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DTL Blog Post

  • 4 Sep 2023 6:25 AM | Sewa International (Administrator)

    Date: 4th Sep, 2023
    Author: Anoushka Rai,
    Sophomore, SHS, DTL Student, Chicago Chapter

    Interviewing Stakeholders during Design to Lead Project

    Case Study based on first hand account of a High Schooler working on a DTL project

    Design to Lead Program from Sewa International, which is inspired by the BioDesign program of Stanford University, provides an opportunity to High School Students to come together as teams to find solutions for a variety of needs in their community.

    Interviewing stakeholders is a very important part of following this Design Thinking methodology. Here I will share my understanding of this process and experience while working on the DTL project- “Educational inequity in underserved communities” in the hope that it might help future students enrolled in this program.

    Which Phase Interview starts- Importance

    The Design to Lead program has three phases, Identify, Invent, and Implement. I found that Interviewing stakeholders is not restricted by the phases. It starts at the very beginning and one needs to go back to stakeholders multiple times during the project.There is no better source of information than data gathered directly from stakeholders themselves In my opinion, the following aspects of the interview process are the most significant :

    • Who to Interview?
    • How to schedule an interview?
    • What to ask?

    Who to Interview?

    What do we really mean by Stakeholders? Stakeholders in this context are people involved for a particular situation like Education in our case,at various levels. Those who are directly involved and those who have indirect involvement as well.

    For our project: We identified the possible stakeholders we would like to interview in order to validate our findings during secondary research. The objective was validation as well as to gain the understanding of what Educational inequity really means specifically in our community. We wanted to identify how it is perceived at various levels. The goal was to identify the real need in the community. Coming up with a list after Brainstorming and then categorizing them helped make a stakeholder map as in the picture.

    How to Schedule an interview?

    In order to schedule an interview we had to search for specific individuals, find their contact information and approach them politely and ask for scheduling an interview. Making a spreadsheet and assigning roles to everyone in the team helped. We made email templates as well as pointers to talk about while talking or leaving a voicemail as well. An important thing to note is that we modified our emails based on our experience.

    Before an Interview

    Once an interview is scheduled make sure you are well prepared for the interview. The following checklist might come handy.

    What to ask?

    Discovering people’s needs are important, rather than just asking them what they need.

    Henry Ford understood this when he said, “If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said ‘a faster horse.” Although people often can’t tell us what their needs are, their behaviors can provide us with invaluable clues about their range of unmet needs.

    Lessons Learnt

    From my personal experience I can tell it is important to keep going. Many times when you call stakeholders you will not get a response, but be persistent. Once you get through one of them and during the process they realize you are genuinely trying to help and make a difference, you will get support and more connections. Always ask for feedback and take it positively to improve. The more you immerse yourself in the process the better your outcome will be.

    Further Resources

    Sources used for this Blog

    • Sewa International Design to Lead Curriculum
    • Design to Lead Didactic Sessions by Professor Anurag Mairal, Stanford University
    • Semi Structured Interviews : Guidance for novice researchers Lisa S Whiting, Nov 2027
    • Tim Brown, Change by Design.
    • All infographics and checklists are created by me for the purpose of the blog and are copyrighted. They cannot be used for any other purpose without written permission.
    • The images used are from Canva and are royalty free as a subscribed user.
  • 3 Sep 2023 7:34 AM | Sewa International (Administrator)

    Date: 3rd Sep, 2023
    Author: Manthan Patil,
    Junior, Troy High School, Michigan

    As a Design to Lead (referred to as DTL henceforth) member, you have the chance to work on projects that make a positive difference in your communities. You may care about a social cause, like education, health, environment, or human rights. But how do you figure out what problems need to be solved, and what solutions would work best?

    That’s where primary research comes in. Primary research is a way of finding out things by yourself, using data that no one else has collected. It lets you get firsthand information and insights that can help you define the problem, come up with ideas, test solutions, and measure results.

