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PATH Living Labs IDEA session

How might we build a sustainable, field-based internal design team fit for longevity and adaptability by embedding Living Labs across PATH programs and directly engaging external partners?

August 13, 2020

More and more donors are recognizing the power of Human Centered Design (HCD) in developing and scaling community-based solutions, leveraging methodologies to ensure end users are at the center of program and product design, and sharing insights with key decision makers to inform policy and program decisions. PATH, a leading global health nonprofit established more than 40 years ago, recognizes the real interest, desire, and value in listening to and empowering users as part of the co-creation of solutions that actually meet their needs.

With the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), PATH’s Living Labs launched in 2019 with a mandate to put health care workers and the challenges they ­face in their daily work at the forefront, and to serve as architects of their own creative solutions. Living Labs served as a way for PATH and BMGF to more intentionally partner with the communities they serve to design, prototype, and test new solutions around immunization coverage. Recognizing that a good idea in theory needs a strong model in practice, PATH set out to assemble a team to design an evolved business model for Living Labs.

Setting the Scene

As the first organization to innovate through NetHope’s IDEA Journey from the lens of business model and service design, PATH Living Labs began its process by defining the key question: How might we build a sustainable, field-based internal design team fit for longevity and adaptability by embedding Living Labs across PATH programs and directly engaging external partners?

The original intent was to address this challenge through a three-day, in-person workshop in Nairobi. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were forced to quickly pivot to a virtual workshop, emblematic of the refreshed thinking required as our industry faces upheaval as a result of the virus. This added a new complexity to our challenge – how would we facilitate an interactive and collaborative design-thinking process—the fabric of our dream session approach—with participants dispersed around the world?

One clear advantage of going virtual was increased participant reach. We could now invite more PATH stakeholders who previously would not have been able to travel to Nairobi. PATH took advantage of this opportunity, bringing a total of nine core Living Labs team members, six country office representatives, and three members of its leadership team to the virtual workshop. In total, with facilitators from Accenture Development Partnership and NetHope, workshop attendees joined from 10 countries and eight time zones around the world!

Prior to the virtual workshop, PATH sought to understand the unique vantage points of key external and internal stakeholder groups, including: donors, private sector health manufacturers, human-centered design partners, PATH’s health technical leads, PATH’s country office leads, and PATH’s Office of Research Affairs. Several key themes around designing and scaling innovative global health solutions were identified. A few that stood out were:

  • National-level (government and Ministry of Health) credibility and buy-in
  • In-country capacity, agility, and networks
  • Local presence and teams
  • Deep understanding of the local context and problem
  • Integration of HCD early in the budgeting and planning process
  • Communicating and validating HCD impact
  • Enabling cross-team and cross-geography collaboration

The Workshop

Now it was time to kick off our virtual workshop. Accenture Development Partnerships and Fjord, Accenture’s design agency, facilitated the workshop across four days over the course of two weeks. Each day consisted of a four-hour virtual workshopping session. We made use of offline time between sessions by planning “homework” midway through.

The session began with sharing research conducted prior to the workshop and reframing PATH’s key challenge statement based on insights uncovered. We used aspirational thinking to create a wide canvas from which to ideate, shaping questions such as:

  • How might we establish instantaneous feedback from users in the local context?
  • How might we create local capacity that builds itself?
  • How might we instill a culture within the Ministry of Health to influence policy and drive agency through a human-centered design lens?
  • How might we accelerate the pace of health innovation and equity through PATH’s strong relationships with national and local governments, health facilities and community organizations around the globe?

Subsequent days were focused on an iterative process of ideating, testing, refining, and prioritizing. The PATH team brainstormed over 75 initial ideas, and ultimately narrowed down to three key “dreams.” We gathered perspectives from internal and external stakeholders and country office representatives, “testing” the viability of our innovative ideas in their unique environments. Even in early stages, stakeholder feedback was crucial to making our storyboards stronger and more relevant.

We used a modified lean canvas activity to define how our ideas for Living Lab’s evolved model would work in practice: Who would need to be involved? How would it be funded? What would the benefits be? What investments would be required? After much hard work, and multiple breaks and energizing sessions to sustain enthusiasm while in front of our screens, PATH entered the last day of the workshop with renewed energy around its three dreams. The dreams were shared with PATH leadership during a pitching session and we received brilliant feedback on how to take the ideas forward with speed and agility.

The collective contributions, insights, and collaboration brought to this virtual workshop were impressive. Moreover, it was exemplary of how Living Labs could conduct human-centered design activities virtually—a new normal that we’re likely to see for some time. Workshop participants even got to know each other a bit better, as we each joined the sessions from our living rooms with close proximity to our loved ones. We even had guest appearances from family members, which was an absolute delight.

What’s Next

PATH emerged from our four days and 16 hours of virtual workshopping with three dreams and a new understanding of its path forward. Living Labs envisions a world where all communities have the solutions they need to live healthy lives; they are now one step closer to achieving this vision. As PATH prepares to carry its dreams forward, it continues to put users at the center of designing innovations for health. The expectation is to:

  • Align stakeholders in a way that enables rapid ideation and implementation;
  • Improve product outcomes, reducing design and development time;
  • Lower the risk of a solution failing by improving its attributes to increase its acceptability and feasibility.

As one health worker relayed to the Living Labs team, “If you involve me, we can move faster together to achieve our goals.”



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