• Thursday, Nov 15, 2018
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More water for innovators

  • Published at 06:06 pm November 6th, 2018
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Hand-washing doesn’t come naturally to everyone BIGSTOCK

Wonder, assemble, tackle, explore, and resolve

More than 700,000 babies die worldwide in their first month of life because of infectious diseases. This can be averted if mothers and care-givers simply wash their hands with soap. Then why is it so difficult to do it?

Innovating with soap (WATER)

What do you think of when you are washing your hands? For me, hand-washing has become perfunctory -- an action which needs to be done every time before I eat anything with my hands. Admittedly, this muscle memory has been developed through years of practice and discipline. But now, when I wash my hands, I don’t need to remind myself about it -- it just comes naturally.

Such a natural action, for a lot of us, is actually not the norm for many living around the world, which leads to infections and diseases. In fact, something as preventable as diarrhoea alone claims 480,000 young lives a year. That’s more than the population of Maldives. And to think, this could be prevented by washing hands with soap.

That is the problem UNICEF and BRAC are trying to understand, by launching the WASH Innovation Challenge in eight South Asian countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. To identify scalable solutions which will promote hand washing with soap, the WASH Challenge dared innovators to propose implementable solutions for:

• How innovative behaviour change models can help mothers and care-givers

• How appropriate technologies can make hand-washing easier for mothers and care-givers

• How innovative systems can be developed for measuring and monitoring hand-washing at home, in schools and health centres

After a month of accepting open applications, the core team from BRAC, along with UNICEF Regional Offices, narrowed down a list of innovators to a feasible 55 ideas.

All of these ideas showed promise of bringing about positive change in the lives of their proposed target groups. But then, in the span of the next two weeks, we needed to cut those 55 ideas down to the final 10 most implementable solutions. 

Making the call

That was a task easier said than done, because these innovators weren’t seasoned practitioners versed in HCD -- a concept BRAC practices to quickly understand the context of problems, develop and rapidly test prototypes, and analyze impact before scaling up. No, these innovators came from diverse backgrounds, all passionate about solving the “hand-washing + soap = saved lives” equation with their proposed solutions. 

And therein lies our problem. At the BRAC Social Innovation Lab, we are fanatics about designing solutions with a human-centred approach.

We analyze the problem in depth first, and only then ideate and test solutions.

For our amateur innovators, who had already proposed solutions, this might have seemed redundant to go back to the problem.

So, we decided to focus on insight-informed results, to refine the solutions. That is how we set out on our own little journey -- to break down the HCD process and create a design sprint for our innovators, doable within five days. 

While providing personalized feedback for sharpening each of the 55 ideas, we took time to bring out the drawing board and create a design challenge specifically targeted to them.  We called it the five steps WATER challenge. 

Wonder, assemble, tackle, explore, and resolve -- or “WATER,” set step-by-step guidelines for field testing. Firstly, the innovators would have to wonder about the possibilities to their solution, by deciding the activities and desired results from the prototype.

We proposed interviews, immersion, and secondary research as ways to empathize with end users and learn more about the context.

In assembling, we instructed our innovators to specify stake-holders and set up interviews. 

For tackle, innovators had to go build, test and iterate rudimentary prototypes and gather insights, which they would analyze in the explore phase.

The last phase, resolve, challenged innovators to think about the feasibility and sustainability of their prototypes. From the time we drafted the challenge to the time we unveiled it publicly, WATER underwent multiple iterations. We immersed in the solutions submitted in the first round and kept reiterating our instructions and expectations based on how the innovators planned to approach their prototypes. 

In the end, we put up guidelines for WATER on the WASH Challenge website and sent the innovators detailed instructions over email, along with a narrative submission format.

We stressed on reporting the true extent of what they had done and learned, and on documenting the entire process. To help, we also set up a Facebook group as a virtualcommunity of practice where the innovators could collaborate and learn from one another. We even shared a glossary of “design” and “prototyping” terms for their better understanding and held a Facebook live session to navigate them through the WATER Challenge format. 

The best ideas

After 10 days, we had 45 submissions, with a significant number of them showing remarkable test results. Ranit Das from India prototyped with an interactive calendar for nudging caregivers in West Bengal, whereas Bangladesh’s Anamika Ahmed tested an intelligent anti-microbial soap dispenser and germ detection system with her users, and Passang Tshering and his team actually physically prototyped the barrel handwash station idea in schools. 

We were astounded by the effort and enthusiasm with which the innovators had prototyped, and the level of insight they had gathered.

In the end, it was extremely difficult for us to pick the top 10 teams, so we decided to go with 12 ideas instead. These ideas were chosen on the basis of their insights, quality of experimentation, and design feasibility.

In the third week of October, the finalists congregated in Bhutan to compete for the seed fund of $5,000.

Three winners were chosen -- one for each category, in front of an audience of South Asian development practitioners and policy leaders on October 22. 

The winners comprised of two teams from Bangladesh (Clean Churi and Easy Wash) and one team from Pakistan (Wottle), who all wowed the judges and audience with their innovation pitches and the quality of their prototypes. 

We can’t help but feel proud of the journey our innovators took to implement HCD in the field, armed with just really thorough guidelines.

And as humbled as we are by the response, we feel a bit proud of our own prototype, the WATER Challenge. 

Rakib Avi is Program Manager, BRAC Social Innovation Lab. Shafqat Aurin Siddiqua is an Interaction Designer at BRAC Social Innovation Lab.