    Primary research is a crucial step in DTL, as it helps you to apply the principles and methods of human-centered design to your projects. Human-centered design is an approach to problem solving and innovation that puts people at the center of everything. It helps you to create solutions that are desirable for the users or beneficiaries, viable for the context, and feasible for the implementation.

    What is primary research and why is it important?

    Primary research is any kind of research that you do yourself, using data that is new and original. For example, you can do primary research by:

    • Asking questions or giving surveys to people who have the problem or who can benefit from the solution
    • Watching or joining in the activities or situations related to the problem or solution
    • Trying out different solutions and getting feedback from potential users or beneficiaries

    Primary research is important because it helps you:

    • Understand what your target beneficiaries or communities really need, want, feel, and face
    • Find out the main challenges or opportunities that need to be tackled
    • Come up with creative and practical solutions that meet those needs and wants
    • Test and improve your solutions based on feedback and learning
    • Tell others about your solutions in a convincing way

    Primary research also helps you to develop empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Empathy is essential for creating social impact, as it helps you to connect with your beneficiaries or communities, and to design solutions that are meaningful and respectful for them.

    What are the types and methods of primary research?

    Primary research can be either qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative research is about exploring and understanding what people mean, think, and experience. Quantitative research is about measuring and analyzing how many, how much, or how often.

    Some of the common types and methods of primary research are:

    • Surveys and Questionnaires: Gathering information from many individuals through questions to understand their demographics, preferences, thoughts, actions, and emotions. This can be done through online forms, phone calls, mail, or in-person interactions.
    • Interviews and Focus Groups: Engaging in conversations with individuals or small groups knowledgeable about the subject. These methods delve deeper into their perspectives, motivations, challenges, and expectations. They can be conducted face-to-face, over the phone, via video calls, or through chat.
    • Observational Studies: Observing and recording people's behaviors, statements, and emotions in their natural environments. This helps understand how individuals interact with their surroundings, products, services, or processes. Observations can be passive, participatory, or immersive (ethnographic).

    Primary research is a key part of the DTL process, as it helps you to test your assumptions and learn from your users or beneficiaries. By doing primary research, you can avoid wasting time and resources on solutions that don’t work or don’t matter.

    How can you conduct primary research for your projects?

    Primary research can be a fun and rewarding experience for you as a DTL member who wants to create social impact in your communities. However, it also requires careful planning, doing, and analyzing. Here are some steps that can help you conduct primary research for your projects:

    • Define Your Goal and Question: Figure out what you want to discover through your research. Nail down the specific question you're aiming to answer. For instance, you might want to uncover challenges faced by local students or teachers' expectations for a new learning tool.
    • Choose Research Type and Method: Based on your goal, decide on the best research approach. What type of research suits your question? Pick a method to gather data. For example, go for a survey or interviews with students and teachers, or observe their behavior in the classroom.
    • Design Your Tool or Guide: Craft a tool that fits your method. If it's a survey, create clear, relevant questions. For interviews, prepare open-ended questions. Tailor your guide to your approach.
    • Find and Invite Participants: Identify who you want data from. Reach out to them and invite them into your research. Ensure your participant count is sufficient for reliable results. Get permissions if needed.
    • Collect Data: Gather data while ensuring participants understand your research, agree to take part, and know why it's happening. Record and store data securely. Explain your project, get consent, and use tools for recording.
    • Analyze Data: Make sense of your gathered data. Organize, clean, and categorize it. Spot patterns, trends, and insights. Validate your findings. Software and comparing with existing info can be helpful.
    • Report Results: Share your findings. Summarize clearly, explaining meanings and limitations. Use results to improve solutions. Write a report, create graphs, or give presentations to communicate effectively.

    By following these steps, you can do primary research that can help you make a positive difference in your communities. By conducting primary research, you can test your assumptions and learn from your users or beneficiaries. You can also find out if there are any existing solutions that have failed or succeeded in solving the same problem. This can help you avoid wasting time and resources on solutions that don’t work or don’t matter. By doing primary research, you can focus on finding a solution that can actually have a positive impact.

