The Activist Lab is a workshop of four days, based on the methodology of Human-Centered Design. Human-Centered Design is “a methodology that starts with building a deep empathy with people you are designing for” and uses ideation, a lot of creative methods, co-creation, and prototyping to make sure the end products indeed serve the needs of the people you are designing it for.
This means that the Activist Lab focuses on a very specific and, most of the time, a very local issue of concern: a bridge in Mitrovica, Kosovo that divides instead of connects two parts of town; a public part in Beirut, Lebanon that is closed for the public; or Syrian refugees who have no voice in the political debate on refugees in The Netherlands.
The maximum amount of participants of an Activist Lab is 25 persons; small enough to work creatively together on a common cause and big enough to have the knowledge, skills and energy to develop something new and relevant.
Most of the time the participants will work in groups of 4 to 5 persons. Ideally, each group includes a mix of participants from different backgrounds, with different skills: activists, artists, designers, coders and journalists. This diversity is necessary to discover new possibilities and to co-create something completely new and energetic.
A process of three stages
The methodology follows three stages: Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation. It puts – more than many other methodologies – great emphasis on the end-user of the ‘product’ you are developing.
It starts with an in-depth exploration of the people you are developing for. Who are they? Where do they live? How do they live? What are their interests, hobbies, worries, needs? How can you reach them? How can you involve them in your plans? [picture of create a persona]
During the second phase, the results of the research are being used to generate tons of ideas. At this stage, quantity is more important than quality – this helps you to open up your mind, to think the unthinkable, to feel unconstrained by financial or other possible troubles. A next step in the process is to check which ideas may actually work, and to test these with the people you are developing for.
The final step in this phase is to build prototypes. Building prototypes is an efficient way of exposing your ideas to the outside world, without spending loads of time and money on a final product yet. After collecting feedback and improving your plan. you are ready for the next step, implementation. [picture of prototypes]
Implementation of your ideas first of all means you need a good action plan. Who is doing what and when? What resources are needed? Who else need to get on board? And: you need to check on a regular basis whether the people you had been developing for still think it is a good idea and see the benefits in the implantation!
Want to know more about Human-Centered Design?
Want to know more or to see other concrete examples of how Human-Centered Design works in practice? Check the websites of the following two organisations: www.ideo.org and www.butterflyworks.org.