• Whitney

Improving Technical Design


What's the fastest way to save time and improve efficiency with developing your technical design? Simple. The clearer your win strategy from the start, the smoother everything will go.


This past year taught us that our old model of flying in for two-week long design summits in developing countries isn't the only way to hammer out a strong technical design. We also learned that without in-country presence, our design efforts need to identify better strategies to ensure that we're capturing data from prior projects and national expert knowledge.


With USAID's continuing emphasis on co-creation, the process of the design cycle becomes even more essential. Often, as development professionals, our design efforts have been very responsive - responsive to the needs of the community, responsive to the solicitation requirements.


In order to win in this competitive environment, we need to move beyond "responsive."


Over the past two decades, the development field as a whole has taken a lot of steps toward more sophisticated and comprehensive measurement and metrics of impact. At the same time, design of projects has been increasingly detached from those very metrics for success. Instead of using the valuable data we've collected to inform new project design, too often we're approaching each new project as if it's a completely blank slate.

Combining data with human centered design offers insights for improving program design and evaluation.

Using data requires two key things - first, packaging data in a way that it is usable for future teams, and second, pairing that data with national expert knowledge of the context to inform what strategies will or won't work in a given community.

I've seen organizations do this many different ways - from reframing the pink review to be a strategic outline, or a logical framework review, or adding a strategy component to a go/no-go decision.


Whatever approach your organization chooses to use, here are some important considerations to keep in mind:

  • Design programs with a foundation of the data gathered during prior projects. Beginning with a full data review should be a requirement for any proposal design project.

  • Ensure flexibility and design for change. This could look like identifying a learning agenda from the start, or it could be as sophisticated as outlining how hypothesis will be tested in early project years and rolled out over the project's life.

  • Engage national experts who can amass knowledge. We are all naturally inclined to rely on our own personal experiences, and national experts are no exception. This means the best avenue for strong design is to triangulate and bring together knowledge from multiple sources to ensure strategies can work where you want them to work.

  • Prepare for windows of opportunity before they open. Invest in coalitions, policy development, and social networks ahead of time.

Now I want to hear from you - what strategies are you wanting to emphasize in technical design? How can we as an industry do better for the communities we seek to serve?