The Innovation Next Awards
Design Thinking catalyzed new ideas for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and we believe it can make powerful change for others.
Last week, I was happy to be a part of the team at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy that announced the launch of the Innovation Next Awards program. The first-time program will award $2.3 million towards technology-based concepts in teen pregnancy prevention. We hope that Innovation Next will result in new approaches and a diffusion of Design Thinking throughout the field of sexual and reproductive health that provokes more quality ideas for teen pregnancy prevention.
We intend to use the Design Thinking framework to bring five technology innovations to reality (to a point where they can be used, often referred to as a “MVP,”” or “minimal viable product”) over the course of two years. These innovations, we hope, will have real impact on the target audiences and the field.
The idea for Innovation Next is grounded in our own experience using the Design Thinking framework for behavior change and the many instances of technical assistance that we have offered over the years. Often those interactions went something like this:
Innovator: Hi, I’d like to get your advice about an app I’d like to create for teen pregnancy prevention.
Us: Great! What would you like your app to do? And what outcomes would it produce?
Innovator: Well, young people use apps, so we think it would be a good format to deliver information.
Us: Sure, everyone uses apps now. What conversations with your target audience led you to believe an app would be a good solution to the problem you are trying to address?
Innovator: We actually haven’t met with the audience.
Design Thinking, done right, guarantees that you will find solutions to the problems you seek to solve through insights that come directly from the target audience. You can’t move forward without deep empathy for your audience gained through interviews and observation.
We think the field of teen pregnancy prevention can benefit from using the Design Thinking methodology and that it serves as a perfect framework for finding innovative approaches using technology. Too often, people select the tool — often a tech tool — without fully understanding the problem. It’s great to have an idea of the tool you might use, but to really solve the problem, you must be open to the barriers you discover through deep interactions with your audience.
I am reminded of a story a professor of mine told in a design class:
Professor Branch: There was an apartment building where many people complained about the elevator’s slow pace. Experts were called, measurements were taken, and the solution to install a new elevator would be very expensive and take a lot of time.
Class: Yes, that makes sense.
Professor Branch: But what is the problem?
Class: The elevator’s too slow?
Professor Branch: Yes and no. It is really the complaints about the elevator. Another solution offered by a building resident who knew his audience well was to install a mirror in the elevator. That way, people could have something to do to pass the time. Complaints went down. Problem solved — at a cost of a couple hundred dollars.
This story illustrates that to understand a problem fully, and design a solution, one must really understand the point of view of the audience. We must empathize with them. And we must be open to changing our minds if that’s what the audience, or solution requires.
How Design Thinking Affected The National Campaign
It was exactly that kind of process — a process of empathy — that led to the creation of Bedsider.org. Working closely with IDEO, the renowned design firm, starting in 2008, we conducted interviews with the target audience and with experts in the field. We recruited a small group of people who reflected the extremes of behavior — people who always used contraception, even a condom and another method, along with people who almost never did (despite not seeking pregnancy and/or not wishing to contract or transmit an STI). Interviews were conducted in people’s homes over the course of several hours. This approach helped us unearth behaviors, desires, and needs which are often difficult to articulate. With “extreme participants” the effects and the underlying causes of behavior are often more obvious, raising important, provocative questions. By including “both ends of the spectrum” as well as some people in the middle, the full range of behaviors, beliefs, and perspectives can be heard even with a small number of participants.
The core insight that resulted from the audience research was that most public health messaging about sex and contraception often focused on the risk, while ignoring the benefits. Imagine Coca-Cola putting the ingredients front-and-center rather than their promise of “happiness” and “life!” Bedsider is framed with a carefully crafted ‘‘sex-positive’’ brand designed to compete with the heat-of-the-moment decision-making that often accompanies risky behaviors that can be a precursor to unintended pregnancy. Additionally, young adults often place the social ramifications of behaviors (such as the ‘‘cool’’ factor) above health considerations. Rather than appealing to logic — the more common approach to educating women about unintended pregnancy prevention in public health — Bedsider acknowledges that sex can be fun, complicated, and emotional. Instead of scaring people into the right behavior, Bedsider reframes the discussion: it fits in visually and verbally; it doesn’t talk like the health department, and teaches adults like adults. For more information on the Bedsider program, check out IDEO’s case study on their website and the report of the recent evaluation results that show that Bedsider works.
Have you ever thought you could improve sexual education?
Does teen pregnancy prevention matter to you? Are you interested in developing technology that could change public health as we know it?
If yes, we invite you to enter the Innovation Next Awards.
The submission period is open through January 31, 2016. Entries may be submitted at www.InnovationNext.org. Professionals from all backgrounds with a wide variety of experience and expertise are welcome.