Design Research

A Day in the Life of Reboot Nigeria

By Adam Talsma // April 24, 2013

It’s 8:00am, and we’re up and running. Reboot Nigeria rises early.

We have a big day ahead of us. We’re working out of our office in Benin City in the Niger Delta. This week, we’re examining public works projects, working on an education-focused radio program we helped launch, training government officials on design research, and prototyping improvements to an elections monitoring platform. It’s a sizeable plate.

But first on the agenda this morning is research. Our focus: roads.

Specifically, we’re trying to understand the process through which public works projects go from inception to execution, and we’re doing so through the prism of road construction. Edo, one of the states we’re working in, has undergone a transformation in the recent years—the current Governor has made road building a key priority. Though only 10 to 15 percent of Nigerian roads are paved, the present … Read More »


Designing For Better Decision-Making

By Jeremy Canfield // October 12, 2012

Consider for a moment the line outside a half-empty nightclub or the “billions served” tagline. These indicators signal popularity, and they instigate that quiet but undeniable human urge to see what all the fuss is about. This phenomenon is known in social psychology and behavioral science circles as “social proof,” and it’s one of the mostly broadly acknowledged mental shortcuts we humans make. In short, it means that people look to others to uncover the proper action, especially in uncertain environs. This herding behavior happens without the benefit of conscious thought, and it has long been exploited by advertisers great and small. As social designers, knowing how this and other cognitive shortcuts work can mean the difference between a successful social intervention and one that falls flat.

A few weeks ago, Reboot had the honor of participating in StartupOnomics, an invitation-only … Read More »


Tunisia: From Revolutions to Institutions

By Zack Brisson // March 15, 2012

“The opportunities and setbacks faced by the new Tunisian government as it seeks to provide the health care, economic development, justice processes, and other services demanded by its people will tell us much about the future of governance in a world that grows more complex every day.”


Tackling Human Trafficking

By Mollie Ruskin // March 12, 2012

Here at Reboot, we’re honoured to be partnering with Safe Horizon, a preeminent service agency for trafficked persons* in New York City. Over the coming months, we’ll be working with Safe Horizon to design and deliver materials about their support services to trafficking survivors — and developing tools to measure their impact.

Victims of trafficking are often hard to reach — which is why we’ve been called in to help identify key opportunities for impact. We will be building upon a strong history and existing body of work. The anti-trafficking community, in the US and globally, has been highly creative in its efforts to support these isolated populations.


Design Research: What Is It and Why Do It?

By Panthea Lee // February 19, 2012

Design research is foundational to creating products, services, and systems that respond to human needs. In the public and international development sectors, understanding and meeting human needs are critical for improved livelihoods and better governance.

Yet despite its utility, design research is largely overlooked by many institutions important to a well-functioning society. This oversight is unsurprising — the definition, purpose, and role of design research is not well-known. But in collecting the critical data they need to run their programs, these institutions do engage in ‘design research’. The information they gather, however, is purely functional– ‘just good enough’. But a lack of deliberation and formalization in process limits the value of research, and thus the utility of collected data.

I’ve been privileged to learn the art and science of design research from some of the best in the game. Time and again, I’ve seen what can happen both when design research is overlooked and when it is thoughtfully applied. So, to advance the conversation, I wanted to lay out some basic principles, approaches, and tools of design research so public institutions can better understand how it serves their work.


Understanding Technology and Stability in Tunisia

By Zack Brisson // September 23, 2011

As my airport taxi rolled into central Tunis, I was struck by the sheer volume of satellites straining towards the sky. Saucer-shaped dishes sprung from roofs, balconies and sides of buildings like a sea of invading alien ships. It was clear, these people are connected.

Granted, my attention was biased. I’m here in Tunisia with a team from Reboot to specifically understand how information and communication technologies are changing the nation during this unique post-revolutionary period.