    Primary research is a key part of the DTL process, as it helps you to apply the principles and methods of human-centered design to your projects. Human-centered design is an approach to problem-solving and innovation that puts people at the center of everything. It helps you to create solutions that are desirable for the users or beneficiaries, viable for the context, and feasible for the implementation.

    To learn more about Primary Research, you can visit these websites:
    What is Primary Research? - Purdue OWL® - Purdue University
    Primary Research: What It Is, Purpose & Methods + Examples

  • 28 Aug 2023 5:58 AM | Sewa International (Administrator)

    Date: 28th Aug, 2023
    Author: Aditi Bankhele,
    Sophomore, Stevenson High School, Chicago Chapter

    Merriam-Webster describes empathy as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another. That definition perfectly encapsulates the elements that are needed for the Design To Lead Program. Every phase that we go through of DTL is dependent on the connections that we can make with people within our community.

    As you begin the program, it’s essential to understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. While many times, the words are seen as synonymous, there are some major differences. The video, “Design Thinking- The Power of Empathy,” describes, “Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection.” What this essentially means is that empathy makes it possible to understand people, because you are putting yourself in their shoes. On the other hand, sympathy would be looking at people from an external perspective, and feeling bad for them. By putting yourself in the shoes of others, you are connecting with people, and that is going to make a huge difference.

    Empathy makes it possible to understand the most significant problems to focus on within our community. When searching for these problems, qualitative and quantitative analysis is really important for your project. Quantitative data will be found with specific numbers and statistics, most of which can be a part of more general research. Empathy, on the other hand, is imperative to qualitative research. As a part of your qualitative study, you should focus on the problem/ pain point identification, as well as noting the feelings and needs of the people you wish to focus on. It’s essential to take multiple perspectives, and also try to stay out of judgment, assumptions, and biases. Using research, interviews, surveys, journals, and body language will make your qualitative and quantitative data solid and reliable. This study will give you an insight into the problem areas you want to focus on.

    With the observations that are made from understanding your community, it will be possible to understand the problem, population, and intended outcome of your project. The only way to properly know what you want to do is to understand the group you want to target, by switching to their point of view.

    When my group was talking to new people, we came across a lot of varied perspectives. For some context, my group worked in the Chicago area. Our problem area was around chronic illnesses that underserved adults in our community dealt with. We met with a medical professional named Ms. Ashley Colwell. She works as the Vice President of Clinical Services and Workforce Development with patients at a clinic designed for underserved community members. This clinic is a part of the Illinois Primary Health Care Association. We also met with a professional who worked at a more general clinic in Chicago. They both shared their insights into working with patients.

    Colewell’s perspective of working with patients was incredibly different from that of the medical professional working at a more general clinic. When we compared the differences they had working with patients, we were able to conclude the problems that underserved patients deal with versus those of middle-class patients. Our research showed that underserved patients had a greater use of emergency rooms, compared to middle-class patients. This was a result of the underserved communities having fewer general check-ups, and not having proper access to healthcare. These differences helped us understand what we needed to focus on. As the innovators we had the advantage of understanding what the root of the problem was from the inside. When you work with stakeholders you’ll be able to understand the importance of varied perspectives.

    Another benefit of forming a connection is that it'll give you a stronger attachment to your innovation. When you know the people that you want to help, you’ll feel more inclined to make a difference. If not your topic, interacting and connecting with community members will make you keep working towards your goal. Forming connections with different groups of people will also help you in general as a community member. “Rarely can a response make something better, what makes something better is connection.”


    Forbes - Empathy is the Most Important Leadership Skill According to Research, Tracy Brower PhD, Sep 19, 2021

    Design Thinking- The Power of Empathy, Crie UFRJ, Aug 1, 2014

    1. Design Thinking: Empathize - YouTube, Mindful Marks, Jun 9, 2018

    Additional Resources

    What Is Empathy and Why Is It So Important in Design Thinking? | IxDF, Rikke Friis Dam and Teo Yu Siang, 2020

    Sympathy vs. Empathy: What's the Difference?, Pam Weber, Sep 10, 2022

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