Using Human Centered Design in CED work

About the Author

Maureen Berner

Maureen Berner is a School of Government faculty member. She teaches evaluation and analysis courses for MPA students, and provides similar training and advising to state and local government officials throughout North Carolina.

Community and economic development has increasingly required participation from community members to be effective. Ensuring high levels of engagement throughout the design process is crucial to producing a product that serves the needs of the community. A creative approach to problem solving might be needed to produce impactful solutions.

Human-centered design (HCD) emphasizes understanding the needs of stakeholders and designing solutions from their perspectives. It focuses on developing empathy for the people involved.  It include people in generating ideas, building prototypes, and sharing results. HCD is different from other approaches to problem solving because the stakeholders are a constant, valued presence.

Three Phases of HCD
  1. Inspiration- the designers engage with stakeholders to understand the context of their lives and needs. It involves immersing yourself in the community impacted by the design. The goal is to develop empathy for those being served. Designers should engage the stakeholders as equal participants in the process–including brainstorming and prototyping.
  2. Ideation- This focuses on designers brainstorming potential solutions and developing prototypes. Designers collaborate to create multiple ideas, some of which will be used to develop rough prototypes. Prototypes are shared with stakeholders to incorporate their feedback.
  3. Implementation- Finally, designers create a roadmap to apply the model in the real world. Designers continue to gather feedback from those impacted.  The effectiveness of the solution can be assessed by whether or not the designers kept the stakeholders at the center of the process.
Use of HCD: Communityworx in Carrboro, NC
Communityworx Core

Human-centered design is being successfully applied in a community and economic development context in the Carrboro-Chapel Hill community. Communityworx, a local community-based nonprofit, is utilizing human-centered design to develop a replicable nonprofit workforce development program. It was introduced to Communityworx staff through a workshop presented by Innovate Carolina at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  They identified that nonprofit organizations are not developing leadership from within the communities they serve. The project will address this need by applying the principles of human-centered design to create a workforce development plan that is desirable, viable, and feasible for community members and nonprofits.

The program will expand opportunities for community members to gain knowledge and develop skills with the goal of strengthening local nonprofit organizations and mission-driven small businesses that generate revenue and create jobs. Moreover, the program will develop replicable tools and share best practices to bolster the nonprofit community and local economy. By strengthening professional proficiencies among the nonprofit workforce, the economic development of the entire community will be uplifted. In this way, HCD helps professionals devise effective strategies to create jobs and support communities. Additionally, HCD ensures the program will be effective because the process is rooted in the needs of the stakeholders.

The Process Drives the Concept of Success

The project at Communityworx is only one example of the effectiveness of human-centered design in community and economic development. HCD is applicable to a broad range of issues in the social, private, and public sector.  HCD is centered around stakeholders, which creates solutions tailored to the specific needs of the community. In turn, people gain the necessary skills to effect change within their own communities. This will support CED professionals in building stronger, more resilient communities in the long run.

(Thank you to UNC-MPA student Ansley Birchmore for co-authoring this post).

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