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Human-centered design in international development: A review of what works and what doesn’t

Human-centered design (HCD) is a creative problem-solving approach that puts the customer or beneficiary at the centre, with the objective of getting beyond the assumptions that prevent effective solutions. It is one of a variety of innovative techniques, methods and mindsets that have emerged in design practices in the private sector, where designing products and services have long been crucial in developing successful and profitable businesses. Collaboration, empathy and co-creation are all key components of this creative process.

Citing the success of these creative problem-solving approaches in the private sector, ‘social design’ has emerged as a way to fight poverty in international development. The purpose of this paper is to take a critical look at the application of the HCD process in international development, across multiple sectors, to understand what is working and what is not working, and to see under what conditions the application of HCD could lead to better outcomes. Details of our learning questions and approach are outlined in the full document but in this summary, we cover four areas: what has worked well in applying HCD to international development; what hasn’t worked well in applying HCD to international development; critical success factors and some ideas on what organizations should consider when taking forward HCD.

Read the Executive Summary.