With this framing my point of view, it was hard not to also notice the countless advertisements for voice, broadband and mobile services. These began cropping up from the moment I first stepped into the country. I couldn’t help but smile on reaching the visa checkpoint, as a massive screen blasted promotions of Tunisie Telecom’s latest 3g mobile apps.  

These simple yet pervasive consumer items sent the message that Tunisians, are plugged into our modern knowledge-based economy. As I walked through the streets around my hotel, the numerous signs promoting classes in web development, software engineering and social media marketing only served to reinforce this sense.


What is Service Design?

By Emma Gardner // August 3, 2011

We’ve written previously about why Reboot focuses on services as a practical approach to achieving social progress and human rights. Inevitably, the next question that arises is: how do you create these effective and accessible services? This is where the principles and process of service design come into play. In this post and others to come, we will discuss the value of service design and how it can shift the focus of project goals from building ever more tools and technologies to developing solutions that nurture people and relationships.

An emerging field, service design is a multidisciplinary approach to creating more useful, effective, and efficient services. Service design, therefore, isn’t aimed at creating tangible products, but rather, it works to develop better ways for people to access the services they need. These might range from the most mundane (renewing a driver’s license or figuring out which subway to take in the morning) to the most life-altering (accessing quality healthcare or obtaining a passport). These services are often so everyday that it’s easy to forget their existence. But consider how different your life would be if it took you 15 hours to reach a doctor that could see your sick child, or if you had to spend the equivalent of a half-year’s salary to obtain a passport? These are realities in some parts of the world, and realities service designers address to make services more intuitive for both the user and the service provider.


Expanding Access to China’s Financial Transformation

By Panthea Lee // May 27, 2011

Good field research starts with a focus on training. This ensures that the entire team, including new local staff, fully grasp and support project goals. This shared understanding is critical to the ability of each team member to effectively execute his or her responsibilities. This is true everywhere, but the importance of training and buy-in increases in direct proportion to the authoritarian-ness of the local government. In contexts where asking an unbefitting question can lead to a visit from national security, or an invite for a less than pleasant ‘cup of tea’, local team members are understandably wary of missions they don’t thoroughly understand.

Our current project in China is no different. Thus, our team in China has spent much of the last week between Beijing and Hohhot training our crack local staff on project vision, goals, and the broader ‘why this stuff matters’.


Towards Inclusive, Relevant Branchless Banking in Pakistan

By Panthea Lee // May 26, 2011

A Reboot team recently returned to Pakistan, where we are supporting the efforts of a bank to expand access to basic financial services to those in need. We recently presented the project findings from our recent field study in Punjab Province to the bank’s management and staff. Some of the resulting design recommendations addressed how the bank could:

- Enhance delivery mechanisms for humanitarian relief funds and government-to-person payments.
- Graduate aid beneficiaries into viable branchless banking customers.
- Strengthen its business model through selective, strategic investments.
- Better serve marginalized market segments, defined here as rural populations, the poor, and women.

The team also led a series of interactive workshops with each of the bank’s functional areas, where staff at all levels were encouraged to test, challenge, and build upon our findings, and to develop concrete next steps towards improving their branchless banking services.


Field Notes: Branchless Banking in Pakistan

By Panthea Lee // April 19, 2011

For some researchers, travel in insecure regions or the mid-project client check-in are the most nerve-wracking parts of a field study. For me, it’s recruiting the local team. Going in to each study, we know the what’s, why’s, and high-level how’s regarding the data we seek. The actual on-the-ground how-to’s, however, require the input of shrewd local researchers. Without the right field team, a study is doomed before it’s begun. This was no less true for our work in Pakistan, where a Reboot team has been doing research and analyses around how to achieve greater financial inclusion through sustainable market-based approaches. Friends old and new rallied for our cause and we now boast an exceptional Pakistani team. To Irfan Kareem and Uzma Aziz, this post is to you.

But how do you take seven relative strangers from four countries — an inclusive finance expert, an agricultural economist, a gender reform specialist, a sociologist, an interaction designer, a systems analyst, and a design researcher — and rapidly unify them in vision, purpose, and action?