Programmatic ‘Design Thinking’ for social change

June 20, 2014

In 2013, Hivos announced the challenging new direction the organization will be taking after 2015: social innovation. A major buzzword promoted heavily among development organizations, academics and professionals all over the word.

But what does this really mean? “For Hivos, the choice for social innovation means that we will move upstream and operate more closely to the conversion of ideas into innovations. We believe in co-creating new models and solutions, new combinations” said Director of Programmes and Projects Ben Witjes at the symposium ‘Development as Innovation’.

To this aim, the Central America Office led a programmatic design thinking process to create a Latin American program that specifically addresses media, transparency and accountability. The initiative is the extension of Hivos’ current Expression and Engagement program and is funded by SIDA.

Why in Latin America?

Throughout the years, Hivos has supported several high level media programs and partners, bolstering qualitative, independent and investigative journalism. But an established independent media sector is still far from reality. Relations between media and governments are complex. They differ from country to country, but the general tendencies are: self-censorship and large media conglomerates.

For example, in countries such as Brazil or Peru, press and TV are dominated by large media companies aligned to important national economic powers. Honduras has become a dangerous country for media professionals to do their work because of the numerous attacks against journalists and widespread impunity for perpetrators.

In this context therefore, the strategy for the new program is to improve media quality and impact (in terms of transparency and accountability) with emphasis on investigative and data journalism, as well as innovative and experimental ‘new’ forms of journalism.

Programmatic Design Thinking

The design of this new program was the opportunity to experiment with one of Hivos’ core concepts: social innovation. This meant opening up to a world of opportunities and methodologies.

Hivos teamed up with the Social Innovation Unit of the University for International Cooperation (UCI) and Fonkeling, a Dutch consulting firm, specialized in design thinking processes, to invite a group of experts from Latin America to a three-day workshop.

Design thinking is a problem-solving method aimed at turning the ideal into something real that can make change happen. During the three days, people from across the continent with different perspectives and experiences were contrasting and combining their ideas to create social impact.

The outcome was a number of very interesting ideas with smart, creative approaches, allowing Hivos to consider possibilities that would not have materialized if the program had been designed internally, behind a computer, without directly hearing the needs of individuals and civil society organizations already working on these issues.

This will be a three-year program focusing on co-creating new models and solutions, then prototyping them to build knowledge and test and validate the concepts and practices involved. The program will not only respond to context changes, but it will also adapt a new approach to deep-seated social problems.

Watch the video “Hivos Design Thinking” to find out more about the workshop and the process.