As a design researcher, it’s my job to learn about people’s experiences and behaviors. Naturally, I have put a lot of thought into how I learn these insights. I like to think of the different methods at our disposal as tools in a toolbox, each with its appropriate use: to uncover specific information, to adopt in a certain scenario, and/or to work with certain communities.

So it came as a surprise to me when, during an interview with a potential partner, I was met with disapproval when I described the different methods that I use. “I only do interviews,” the…


There’s no denying it: design uses a lot of jargon. So much so that there are countless articles attempting to decipher it in layman’s terms, or recounting “tales of confusion, awkwardness and innuendo.”

Not only can the technical nature of jargon create a gulf between designers and those they should be co-designing with, it’s also important to fight against any impulse to regard it as universal. …


Last year, Servis Finansye Fonkoze, Haiti’s largest microfinance institution, commissioned GRID Impact to assess its product and service offerings. As lead researcher on the project, it fell to me to determine how we’d recruit participants for the study — including protocols for compensating them.

If you’ve read my past writing or heard me speak, you know that I’m quite vocal about the need for research teams to compensate the people who participate in their studies, especially in vulnerable communities.

For one thing, it’s a matter of fairness. As a researcher, I am being paid, as is the driver who takes…


With ongoing initiatives in Jordan and emerging ones in Lebanon, the Airbel Center set out to find designers based in the Middle East who can not only conduct design research and rapid prototyping for projects it is leading in the region, but are also able to use their skills for social impact and work with vulnerable communities.

To that end, I was tasked with designing and implementing a two-and-a-half-day workshop last December to help experienced designers in Lebanon translate their skills to the social sector, invest in their capacity, and ultimately increase their confidence in the ability to do this…


Proverbs are a powerful tool to convey a message that is firmly rooted in a local vernacular, and withstands the test of time as they are commonly passed down through generations and are widely understood by people of all ages. Interpreting proverbs — like interpreting the findings of a design research project — is rather complex, but is best done in context.

I learned this when researching community behaviors and attitudes towards family planning with YLabs and Population Services International (PSI) in Niger under the Transform/PHARE initiative funded by United States Agency for International Development (USAID). With an average of…


Credit photo: Ahmad Nouh

This is not working,” I thought as I looked at the struck through, scribbled out training agenda on my table that was already on its fourth iteration. We were nearing the lunch break on Day 3 of a 5-day design bootcamp in which 40 individuals had been chosen to participate, 12 of which were going to be selected to do a 10-week design sprint tackling the challenge of income in Jordan as part of the Mahali Lab.

The week started off with one question: How can we ensure that vulnerable households have access to sufficient, predictable income that does not…


After conducting community explorations into which issues and problems the Mahali Lab should focus on, we ended up with one challenge that was voted on as the most pressing by community members: income.

Income, however, is such a broad topic that framing an opportunity space — a lens for constraining the problem that would maximize potential solutions and inspire participants to join — became a daunting task. …


Late last year, the IRC Jordan Country Office and the Airbel Center launched the Mahali Lab, a program inviting Syrian refugees and vulnerable Jordanians to develop solutions to challenges impacting their communities.

The lab’s objective? To launch three 6-month “design challenges” for local changemakers to tackle. The lab will provide them with a co-working space, financial support, access to mentors and experts to help strengthen their solutions through structured context analysis, prototyping, and sustainability planning. Ultimately, the IRC will provide the most promising solutions with funding and support to implement, validate, and plan for scale.

From the outset, the premise…


— Nicole Ippoliti and Sarah Fathallah

Imagine you are in a country where women have, on average, 7.6 children. In this country, men routinely exercise dominion over every household decision — including the number and timing of children, and what (if any) contraceptive method their spouses will use. Finally, suppose that 94 percent of the population is guided by a prevailing faith in Islam, and religious teachings on contraception are interpreted and spread in very different ways by local religious leaders and clerics. How would you promote the use of family planning?

This country is Niger, a landlocked country in Western Africa on the southern edge…

Sarah Fathallah

Also known as سارة فتح الله or ⵙⴰⵔⴰ ⴼⵜⵃⴰⵍⵍⴰⵀ. Social designer and researcher. More about my work at http://sarahfathallah.com

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