Of Coders and Post - it Notes

By Joseph
  Published 14 Jun 2012
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Empathy. Defining. Ideating. Prototyping and Testing. These are the design thinking principles that Coders from the Code4Kenya initiative learnt over a one day workshop held yesterday at m:Lab East Africa, Nairobi. The Coders (and Fellows) are from Code4Kenya, an initiative within the Open Data Pre-Incubator project.
Design before Code
In Kenya it has been noted that though the quality of development and applications coming from this sphere has increased, there remains the challenge of creating applications that are scalable, sustainable and have mass usage. One of the reasons pin-pointed for this has been the lack of design thinking in the idea stage of an application, system or platform. That is, the lack of a human-centered approach to the products that developers have been building. Often, the situation has been described as:
Techies come up with brilliant ideas on their own, and often they have not carried out some form of research to find out who is their user, what does their user need and what then would be an appropriate solution to meet this need?
Techies barely leave their desks when coding, or before they begin coding…what you have is brilliant techies with fantastical ideas that no one uses [after they’ve been developed] because the time was not taken to really understand what issues citizens face…
It is with this in mind that the Coders and Fellows chosen to be part of the Code4Kenya initiative went through an intense full-day design thinking training. The main aim of the training was to impart a user-centered approach aligned with the core principles of design thinking to the Coders and Fellows. These are:
  • Empathy – Is at the very core of a human-centered design process. As a human-centered designer you need to understand the people for whom you are designing.
“The problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of particular users; in order to design for your users, you must build empathy for who they are and what is important to them.” Institute of Design at Stanford.
  • Define - The define mode is when you unpack and synthesize your empathy findings into compelling needs and insights, and scope a specific and meaningful challenge.
  • Ideate - Ideate is the mode during your design process in which you focus on idea generation.
  • Prototype – “Getting ideas and explorations out of your head and into the physical world. A prototype can be anything that takes a physical form – be it a wall of post-it notes, a role-playing activity, a space, an object, an interface, or even a storyboard.
  • Test – “Testing is the chance to refine our solutions and make them better. The test mode is another iterative mode in which we place our low-resolution artifacts in the appropriate context of the user’s life.
Prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong.
iHub Research is the training partner for design thinking on the Open Data Pre-Incubator initiative and their design thinking team was on board to impart the important skills. At the empathy phase, the Code4Kenya team was shown how to put themselves into their users shoes and to create personnas. In creating personna’s the team was divided into two and asked to come up with a personna [a fictional character] who faced a particular issue in the areas of health, education or water.
They then had to find out what issues the personna faced in the above thematic areas, and then DEFINE the problem into one clear statement. It was the defining part that had most of the Code4Kenya baffled, but as questions were asked and the Defining principle explained further, the teams of two were then able to come up with clear problems, and then IDEAs of how to solve them. The ideating stage was particularly exciting, as each of the coders and fellows had to brainstorm over a few minutes on what ideas to solve their defined problem statement. And the ideas were many!
Finally, after whittling down these ideas to the best of the best, the teams had a break out session where they had to PROTOTYPE their solution. Plenty of materials were on hand to ensure the teams had all they needed to create a solution and then TEST it.
At the end, the coders and fellows all agreed that design thinking was an important part of development. Given the important role they will be playing in the Open Data Pre-Incubator project, they felt that they had learnt valuable skills to help them develop scalable and sustainable applications, systems and platforms. QuickFAQS How this plays in to the Open Data Pre-Incubator To scale up the Open Data Applications into sustainable and scalable products that have a mass uptake by the citizens. What are the Code4Kenya fellows? Open Data Fellows are individuals who understand thematic issue areas, as well as having a specific technical vision and skills, have been selected for an initial six month period. Fellows will explicitly support builds for civil society and media teams, and directly provide technical advice to support issue expert teams. Open Data Fellows Model
  • Three Fellows will be selected for a 6 month engagement, selected by a panel of issue experts (Issue experts in: Water, Health and Education)
  • Media houses and civil society organizations will pitch ideas for Fellows to work on
  • Expert working groups (in each of the three themes) help choose best ideas, and work closely with Fellows
  • Creating solutions that are accepted and used by the target audience
The role of the Fellows and Coders in the Open Data Pre-Incubator TheCode4Kenyainitiative will embed computer programmers / developers into some ofKenya's most influential media and civil society organisations (CSOs). TheCode4KenyaFellows will spendsix monthshelping their host organisations build mass impact services and mobile apps that use open data from sources such as theKenyaOpen Data Initiative (KODI) and similar civil society data caches. The resulting apps will give ordinary citizens unprecedented insight into how Kenya’s economy and political system, government agencies, and public services work. They will also help citizens hold government and companies accountable, as well as give citizens tools to help shape public policy. Who are they?
Fellows Chosen
Jude Mwenda
Madi Jimba Yahya
Muchiri Nyaggah
Simeon Oriko
Developers Chosen
Nick Onyango
Job Maina
Denis Munene
David Lemayian
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