You working to design user

While we acknowledge that successful digital initiatives are rooted in an understanding of user characteristics, needs, and challenges, we are also aware that partnering with users throughout the project lifecycle, co-creating solutions, and continuously gathering and incorporating users’ feedback in a project can attract its own fair share of challenges.

We would, therefore, like to hear your experience in putting this digital principle into practice. What has worked for you? What has been your greatest pain point when designing with the user?

This answer may be a bit apart from what you asked. It is the first aspect coming to my mind.
In my experience, some partners (like implementing governmental agencies, donors etc.) are not aware that the added values of user involvement cannot be earned without effort. I.e. time is needed for sessions, sometimes a business or systems analyst should be involveded etc. The digital principles in some projects are in danger of becoming a “fig leave” in the meaning of “write it down, it sounds good”. The environment to really work according to the principles is often not available -> no additional time, no venues planned. A lot of people still believe in “quick wins”.

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Designing with (rather than designing for) is difficult. Imagining what is possible is hard - especially when users are not used to speaking up and having their voices heard, or recognising that technology and systems can be shaped (things don’t have to be as they are). Design practices will need to adapt to the cultural setting where they are happening. What works in Scandinavia will not necessarily work in Namibia. Look at local collective problem solving practices and try to build upon those, e.g. Zewge et al. highlight the importance of Debo, Wenfel and coffee ceremonies as part of their design project in Ethiopia. ( see https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Yvonne_Dittrich/publication/269335184_Providing_Market_Information_for_Ethiopian_Farmers_Extending_Participatory_Design/links/560056f908ae07629e52ab9a/Providing-Market-Information-for-Ethiopian-Farmers-Extending-Participatory-Design.pdf)

Capacity building (in terms of being able to critically assess and imagine technologies) can be an important step. Ask the question: when we leave, which organisations/groups will be making future decisions about using technology in this situation? How can their involvement in this project enable them to make good decisions in future (see http://shura.shu.ac.uk/16864/1/PDC2018-cameraready-2.pdf)

Don’t forget you are designing a socio-technical system (not just a bit of tech) so you might need someone leading on ‘organisational change’ (see http://dev.itidjournal.org/index.php/itid/article/view/1089) who then feeds into the tech design.

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