AMRA Design Thinking workshops for Covid-19


Dr Mussawar Ahmad, Head of Research, AMRA UK

The current pandemic that faces the world has presented a myriad of challenges ranging from concerns around physical and mental well-being through to vaccine development and distribution. Many of us feel helpless and powerless. We all want to find a way to help and the question remains, how?

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Wordcloud from session 1

To address this question, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Research Association (AMRA) has established a series of workshops that utilise the Design Thinking framework (Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test).

Simply put, Design Thinking is a process for creative problem solving. It has a human-centred core. It encourages problem solvers to focus on the people they’re creating for, which leads to better products, services and internal processes.

Through these workshops, AMRA aims to achieve the following:

1. Foster collaboration within and across multiple Ahmadiyya community organisations in the UK and across the world

2. Impart knowledge and understanding of the Design Thinking process

3. Leverage Design Thinking and the collaborative networks formed to address challenges surrounding the current pandemic

These objectives are underpinned by a direction from Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V, may Allah be his Helper, who said:

“…those who strive to advance human knowledge for the benefit of humanity will reap the rewards of Allah the Almighty for their efforts.” (10th AMRA Conference, 14 December 2019)

Design Thinking workshops and design sprints are usually held in person and often require face-to-face interaction in order to successfully deliver a solution. Given the climate, AMRA has had to devise innovative means to deliver these workshops using solely online tools and methods. Engagement has been fantastic with attendees coming together from across the world, both men and women, young and old.

In fact, the worldwide Ahmadiyya community has a host of skills and expertise from all domains and industries. This presents an opportunity for the Jamaat to rally together and start to develop innovative and novel solutions that tackle key problems that are being faced by humanity. Indeed, many of the challenges being faced, e.g. isolation, are only amplified by the current crisis. Solutions devised today could set to help people for years to come.

So, how has AMRA done this? And what has been achieved to date?

The first session kicked off on 2 April and was focused on a phase referred to as “Empathise”, which is to understand the problems or challenges faced and by whom. To begin with, there was an exercise to pool all attendees together and create common ground. A word cloud was generated from which seven working groups were synthesised:

1. Isolation and mental and physical health

2. Misinformation and public fear

3. Equipment shortages

4. Healthcare systems

5. Education in pandemic

6. Treatments; testing capacity/diagnostic tools

7. Economic shift – unemployment and job security

Each of these groups now have their own Slack channels with groups of enthusiastic people collaborating to explore the problem space and identify opportunities for devising innovative solutions.

Following on from this, the working groups used tools like empathy maps and personas to understand more about the problem: who was being affected, how that was making them feel, what they were able to do and what their biggest pains were etc.

This concluded the Empathise session with the Define session being held three days later on 5 of April. In this session, attendees had to begin fleshing out the problems they were investigating to get down into the details. They used tools such as 5 Whys and continued to build on their empathy maps and personas. Working between these different tools helped the attendees to understand the problem space and begin synthesising specific problem statements.

The most recent session, which was held on 11 April, focused on Ideation. Here, the working groups were asked to generate the worst possible ideas for their selected problem statements. With the aim to i) understand what a bad solution looks like and therefore ascertain what a good solution could look like, and ii) ensure that there was an openness to criticism – it’s far easier to take criticism on a bad idea than a good one!

Example of MIRO board with the “worst possible idea” exercise

Next, there was an activity that forced rapid and intense generation of ideas through an exercise called “Crazy 8s”. Each person had eight ideas in eight minutes that corresponded to their problem statement. This proved to be a real favourite activity!

Once ideas had been generated, the top ones were selected and clustered into a matrix to help to prioritise what should be worked on due to ease of implementation and high impact i.e. the top right quadrant.

Time limitations meant that there is much more work to be done as part of the ideation phase and hence, AMRA will be holding an “Ideation 2” session on 16 April.

It is the hope of the organisers that these sessions continue to attract more interest and talent so that tangible solutions can be designed and implemented to help people through this most unusual and distressing of times.

To this effect, once the Prototype and Test phases are complete, working groups will be encouraged and supported to apply for funding to take their ideas to the next step.

The fruits of coming together in this way are already being realised, with friendships and networks being formed that otherwise would have never been created.

For those that are interested, they can sign up here: https://amracovid-19-3-2.

If you would like to find out more about AMRA and its activities, please get in touch:

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