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The Global Handwashing Partnership

Human-Centered Design for Knowledge Management at the Global Handwashing Partnership

Published: April 15, 2019  /  Published by Global Handwashing Partnership

“When you let people participate in the design process, you find that they often have ingenious ideas about what would really help them. And it’s not a onetime thing; it’s an iterative process.”
Melinda Gates, “The Human Element: Melinda Gates and Paul Farmer on Designing Global Health”. Interview with Caitlin Roper, Wired. November 12, 2013

Founded in 2001, the Global Handwashing Partnership (GHP) is a public-private coalition of organizations working to advance handwashing with soap at critical times as a pillar of development. We have a diverse group of members, from small startups to multinational companies, and international nonprofits to academic institutions.

One of our strategic objectives is to connect practitioners with best practices, evidence, and guidance to improve handwashing programs. This goal is the center of our approach to knowledge management.

Delivering on this knowledge mandate requires us to prioritize the learning needs of handwashing researchers and implementers. This article describes our human-centered design journey for our knowledge strategy, our Design Challenge, an internal human centered design project run by the Global Handwashing Partnership Secretariat. Our goal was for to develop a solution to improve knowledge management, building on our existing knowledge tools, including SoapBox, contact email box and our redesigned Resources Hub.

Why human centered design?

Human-centered design (HCD) is a creative approach to problem solving that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with solutions tailor-made to suit their needs ( It offers empathy, nuance and dynamism not captured by our previous knowledge management metrics.

The project emerged from the observation that our knowledge management projects could be better suited to meet the knowledge resource needs of the individuals and organizations who interact with our products and services. Our knowledge analytics (See Figure 1) indicate that we have significant traffic and engagement, particularly for certain resources (such as tools for Global Handwashing Day). These analytics did not provide deeper insights into the interests, motivations and unmet needs of our users, hence the adoption of human-centered design.

Knowledge PlatformMetricsTimeline
Website analytics343,353 pageviewsJan. to Dec. 2018
Social mediaFacebook followers: 110,295
Twitter followers:
Jan. to Dec. 2018
SoapBox (Newsletter)4,557 subscribersJan. to Dec. 2018

Figure 1: Selected analytics from knowledge platforms

How did the GHP use human-centered design?

In the proposal stage, we began by stating our assumptions. These included assumptions that we: are committed to leveraging existing knowledge opportunities; are committed to remaining iterative and responsive to the needs and focus of our stakeholders and audience; and have a heterogenous audience. The project launched with our design question: How might we design a knowledge management system that is responsive to the needs of our stakeholders and audience?

User mapping
We grouped our users as audience and stakeholders. Our stakeholders are members of the Global Handwashing Partnership, and our audience includes individuals, networks or organizations which contribute to or use our knowledge resources.

Our stakeholders are a known collective, but our audience is a heterogenous group, ranging from national civil society organizations to community initiatives working on Global Handwashing Day campaigns to educators and policy makers.

Qualitative research for empathy and insights
Empathy is critical to human-centered design. Building this empathy typically involves an ethnographic approach with a product’s users. We used in-person and virtual interviews to identify needs, motivations and interests.

We prioritized these questions: How do users utilize the GHP’s knowledge resources? What handwashing research/implementation work do users undertake? How do users complete their daily knowledge tasks? What are the biggest pain points and successes in this approach? How can the GHP better support this knowledge work?

The expert interviews focused on case studies for moving knowledge to practice with a diverse audience. We also held an interactive learning workshop with knowledge managers working on global health and development projects, to present our processes and leverage their knowledge system expertise.

Analogous learning
This step involved extensive research on the knowledge practices of other groups and organizations – including those in non-global health and development sectors. There is no single definition of knowledge management, but a good lens is to focus on all processes involved in curating, creating and disseminating knowledge, and all supporting organizational structures – people and systems.

Figure 2: Human-centered design processes at the GHP

How did we understand what and how our users want to learn?

Personas are to human-centered design what characters are to actors. They have lives, a history, roles and a “why” for their interactions. Leveraging personas allows us target user groups. We developed six key personas: The Government Official, The Journalist, The Academic, The Program Manager, The Behavior Change Expert and the Communications Manager.

For instance, the Program Manager persona works on the WASH in Schools Project at a national NGO in South-East Asia. Their work is split between administrative tasks, such as budget and officer management; and prioritizing the best practices for program design. While they participate actively on a few WASH communities of practice, they find it most practical to write to the GHP to ask for specific materials and links to colleagues in the field. They would like to see region-specific handwashing knowledge resources to support their programs.

Affinity Maps
Design research produces voluminous information. We used visual maps to help themes emerge, which informed our insight statements.

Insight Statements
This practice elaborates themes from design research as a need, desire, or a stated problem. Here is an example:
Theme: Region-specificity of handwashing advocacy resources
Insight statement: Users need handwashing advocacy content tailored to their region.

What have we learned so far?

Diversity of learning needs
Our users have varying knowledge needs (See Figure 3). Each group has needs, desires, pain points, and recommendations on how to optimize their knowledge experience. Our users will benefit from region-specific knowledge products and services.

Learning systems
Our users value knowledge exchange platforms and opportunities – learning systems. For example, webinars, communities of practice and workshops. Users tend to adapt knowledge to their context, such as creating multiple translations of Global Handwashing Day posters.

Dynamic dissemination needs
Knowledge is only useful if it can be accessed where and when needed. Users value dedicated social media platforms, and online resource repositories. Our users are also interested in sharing their handwashing work with a larger audience.

Figure 3: Responses to “Knowledge in one word” by interviewees

Reframing the problem and building a knowledge strategy – What’s next?

This design process is now in the Prototyping phase. In this phase, we will be developing a process, tool, or workflow to improve the way we manage knowledge across our diverse partnership. We believe that involving the handwashing community in this project will ensure that the final solution is responsive to the knowledge needs of implementers and researchers globally.

Meanwhile, you can get involved in the process by sharing your feedback with us and engaging with our knowledge management work. With our “Ask the GHP” series, GHP experts will answer handwashing-related questions over social media and webinars. A simple email starts this process. The Resources Hub is another invaluable platform, where you can access handwashing resources and make submissions following our submission guidelines.



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