Moving from information gathering and idea generation to concept selection

By Monte Achenbach, Chief of Party, USAID Transform WASH, PSI Ethiopia

This post is part of a series on PSI’s WASH design summit in Ethiopia. To read about Day 1, click here.

Day 6 at the USAID Transform WASH Design Summit began like every day, with Morning Circle. This is a moment to set the mood, reflect, have a bit of fun, and make announcements about the day. The group is large with 35 participants plus Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Design Lab facilitators and students and PSI’s business development team. We stretch across the dusty ground of the vocational institute in the shadow of the work shop buildings, surrounded by curious onlookers.

At each Morning Circle a new leader takes charge and walks us through the top-of-the morning activities. This morning, Estifanos leads the circle, a local vocational instructor in furniture making and computer science. He begins by sharing a personal item that means something to him. On earlier days, Morning Circle leaders have shared items from as far away as El Salvador, a hand-stitched apron covered with pockets, and from India, a gold medal in sailing. Estifanos pulls out a colorful sign that he keeps above his bed, which reads, “Today will be your happiest day,” and he explains that it’s to inspire and remind him that every day will be better than the last. He then leads the group in our daily call for words of appreciation, teaches a fun group game, and closes by asking participants for their challenges/solutions and hopes and dreams for the Design Summit.

We’re already halfway through the Summit and have reached a pivot point. The teams are moving from information gathering and idea generation to concept selection. How do you take so many ideas, all potential WASH product concepts (some more ‘out there’ than others), and settle on one that should be tested further and eventually prototyped? Since participants first learned about the co-design process and practiced their building skills, they’ve joined groups around WASH themes of interest to them. As mentioned in my last post , PSI and D-Lab leaders pre-selected six topics based on identified need in Ethiopia: 1) hand washing; 2) latrine super structures (the structure around the toilet); 3) sanitation solutions for toddlers; 4) making WASH more accessible for young children; 5) transportation of often heavy construction materials and/or finished products; and 6) facilitating women’s role in construction of WASH facilities.

To hone the list of ideas, teams learn how to take a product currently in use in the community, such as ash (a substitute for soap) and a jerry can for hand washing, and compare it to a selected group of product ideas that the group has proposed. Across a range of characteristics (i.e. price, durability, attractiveness, etc) the comparison products are ranked as better, worse, or the same…or super better or super worse. A total score shows how options compare, then the group can dig into what factors most affect the score and decide which among them they value most in choosing one product over another. This helps the group make a final selection to take forward to the next phase.

A sketch model from Day 2.

The final activity of the day, the most hands-on and creative, is sketch modeling the product or products of choice. Using modeling clay, pipe cleaners, plastic water bottles, paper in many colors, and other materials, team members create a physical rendition of their idea. This process helps the team ‘make it real,’ see potential flaws in what they have designed, and generate more ideas to improve on the concept. Sketch modeling also helps bridge the language gap by giving those who have not been able to express themselves well to show their ideas through building a model. Finally, the models can be taken to the community to get reactions and feedback, which the team may not have considered and can be incorporated into the design.

The models include a hand washing station that captures used water and can be activated without using hands; a latrine super structure that captures rain water and makes use of good quality locally available materials; a training potty for young children made of wood and small plastic pans; cement latrine slabs using bamboo rather than expensive and heavy steel reinforcement bars; and a boring mechanism that makes it easier for women to dig latrine pits.

Tomorrow this bone tired group will have a day off before coming back together fresh for their next trip to the community, a town two hour’s drive away. From there, let the prototyping begin!

Want to learn what happened next at the design summit? Check out Monte’s post about Day 3 here.

About Transform WASH

USAID Transform WASH aims to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) outcomes in Ethiopia by increasing market access to and sustained use of a broader spectrum of affordable WASH products and services, with a substantial focus on sanitation.
Transform WASH achieves this by transforming the market for low-cost quality WASH products and services: stimulating demand at the community level, strengthening supply chains, and improving the enabling environment for a vibrant private market.

USAID Transform WASH is a USAID-funded activity implemented by PSI in collaboration with SNV, Plan International, and IRC WASH. The consortium is working closely with government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Electricity, the One WASH National Program, and regional and sub-regional governments.

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