively facilitated, and provided in-depth reflective processes on the work of some of our participants.

First, participants were invited to reflect on the current digital tools they use to perform their current work, how they use them, and when they use them. Then, they were asked to describe how they worked, what their tasks are, and which challenges they face. Finally, they were asked to imagine a digital application that would make their work easier by resolving one or multiple of these challenges.

It is important to note that the goal of this exercise was not to see technology as a solution, or to actually build a digital application, but rather to hear the ‘why’ behind what is being created. Understanding why someone wants a certain button can explain a pain point they currently face. The solution may not be an app, but trying to imagine one can be the starting point of a solution-oriented thinking process.

Analysis Through An App

The creation of an app was used as a framework to define the challenges and possible solutions. By thinking about the functionalities, the buttons, the interactions of this fictional app, and going deeper into the reasons behind them, some opportunities and gaps can be uncovered within the context of the co-designer. This activity can be done individually or as a group. It can be used to identify and co-create proposals, programs, policies, or in fact digital tools (if that format is what fits the user needs and context best), and provides a creative alternative approach to constructing contextual analyses and theories of change.

Another interesting aspect of the method is to identify whether the “app functions” translate into an actual need of the participant. Often, when validating the requirements, the end-user realises that there may be something they did not originally request as a need. At the heart of this method is the direct involvement of the people being impacted by that topic, who should both be the ones creating that “functionality” and the ones validating it.


If you want to revise and engage with this creative and thought-provoking, you can watch a recording of Orla’s presentation here.

You can get to know more about the work that Orla develops here.

And connect with her and other participants of the community to continue this conversation and start others via our slack channel.


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