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Ready, Set, Design! Powering Social Media for Contraception

by Aubrey Weber, MPH, Research Utilization Technical Officer, FHI 360

What happens when you bring together reproductive health gurus, human-centered design enthusiasts, and young people and challenge them to develop a social media platform that supports interaction with and feedback from adolescents on all things contraception? You get a two-day “hackathon” – an intense period of group collaboration and idea-generating – and five fabulous ideas.

FHI 360’s Contraceptive Technology Innovation team recently co-hosted the YTH Live 2017 Design Challenge at the youth + tech + health conference in San Francisco. This year’s conference focused on innovation in human-centered design. Also known as user-centered design, human-centered design is a framework for problem-solving that starts by engaging the user – those who will eventually implement and use the solution—to provide their perspectives throughout the design process.  For those of us who have worked in contraceptive research and know how desperately method improvements are needed, starting with the users is not only an exciting and innovative approach, but critical to ensuring successful uptake of new products.

Design Challenge:  How might we use social-media-based platforms to support interaction with and feedback from adolescents with respect to reproductive health and contraception?

FHI 360 posed this question because adolescents are a priority user group for contraceptive innovation – their desire for contraception is high but often their ability to find contraceptive methods that are a good fit and available in a youth- friendly setting (generally outside of clinics) is challenging.  While adolescents are often included in research, using social media to engage them at a larger scale is seen as a powerful design approach.

After the design challenge was presented during the conference’s opening plenary, the teams took off to formulate their unique concepts for an online platform that would appeal to young people globally. Over the next two days, FHI 360 and its innovation partners from YTH and IDEO hosted two workshops—an introduction to human-centered design and a rapid prototyping session—to help participants develop a winning idea.

Human-Centered Design

IDEO provided expert coaching during the human-centered design workshop to introduce the teams to the mindset, methods, and conceptual framework of human-centered design. Participants learned that the three-phase process begins with inspiration, then ideation, and finally implementation. Presenters also discussed the issues of working with vulnerable populations and conducting ethical research.

Starting point for the inspiration phase were malls, restaurants, and other public places around San Francisco, where the teams observed and interviewed potential users to understand their needs, wants, and feelings surrounding contraception and contraceptive methods. Team members then came back together to discuss and synthesize the data they collected as part of the ideation phase.

Rapid Prototyping

Next, participants attended the prototyping workshop led by YTH experts and the YTH youth advisory board. Prototyping was a hands-on, brainstorming experience during which participants used results of their observations and interviews to answer FHI 360’s initial design question. FHI 360 staff served as technical mentors to the teams, answering questions about how the platform might be used.

After the prototyping session, the teams used the remainder of the day to develop their ideas. Five fantastic prototypes were submitted to the first-round panel of judges from FHI 360 and YTH who narrowed the field to three finalists.

The Challenge Pitch & Winning Team

The three teams of finalists presented their pitches at YTH Live’s closing plenary, answering questions from audience members and the final panel of judges (representatives from the Gates Foundation, Packard Foundation, Vodafone, WestWind, and Twilio as well as members of YTH’s youth advisory board). In the end, the Miz Ambition team received first place honors, which included a $1,000 cash prize and the opportunity to continue to engage with FHI 360 and YTH to develop their concept.

Miz Ambition’s winning idea leverages a Snapchat-like interface that is adaptable to other social media platforms, and designed to gather data on contraceptive preferences. By using emoji-based responses to quick, interactive, BuzzFeed-style quizzes, their solution proposes a rapid-fire exchange with users to gather data on contraceptive preferences and tolerance of side effects in a fun and engaging manner.

Team Spark! received second-place honors and a $500 cash prize; they also will be considered for further development of their concept with FHI 360 and YTH.

FHI 360 found success with the results of the YTH design challenge, ultimately achieving the goal of developing a globally-adaptable concept that is made for young people, by young people.

YTH, a youth-centered health design organization headquartered in Oakland, California, partners with others to advance the health of youth and young adults through technology.

IDEO is a global design company headquartered in Palo Alto, California. IDEO is a community of designers, entrepreneurs, engineers, teachers, and researchers committed to creating positive impact through design.