By Akinade AKINADENIYI
A casual stroll in Lagos Mainland can show anyone pointers on what to design for if they pay attention. Too many closely knit storey buildings that look like they could collapse at any moment show a failure in design and planning. When it rains in Lagos and it pours heavily, many parts get flooded and underwater – another failure in design.
As per CNN, the cost of flooding in Lagos in terms of damages, economic productivity and mortality is estimated to be as high as $4 billion per year.
A few years back, the highway leading to and beyond the Oshodi market area was impossible to pass through due to heavy traffic congestion caused by traders encroaching on the highway. We have all forgotten that nightmare because people with vision and understanding of design thought; “this is not the original design of this place, we have to change this”.
Today, there’s a beautiful and well-designed metro station for people to come and go. Think of the economic savings emanating from this design alone. For context, according to the Economic Intelligence Unit, Ministry of Economic Planning & Budget, congestion costs are estimated to be $1 billion (about N160 billion) yearly.
Applying Design Thinking as an instructional tool towards towards development of new solutions to improving the lives of everyday people has huge benefits especially in cost savings. This methodology is rooted in empathy and citizen-centric design, to attempt to solve everyday problems.
For one to try to build for issues that are deeply resonant with citizens’ needs and aspirations, one must be empathic, have a very perceptive eye and must involve immersing oneself in the citizens’ environment to understand their experiences, challenges, and desires.
Social media today has made it so easy to gather information on any issue. With a deliberate search, one can find a group of people with common issues and can even gather numerical insight on vocal confirmations that this problem exists.
When this data is combined with other forms of research performed, the results are amazing, and one can identify core issues and challenges and build a proper problem statement that guides the design process and ensures that the solutions developed are targeted and effective.
The other amazing thing about social media users is their active nature, and their willingness to contribute to debates on what’s important to them. Social problem-solving has never been this easy.
Beyond social media, other forms of data collection like brainstorming sessions, workshops, and collaborative discussions, are valid too. This ensures that the information collected has variety, stage is often with the participation of citizens themselves. The goal is to generate a wide range of potential solutions, considering various aspects.
Today, a lot of institutions use the term ‘building with the public’. This is to say that they are building solutions alongside the public, through these collaborations, testing and getting honest feedback.
This concept ensures that the users are in tandem with the whole process of developing this solution that is supposed to serve their interests or solve their problems. This phase often leads back to the ideation or prototyping stages, refining the solution until it effectively meets the citizens’ needs.
For more context, many global institutions ‘build in the public’ or rather have used citizen feedback to build solutions to improve lives. Take for example, Curitiba, Brazil, the government used citizen feedback to develop a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system that allows for quick, efficient boarding and disembarking.
The system, which is now one of the most successful in the world, has helped to reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, and connect residents to jobs and opportunities. This innovative approach to urban transit has made Curitiba one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly cities in terms of public transportation.
In Rwanda, the government used citizen feedback to improve the quality and availability of healthcare services. The government has used this feedback to build new clinics, hire more healthcare workers, and provide more affordable medicines.
In Seoul, South Korea, the government used citizen feedback to develop a new green building code. The code, which is one of the strictest in the world, has helped to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the city.
In Estonia, the government has used a platform called e-Participation to engage citizens in the decision-making process. The platform allows citizens to submit proposals, vote on government policies, and track the progress of government projects.
These are just a few examples of the many ways that have shown that by listening to its citizens and using their feedback to inform its decision-making, institutions can create a more responsive, effective, and accountable government.
The government of Singapore has a dedicated platform to gather feedback from citizens on a wide range of issues, from public transportation to healthcare. The government used this feedback to make some improvements to its services, including extending the hours of public buses and increasing the availability of affordable healthcare.
The UK government has several initiatives to gather feedback from citizens and use that feedback to improve public services. One of them is the Government Digital Service (GDS). This is responsible for the design and delivery of digital services for the UK government.
The GDS has many tools and resources available to help departments gather feedback from citizens, including online surveys, feedback forms, and online focus groups.
The application of Design Thinking and citizen feedback go hand in hand and hold immense potential. Both approaches combined are iterative and align closely with the needs and aspirations of the common man.
As individual designers or institutions, we should not build to feel good, or to tick a milestone box, but rather to ensure that the voices of everyday people are not just heard but are the driving force behind the solutions we create. Let us commit to design with the public, for the public, and by the public, fostering a more responsive, empathetic, and engaged society.
**Akin loves to write about how design can be used to solve problems that are common to common people. He is a Senior product designer solving problems across diverse business sectors by implementing UX best practices. Akin is also passionate about building great products, leveraging design and systems thinking to create usable digital products with meaningful user experiences that generate revenue and create value for businesses and people.