July 17, 2012

Creating Tools that Locals Can Shape

Since most of our work is in low resource settings, most of the people who use our technologies have very little education.  We call these people "low level users".  Even though these users have little to no education, we still find that using technologies to help them share information is incredibly helpful.  The most important thing to remember when designing tools for them is to build on the skills and resources that they are already familiar with.
In order to create tools that are useful, they must be context appropriate.  Here's our process:

First Step: User Evaluation
Before we develop any type of software, we always travel and meet the people who we will be creating tools for.  We conduct a variety of tests and experiments to help us understand their unique situation.  It's important to make sure that all the testing materials use their local language and slang that they use in their daily work.

During this user evaluation, we try not to explain too much about how to use it.  In order to design tools that are easy to use and intuitive, we first have the users try to figure it out themselves. We watch them try to figure it out during these experiments. We want to see what is natural for them so that we can create tools that are easy for them to use. Using this approach is a great way to get valuable feedback from them about how to develop the material that we will use in the system.

Second Step: Developing Training Material
We take what we've learned from the first step and create custom training material to support the users. All the training materials must follow and adapt to the feedback we received from the users during the evaluation stage. 

Third Step: Training the Trainers
In order to ensure that the system can be implemented without an iLab Southeast Asia staff present, we invest in training locals to become trainers themselves.  The local people are the best trainers because they know and understand better than we ever could what the real situation on the ground is like.

Everything we do at the iLab is focused on helping people develop their own solutions to the challenges they face.  That's why this human-centered design and development approach is so important!

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