Human Centred Design Processes and a Pilot BCC initiative on Nurturing Care

Design thinking workshop

For a sector with roots in reform movements and people’s movements, the development sector is led often by people who rarely have a lived experience of the realities they seek to influence! The consistent historic emphasis on grassroot up development or tuning into the ‘voice’ of the people, are a part of the acknowledged differences and inequalities between programme designers and contexts that they design for. These processes have led to the successes of some powerful initiatives and continue to influence design of other people centered initiatives. The Human Centered Design (HCD) approach with origins in design and management frameworks works on similar approaches and contributes important insights for development programming as well as social and behavior change communication (SBCC). Our engagement with Aga Khan Foundation is an example of how HCD and BCC intersect.


Our partnership with Aga Khan Foundation seeks to build a behavior change communication package for pilot programme in Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh. The focus of this pilot initiative is the nurturing care practices for 0-6-year-old children. The process envisioned in this partnership, is one of action-reflection-course corrections/modifications. As we write this piece in the first month of the year 2020, we have completed a design thinking process leading up to a 3 phased plan for communication on nurturing care. Phase 1 experiences are currently being collated to fine tune phase 2.


To start at the very beginning, a key focus of our design approach for this project was creation with ‘empathy’ for care givers of young children. For experienced teams, working for years in similar geographies on linked issues, an understanding of the context is developed through knowledge and instincts sharpened by years of practice. These are also influenced by the value systems, beliefs and positions which have been built and reinforced through the course of different programmes. How then can one take a step back and look at a community with a fresh lens while using past experience? This was a question that guided us in developing an immersive approach for a workshop on human centred design thinking for BCC in the project. Here are a few features of the process that worked for us:

  1. Ensuring diversity in participant profiles: Our process saw the engagement of teams that lead the intervention onsite, programme managers and designers, researchers who facilitated the baseline study, communication specialists, donor representatives, frontline workers and experts from other agencies engaged in similar work. This diversity immensely enriched the process, as insights from different profiles were vastly different and often contradictory. The process of debate, discussions and questions helped participants challenge each other into deviating from comfortable and well-set patterns of thinking and thereby being open to newer solutions to older problems.

  2. We’ve all been to the ‘field’ but let’s go once again: Sharp observation is key to developing an understanding and empathy with stakeholders. While most people engaged in this pilot have been in the sector for years and had worked in similar geographies and programmes, the field interactions, guided by checklists for observations, helped participants to observe interactions from a fresh perspective. It also gave an opportunity to relatively inexperienced team members to engage in discussions with families and reflect on their observations.

  3. Bringing in the research: There is a body of evidence around the communities we are developing the package for and this evidence was brought in for discussion during the design thinking process. We developed exercises to dive deep into the research findings guided by experiential insights. This was critical in helping the team understand the context both via anecdotal and as well as empirical evidence.

  4. Keeping the stakeholders at the centre: The communication package aimed to reach 3 major stakeholders, fathers, mothers and grandmothers. Our focus in understanding these three audience segments was unwavering and the entire exercise was an attempt in ways to step into their shoes and understand barriers and facilitators to nurturing care practices.

  5. Building a story: Translating insights of the process by building stakeholder personas also worked well for the process. These exercises finally served as the point where the evidence and insight intersections were most clearly visible. Who is this father that we want to reach out to through our programme? How does he do parenting? What kind of parenting did he receive? What are his hopes for his family? Answering some of these questions based on research and experience helped the team.

  6. Test and reflect: At StratComm, we understand that all packages, curriculum and stories have two major users or audiences. While it is widely acknowledged that community stakeholders are a critical audience, we believe that the frontline teams that facilitate interactions on field are equally important. The comfort of the outreach team with the material, its language and methodology, is critical to ensuring that the BCC package is used effectively. The scope for roll out in phases, and space for modifications and alterations is essential to building robust people centered BCC packages.

Building a persona

While people centered planning and design have been at the heart of many development programmes and communication initiatives nested within them, human centered design processes provides fresher tools to structure these sensitivities. This AKF pilot is designed with the much-needed space for empathy-based creation and people centered design.

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