Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
We all have different pathways to peace at this Rotary Peace Fellowship and there is not a person beside me as we move through these weeks who is not dedicating their lives and livelihoods to that path.
My path came when I was young, although then I didn’t realize the direction I was headed. Now I know the world was heading there alongside me. It’s the direction of Human Centered Design.
In second grade, I remember asking my young and bright eyed teacher why myself along with the other restless 6 year olds sitting in the tiny colored chairs next to me weren’t asked what we wanted to learn. I know that this question was seen as rude or disrespectful, but that was not the case; it was in fact a curious inquiry. There was so much more I wanted to learn! Looking back, I wanted to be included in the process of how we designed the classroom and its content which is what I have spent a career doing ever since. This pattern of not including students in building their learning (in most of the American Public school system anyway) followed me all the way through my college degree, and even popped up in my Master’s program. As I plowed into work in the field of public service, this same glaring issue continued; the people who needed the program had little voice in designing it and so- if the program didn’t fail all together by missing a piece (sometimes even a small but very significant piece), it would almost always fall short. Don’t get me wrong. Falling short and failing is more than okay. It teaches us quickly if we allow it and shows us where our gaps lie. It’s the best learning tool I have found to this day.
However, falling short over and over is unacceptable to me in the peace and service sector. I believe it is not justifiable to keep doing what isn’t working and I feel that way even leaving out of the discussion the billions of dollars we spend on these efforts and programs. If recipients are not benefiting, it means they may still suffering on the scale in one way or another. “It’s the way we have always done it, so it’s hard to change” is a dangerous statement that justifies old cycles. I want public service and peace to be about listening to the voices of others AND integrating this voice into programs, into education, even products i.e. Human Centered Design. HCD is about collecting the knowledge and the people on the ground and building something together. I promise you better results at sustainability if we can begin to add this to our processes in both sectors.
The new SDG’s are beginning to use HCD as a tool and I am expecting these to show a far better result than the MDG’s were able to produce from 2000-2015. There are other emerging or re-emerging movements that only further my hope for a collective vision of getting rid of generic designs for social programs and peace programs that don’t take into consideration context, or culture, or what was already working in communities around the world for that matter.
I say this as if this idea at the social design tables around the world were easy, but we all know it is not. It takes time and asks being patient with the process. It asks the world to start asking questions to those who have never been asked before and there are a series of challenges that will come with that. It will mean practicing empathy, not assuming you know the in’s and out’s of experiencing a specific problem. It will mean putting together design teams from totally different sectors and climates who authentically by into the process itself and believe in competency of the others around them. It will mean leaving ego’s and degrees at the door and coming together as humans to design solutions to the problems our ever connected globe is facing together.
For me Human Centered Design is the beginning to inclusive societies and social programs, and my company Designing for Social Innovation and Leadership is working for that. For me, it is one of the many pathways that can lead us to more peace, and the one I choose to continue to walk.
For more information on Human Centered Design, check out a free ToolKit by IDEO for NGO’s here. There are more for educators, and product design as well!
Katy Grennier, USA
Rotary Peace Fellow, January 2016 session.