Monday, November 9, 2015

Co-creation Workshop in Viet Nam Seeks to Solve Serious Global Problems with Wearable and Sensors

While Viet Nam is well known for its ICT community, a recent UNICEF workshop focused on understanding how to apply technology, not how to build it. Built on a series of “what if” questions, the UNICEF Innovation Lab in Viet Nam asked; What if we could get a room full of smart people with different backgrounds and expertise to focus on a grand challenge to accelerate the use of technology to make a positive impact on the lives of children? What if we could inspire these innovators with a new world of possibilities? The ask built on the Wearables for Good design challenge that was launched earlier this year by UNICEF, ARM and frog.

In designing the Viet Nam event, there were collaborative inputs from the local maker community, agile developers, design thinking & creative professionals and even the venue was a community based art education facility. And the results were astounding.
The Social Word Travels Allowing for Authentic Collaboration

Our co-creation workshop attracted nearly 30 brilliant participants, but word of the workshop and Wearables Challenge spread much further! On Facebook alone, 300 individuals joined us on the Viet Nam Innovation Page. In an incredible demonstration of social wildfire, our own network of just 50 people on Facebook miraculously grew thanks to the process of working with various local networks.

This was important to the event because we wanted to continue the conversation with our participants after they left that night and we needed a channel to do so. Our page has enabled us to do this. Now we can keep supporting the community in answering questions around the wearable challenge or about any related issues to the Innovation lab.

There is no lack of activity in Ho Chi Minh City and an event can be found nearly every night of the week. With so many options, it speaks volumes that 30 eager tinkerers, makers, artists, academics and engineers chose to dedicate their Friday evening to exploring collaborative creation for good.

Admitting Problem Solving Is Hard

During the event when we started to share our ideas and break into groups, one common theme kept coming up. This common theme was starting with a solution in mind and searching for the problem it solved, or just focusing on the technology by itself. While the wearable challenge itself is searching for a solution (“both digital and analog [technology] solutions”), the sustainability, impact, and accessibility of successful designs will have started with deep understanding of the problem.

While our participants came from a wide range of backgrounds, and from different parts of HCMC, very few had any experience in working with the most vulnerable populations. This ultimately lead to teams forming around technologies they were familiar with, and not those that are most relevant for the people they were designing for (Note: Innovation Principle #1- Design with the User). Further than the problems, being able to understand the design constraints was incredibly challenging.

Designing solutions for the focus areas is challenging enough, but when you add the constraints on top it really forces innovators to look at different approaches and possibilities. Our lesson here is that when we engage the broader community on topics of social impact, the vast majority of the time should be spent on understanding the problem, and the remainder on the solution.

Community is Key: Solutions Take Time

The Viet Nam Innovation Lab has 2 key community imperatives. First we need to engage with capable innovators and entrepreneurs to showcase that there are untapped opportunities around the world for impactful solutions that result in better outcomes for children. The second is to ensure that there is equitable access to information, opportunity, and resources (financial, mentors, programs, etc.) for all young people.

There are 2 main takeaways from the co-creation event in Viet Nam. The first is that strong community involvement is critical to success in the long-term and the second is that it takes a long time to build a strong community. Even with UNICEF’s long history of making impact in Viet Nam, we are engaging the next generation and need to build trust with them. Trust can only be built over time and through consistently creating quality programs, opportunities, and participating authentically in community building activities.

What’s next: UNICEF’s Viet Nam Innovation Lab + Challenge Finalist!

The question of “What if” is just the start of the journey for the Viet Nam Innovation Lab. We are just getting started in engaging the young people in Ho Chi Minh City and throughout the country. We are very proud that the GuardBand team, coming out of our co-creation workshop, has also been selected as a finalist in the Wearables for Good Challenge. This type of collaboration fuels our desire to do more, in our home country and abroad, in order to develop solutions that can affect systemic change. With a focus on leveraging technologies both existing and emerging, we seek to continue to create these collaborations with others to help us find our path forward. Join us!

  • Brian Cotter 
  • Brian is the UNICEF Innovation Lab Lead in Viet Nam.

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