We want to support technological development program designers to meet the real needs and values of the people they serve. By building a responsible co-design toolkit to educate program designers on unlearning biases, listening, collaborating with and maintaining accountability to impacted communities, inclusion without power becomes inclusion with power. Only through participatory planning and decision-making can development programs achieve real sustainable impact.
One failed technological intervention was the One Laptop Per Child program, which was implemented in 42 countries over the past 14 years. In total, governments across the 42 countries spent 600,000,000 US dollars on laptops for children, that were eventually not used for education, the intended purpose. The program essentially failed because it was not compatible with local needs, culture, and traditions. This is one example, out of hundreds, that failed because the program designers did not have enough knowledge of and interaction with the impacted communities.
Program designers working on technological development projects in the Global South, who want to include impacted stakeholders in the planning and decision-making process, need the relevant tools and knowledge to responsibly co-design with local communities because technological development programs often result in failed interventions that are incompatible with local cultures, traditions, and needs. Failed interventions perpetuate Western colonialist modes of development, cause unintended harms, and are a waste of resources. Thus, failed interventions exacerbate the problem they are trying to solve. Even though program designers want to be inclusive, they lack the tools and knowledge to actually distribute and share the power. It is what we call: “inclusion without power.” And inclusion without power is oppression.
Our solution is to equip technological program designers with a responsible co-design toolkit to unlearn biases and strongly-held Western methodologies, and to learn how to authentically listen to, collaborate with, and maintain accountability to the communities they wish to serve. This open-source, interactive toolkit is a set of strategies and tools such as case studies, methodologies, books, courses, videos, serious games, etc. Co-created by practitioners and local communities around the world, it is specifically designed for program designers to effectively co-design and redistribute the power they have in order to achieve sustainable, relevant impact and save both money and time.
For example, a potential user would be Bob, a development program designer in a global agency. He has a new program to launch but does not know how to co-design effectively. He discovers our responsible, interactive co-design toolkit and uses all the tools relevant to his context, which makes the program eventually achieve a sustainable impact that meets the needs of the community and allows his agency to save time and money. Bob then incorporates his learnings back into the toolkit, so that users around the globe learn from his experience.
Although co-design tools already exist in the market, they are not specifically created for technological development program designers, a pressing gap that our service seeks to fill. That is why current co-design toolkits are not yet widely utilized in the development sector. Program designers do not see the need to use such resources while they continue to use strongly-held Western methodologies and perspectives. Our toolkit will be co-created with them and for them to ensure that they understand the immense benefits of participatory approaches.
Furthermore, our toolkit goes beyond co-design and deals with the redistribution of power between development program officers and the impacted communities to really achieve inclusion WITH power.
Our mission is, on one hand, to equip technological development program designers, and the 250,000 employees in the development sector globally, with the necessary tools and knowledge to understand the needs, traditions, and culture of the communities and achieve sustainable impact, while genuinely meeting the needs of the local communities. Therefore, development agencies save money and time, maintaining a positive public image and reputation. On the other hand, local communities then have the power to be involved in the planning and decision-making process of such programs and evolve from being a “beneficiary” to being an active leader who can determine their own future.
We will measure our impact by increased democratic participation in development decision-making processes, especially in comparison with conventional technological development programs, in addition to effective, impactful, and sustainable allocation of time, money, and other resources. Above all, we hope impacted communities feel respected, included, and are able to see the results of collaboration.
We will first gauge interest from the UNLEASH community in terms of participating in the creation of the co-design toolkit. We want the toolkit to be as participatory as possible, with insights and inputs from a range of stakeholders, so it can serve as many people as possible. Hence, we will discuss with co-design experts, relevant development agencies as well as community members who either benefited from successful technological programs or suffered from failed interventions.
If you are a development agency or donor who want to save time, money, and achieve sustainable and relevant impact to the communities you are serving, come to us and fund our project! For others, if you believe in our mission, also come to us: we would love to hear your experiences in co-design, in technological development, and we would love to build this toolkit together, so we can all transform the development sector, one program at a time!