Filed under: Development Development 2.0 Social innovation

New solar panels for jamaats (associations of pasture users), Kyrgyzstan

A prototype differs from a pilot because it starts small and is allowed to fail. Optimally, several prototypes will be tested in parallel. The question I have is how prototyping can fit into our work on participatory planning and create social capital while creating user-led solutions?

In the 1990s, Robert Chambers created the Participatory Rural Appraisal methodology to bring the community into the definition of the development problem.

It is now used extensively from identifying children with disabilities (pdf) to climate change adaptation (pdf). Some of the elements of participatory rural appraisal that create a basis for successful prototyping are:

  • Role reversals,
  • Feedback sessions,
  • Preference ranking and
  • Visualization of the problem through mapping and diagrams.

What participatory rural appraisal and prototyping have in common is the perception of the users (a.k.a. the community) is the starting point.

In the case of prototyping, solutions can emerge from the community – for example innovation walks used by a foundation in Malaysia that reveal how members of remote communities are being creative to get around a particular problem.

A more structured approach to identifying solutions is the Human-Centred Design Toolkit, or innovation guide to facilitate the work of NGOs and social enterprises in working with impoverished communities.

This isn’t so different from the Cooperative Design (or Participatory Design) approach originating in Scandanavia in the 1970s as “collective resource approach.”

While it is used for getting citizen input on the built environment, from buildings to streetscapes, the approach is extending to social services such as health and social care institutions for user-centred healthcare design.

Back to UNDP’s work in community-based programming…

One of the main assets of UNDP’s work in community-based programming has been the social capital created: confidence of the community in itself, confidence of the local government, and trust between the two. With this as a basis, local governments may be able to open up several potential areas for citizen-participatory prototyping:

  • Municipal services (both introduction of new technologies and how services are delivered: heating solutions, transport, youth and cultural services, agricultural extension services)
  • Municipal processes (planning, budgeting)
  • Municipal interface with citizens (public access to information, complaint mechanisms)

A brief prototyping process would get citizens ideas on how the local government’s services, processes or interface could be improved.

Instead of an open call to Citizen X, there could be structured meetings similar to the participatory rural appraisal methodology and bringing in elements of participatory design. In some cases, experts in mobile technology could participate, but it would be important for low-tech solutions to emerge as well.

Do you know of local governments that are already prototyping in these areas?

Do you know of organizations that are helping local governments to prototype?

What other areas do you think that local governments can prototype with citizen input?