The research methods chosen for this thesis reflect the fact that I was based in New York City during the thesis development, focusing on a issue in Colombia, Much research and user testing had to be done during infrequent visitors, conducted online, or in collaboration with Colombia-based partners.
This thesis project emerged from the research done for a short movie documentary. Originally the project started as freelance work for the Colombian government that ended up being a short movie to prevent recruiting in children from illegal armed groups. The documentary included around 10 interviews with both users and stakeholders from government entities such as: the Unit of Care and Comprehensive Reparation for Victims,Pan American Development Foundation (FUPAD)for its acronym in Spanish, municipal mayors and members of municipal status. More than 24 hours of video were collected and then analyzed and edited to lead to the creation of a short film co-directed by me.
Interviews took place in three different locations in Colombia: Vista Hermosa, La Macarena and Algeciras, three different and distant areas in Colombia, but all afflicted areas by the conflict. (see map xxx)
Interviews aimed to develop a deep understanding of the impact of the armed conflict on people living in areas severely affected. They included both background information (e.g. name, age and family composition) and specific questions such as: how have you been affected by the Colombian armed conflict? How the presences of landmines in your surroundings have influenced your life or your ability to walk around?
Two main insights emerged from this first exploratory research phase. First, it helped me to gain empathy with local populations living in rural areas affected by the conflict. Second, it unveiled the terrible consequences of the armed conflict on the everyday life of these populations and in particular, highlighted the impact of landmines. Some of the interviewees shared their feelings after having had direct contact with violence and fears despite the imminent peace process. The use of documentary, a quite unusual research method, allowed me to develop a deep understanding of the issues faced by local populations in conflict affected areas and in particular, it highlighted the terrible impact that landmines have on people’s everyday lives. This me to develop a design question: how might we use technology to develop solutions to help local populations in conflict-affected areas in Colombia life more safely.
Phone calls, e-mails and in-person interviews were part of this phase. Based on the previews knowledge and close contact to the Colombian Government, I started knocking several doors, initially to get accurate information and then as a medium to validate the initial claiming of the project. Successful relationships are mostly based in trust and that was the kind of relationship built between the stakeholders and the myself.
After a process than more than a year, the project established relationship with: DAICMA, Scientific and Technical Committee of DAICMA and The Colombian Campaign Against Mines. Becoming an official research project of the Colombian Government lead by President Juan Manuel Santos. The implications of this fact are not minor at all, by achieving this goal, the access to information and contact with users became easier, to the point that the project had access to classified information from previously founded landmines before the releasing to the general public. Nevertheless it is important to mention that this same fact could also generate significant delays from bureaucratic process existing in the governmental sphere and the public sector.
Positive impact from that fact is invaluable for the development of such a project. Accessing information and reaching to users from the official perspective has opened the door to a set of possibilities almost unreachable from the general public's perspective. Tasks such as having first hand information from another researchers and even going to the army landmine field test to try prototypes are completely open since that moment on.
User testing phase
Sketches and prototypes are both instanstiations of the design concept. However they serve different purposes, and therefore are concentrated at different stages of the design process. (Greenberg et al.)
Even though I am originally an Industrial Designer and fully commits to Human Centered Design process. The methodology used for development and prototyping stages of the project, differs from the design thinking approach. According to Greenberg et al., once the project has reached some point of certainty (after the iterative process of sketching and Ideation and having accounted for factors such as time and budget) the development of a prototype is an invaluable tool to answer and get specific feed back from users as opposed to building a rough low fidelity prototype. It would be fair to say that here different methods are co-existing for the sake of an equilibrium, between solving the right question and developing the right tool to solve it.