My experiences as a journalist, limited in pure time but rich in intensity and practicality, have demanded that I open up communication with strangers, be persistent and sometimes not take no for an answer. Above that, I have learned to always consider any and all sides of a potential story and to think critically outside of my shoes as a reporter about who might have a stake or want a chance to share their perspectives on a specific topic. Journalism has required me to give all sides a say; a “voice to the voiceless” and an opportunity to offer underrepresented or overlooked segments of society a role in our society’s discourse. A design process of mine would be one that makes a conscious effort to hear from all stakeholders in an unfiltered setting. My job is not to filter, time or cut off a stakeholder, but rather get a glimpse into their stream of consciousness. And to be clear, identifying all stakeholders and then getting ahold of each is no easy task – sometimes the hardest but most critical groups appear “unreachable.” It is my job to defeat that roadblock. After hearing from each stakeholder, unfiltered, then I get the opportunity to synthesize, analyze and interpret. I have had the chance to talk to five people, for instance, and my readers will not have heard from any. So now it is my job to bring them those five people’s perspectives, in context, unbiased. Thus, my design process would be inclusive, in-depth, thorough, authentic and true. I suppose whether I am effective at this is up to the audience and any stakeholders who feel they have been left out of the conversation. But the principal nature of me knowing I do not know everything and reaching out to those who do have knowledge and expertise in specific areas and then holistically reporting on the knowledge each stakeholder has shared with me should result in a successfully genuine and practical design.
My gut reaction is to say that validating the usability and technology aspects of my team’s project will be easier, simply because it is more scientific in nature. One question must be answered: do the test strips work? That is, do they accurately screen positives and negatives for UTIs? But of course the more complicated question is how do we know, from Lehigh, that the test strips are working in Sierra Leone? Here is where the team will need to rely on partners on the ground and Community Health Workers, who are the first line of defense to illness in Sierra Leone. And of course this will require developing standardized validation protocol, like simple surveys or data points that CHWs must enter regarding the number of correct readings versus the amount of false ones in order for us to know the success of the venture or whether we will need to make adjustments.
Validation of the business model will pose its own challenges as well, since we are not after the money in terms of a traditional profit. Rather, we are after the sustainability of the venture – that is, to employ people on the ground, to continue to pay our OEM partner to make and ship the product, to expand our infrastructure throughout Sierra Leone and other developing countries, and to continue to renew our marketing license.
I honestly don’t have a grand philosophy of engagement. I really just want to help people live better lives. I’m not really in it for anything more than the look on someone else’s face when I have made a difference. I do question the notion of “throwing money at the problem.” It takes hard work, hand-to-hand combat so to speak, and can’t be done without seeing the issue up close and speaking to an array of perspectives. I will share the moment that I dedicated myself to making change. I was on a 10-day service trip to DC the summer before my senior year. One of our tasks was to go to this one park with a high homeless population and speak to one or more homeless individuals for one hour. I spoke with a man named Ben for a full hour and was heartbroken when my time was “up.” Leaving him there was a very hard thing for me to swallow. Since then, I have known my place is to help people.