A summit for behaviour change in French-speaking Africa
“Can I buy this product?”
The question came from a woman at the end of my presentation at the Sommet Francophone pour le Changement Social et de Comportement in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. She was asking about a prototype I had just shown, that we developed for a project in Somalia and Somaliland.
The product was a balm designed to relieve women of pain during breastfeeding, in the hope of creating an increase of babies consuming breast milk and thus a decrease malnutrition in the region.
It was only a prototype but she wanted it. She wanted to try something new. Something that might work better than what has been tried before. And that idea proved to be something of a theme for this world-first conference.
The first West African Social and Behavior Change Summit
The conference was the first Social and Behavior Change summit ever organized in West Africa, focusing on maternal and child health services capacity in French-speaking African nations.
It was organized by Johns Hopkins’s Center for Communication Programs (CCP), who have in the past organized conferences in English speaking countries and felt that it was important to hold a similar conference in the French speaking countries as well.
It comes at a moment when the region is hungry to experiment with innovative ways of creating demand for health services.
In that context, ThinkPlace has been a leader. We were invited to share presentations about two projects we have led: the SAHAN program in Somalia and Somaliland and a HIV self-test project in Côte d’Ivoire.
There was a growing excitement towards Human-Centered Design as a concept. Having emerged out of North America and grown in popularity across the English-speaking world it is clear that HCD still has great potential for an expanded role within the nations of Francophone Africa.
How might we rethink design to advocate for health and nutrition
Listening as I shared stories of ThinkPlace’s work were people from Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti and many West African countries, hungry to explore new models for improving communities’ nutrition.
The SAHAN program I presented was developed with Population Services International (PSI) as the next step of a quantitative research and design sprint we conducted in Somalia and Somaliland in 2017.
Our initial work identified that demand for health services was low. We then created an innovation lab to bring together expertise in health and nutrition to support the process of building effective prototypes, providing a platform for the participants to brainstorm.
Our goal was to ensure considerations from all relevant voices were taken into account during the design process. We wanted to bring together at the same table what we at ThinkPlace call the Four Voices of Design. This tool maps the four key stakeholders who, when voices are heard and respected, contribute to the wellbeing of a project: the users, the client, the experts and the designers.
Our innovation lab allowed us to invite health and nutrition experts to share their knowledge and build upon what we were already learning on the field in order to help us refine the prototypes being locally tested.
Following this stage, we set up a Somaliland-based innovation team of young entrepreneurs who acted as our extension in the field and were given freedom to experiment new methods for the program.
As humans we fear the unknown, yet design encourages us to deep dive into it. We also fear failure, and sometimes react badly to it.
But human-centered design is really about failing faster and better as we move through the solution development process, refining our intervention.
At ThinkPlace we try to apply that same spirit to our own way of doing things. The innovation lab was an experiment for us, and we learned a lot from its successes and its failures. And so, when we sat down to record how this project went the result was a publication we called: “The Little Book of Failures Learnings”
It is crucial for implementers within the SBC space to constantly share learnings as a way of demonstrating impact as well as forge stronger partnerships. That was the true value of this world-first summit.
It was inspiring to listen to participants tell their own stories about challenges faced in their projects and how they showed resilience through constant learning and iteration. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to hear that a major NGO was implementing its own innovation space to better disseminate creativity within its projects.
Human-Centered Design in Francophone Africa
The enthusiasm and interest we met with shows that Francophone countries are hungry for new methods in social behavior change to tackle the challenges the subregion faces, especially in terms of health and nutrition.
Quantitative methodologies have proven their value for addressing local challenges but have their limitations. Now, approaches such as human-centered design and design thinking are gaining traction in the Francophone countries as organizations want to empower people in the designing solutions that will affect them.
This is good news for French-speaking African countries and good news for ThinkPlace. We have used these methods all over the world for well over a decade. We know that they create real impact. And we know that they can bring about positive change.