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Human-Centered Design For Environmental Problem Solving

Human-centered design can be defined by its three main principles: empathy for users, a discipline of prototyping, and a tolerance for failure. As a discipline, it strives to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality in analyzing and fitting various solutions to a specific problem. It's been around the private sector for decades. It is increasingly being used in the social sector. Yet, it's explicit use in environmental settings remains rare. We are trying to change that.

Human-centered Design is a form of problem solving employed to generate solutions to wicked challenges. Wicked challenges are issues that are interconnected to other problems, constantly evolving, largely driven by human values, and where knowledge is incomplete. Human-centered Design is a systematic process aimed at solving problems in which no single piece of data or any level of data disclosure will solve. It is options-focused, possibility driven, and iterative. And, it embraces empathy for the user: the stakeholders that are being targeted for some service, product, or program.

ACS's Josh Donlan and Michael Sorice leading a design thinking workshop in southern Thailand with small-scale fishermen. 

ACS's Josh Donlan and Michael Sorice leading a design thinking workshop in southern Thailand with small-scale fishermen. 

With our partners (CentralVirginia Tech), we are applying human-centered design approaches to environmental challenges. We are doing so with fishing communities in Chile and Thailand, ranchers in Argentina, and forest landowners in the United States.

What to know more? Check out some of our recent work on incentive program design