Implementing a Human Centered Approach
BlogImplementing a Human Centered Approach

Following on from our Community Thinking discussion event in June, Engineers without Borders Australia and Engineers Australia (EA) co-hosted a formal workshop on Human Centred Design.

This event was attended by over 30 people interested in developing the skills needed to promote the consideration of end-users in all projects. This event was based on a training course developed by EWB Australia and sought firstly to define what it means to take a ‘human-centred approach’.  Once defined, participant then looked at the range of phases within a project a human focus might be applied.  Once a definition and structure were understood the attendees and facilitators then worked together to identify which tools/mindsets are available to us all to bring these principals into our workplace.

In defining a human-centred approach, EWB Australia presenter Alison Stoakley discussed how it seek to identify community identified opportunities and aspirations. By doing this a project can be set up to deliver multi-objective solutions through seeking innovation from an initial focus on the end user desirability. If this definition sounds complicated you’re not alone. To better understand participants considered the differences between a human-centred approach and a more traditional delivery structure. From examples it was seen that while all projects typically start with a brief, traditional project initiation put the emphasis on technology and cost over a core focus on human needs. This is not to say user’s needs aren’t considered in a traditional project, only that they are typically not the initial focus. It is this initial fundamental shift that can provide valuable in gain benefits in innovation and user buy-in.
Alison noted these advantages often come with a reduced control of the design process, which can be difficult to manage. 

Through further discussion participants were able to see that a project which takes a human-centred approach requires ongoing community involvement. This shift presents a challenge in knowing when both community and designers will best engage in design discussions. To address this EWB Australia has developed a model for human centred design, which maps one way of taking a human-centred approach through to the development of a project solution. Figure 1 shows how this process commences by using the ideals of Discovery and Empathy to drive learning, understanding, and collective engagement before entering the solution development phases.

Figure 1 – Human Centred Design Process Flow Diagram (above)
In presenting this framework EWB Australia noted that this shown one way of many in embodying a human-centred approach through a design process. It is acknowledged that not all projects have the ability or time to deliver objectives under this full framework.  To address this the workshop element of the evening explored simple methods which can be applied in a single project phase to bring in a human-centred approach across any project cycle.   Topics of discussion included:

Discovery - Take the time for stakeholder/relationship and asset mapping. Accepting of ambiguity while in the ‘learning and exploring’ phase. 
Empathise - Bring empathy to the table early by taking the time to appreciate the challenges in background and how they impact the user’s lives.  Encourage open questions.  Use empathy mapping.
Ideate – Include users in brain storming.  Seek to learn from failure.  Seek left-field ideas that might solve multi-dimensional challenges.  Promote peer review not peer criticism.
Screening - avoid over investment in options.  Seek views from all stakeholders.
Prototype - Celebrate outcomes, even if they identity failures or improvement.  Talk about empathy.
Communication - Identify prefer communication method for each party. Regularly seek feedback.

Armed with these ideas, the workshop participants called it a night. In closing, facilitators encouraged all attendees to trial 1 or 2 of the above HCD tools in their next project or, even better, to challenge their colleagues to consider adopting them.  In doing the identified tools provide a method for each of us to bring the communities with whom we work for and with to the forefront of solution development.

This update was shared by Aaron Smith, EWB Connect - NSW Co-ordinator.

If you would like more information on EWB Australia’s human-centred approach to working with communities or would like to organise a presentation at your place of work, please contact Alison Stoakley @  Interested professionals and students are also encouraged to attend our next EA event, which will involve a Q&A session on professional volunteering locally.  This event will discuss the skills, benefits and enjoyment you could gain from such roles.  The event will be held at the EA office located at 8 Thomas Street, Chatswood 1800-2000 on the 10/10/18.