Human centered design for CBRM

The weeks have passed quickly in Hawaii.  Between sunsets and conference calls July turned to August. Adventure and work have co-mingled in an internship that has expanded my conservation knowledge to the practicalities of internal operations and external partnerships. I don’t have to tell you how beautiful Hawaii is, but it takes a while to explore and get to know this place. I have been to many beautiful beaches, swum with sea turtles, seen countless humuhumunukunukuapua’a (reef trigger fish), observed a mother monk seal and her pup, and have been alerted by panicked beach goers of a shark in the water.

The mountains of Waimanalo

Swimming with turtles at Electric Beach

Bali is just around the corner and the Coral Triangle Initiative team at Conservation International is pulling together a workshop unlike any our participants have experienced before. Design Thinking is a popular approach to generate innovative solutions and is used in many sectors. Popular in product development and user experience, we hope that strategic brainstorming and the human centered approach of design thinking will help to scale up impact in community based conservation. Will we generate new technologies? Probably not. But our community of practice is engaged in a systematic intervention strategy. Huge investments have been made in cultivating an enabling environment for community based marine resource management, but we still reach a small number of communities and the achievements of the Coral Triangle Initiative parties are far from achieving their goals to protect 10% of the marine territory under the CBD, and face threats from illegal fishing, overfishing, and climate change. We hope to engage our partners to unlock the potential to reach more communities.


In preparation for our three-day innovation lab, our team gathers in the conference room for marathon meetings to deliberate over agenda nuances, revising our strategy for facilitating the workshop. Most of our participants have not experienced this style of thinking. As I review the pre-workshop surveys, it is apparent that we employ a heavy hand delivering support to the communities we engage. A quick query online yields many guides and toolkits, each perpetuating a similar linear strategy. At this workshop, we are asking for a new approach that we can grow quickly; one that is more holistic and that doesn’t need a baby sitter. It’s a big ask. But the reality is there is less money available to achieve conservation goals in the Coral Triangle, the Coral Triangle Initiative stands for renewal in 2020, and the wellbeing of coastal communities relies on better management of coastal resources for subsistence, livelihood generation, and coastal protection. The list of challenges goes on.


There is one key lesson that can be gleaned from field experience and literature and should not be ignored, successful interventions are preceded by community demand. This is a challenge with subsistence fishing communities that hear the words resource management and think fisheries closures. If we can overcome this belief, we can scale up impact. The development community is saturated with academic menschen, caught in the cycle of reporting success to funders. It is easy to lose sight of how communities define success and what their goals are and begs the question: Who does the development community serve, our funders or our beneficiaries? For a few days next week, we will attempt to design an intervention that appeals to the beneficiary’s definition of success.

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