Written by David Esch
In early June 2019, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) contacted DesignThinkers Group to design and facilitate the first-ever co-creation workshop to help it refine a Request for Proposal for an agency Annual Program Statement (APS). The APS, titled MOMENTUM, focused on developing solutions to maternal and newborn health challenges, as well as reproductive health issues in developing nations. The target date for the workshop was July 15-19, 2019 — less than eight weeks from the time the agency initially contacted us.
DesignThinkers Group (DTG) had previously worked with USAID offices in Africa, Asia, and the U.S. to design and facilitate co-creation workshops to help specific USAID teams decide what projects to fund. We had been selected facilitation partner for six previous co-creation workshops under a procurement process that originated with DARPA called a Broad Agency Announcements (BAA). Based on the success of those past engagements, the USAID MOMENTUM team reached out directly to us to help design and run this first-ever APS co-creation workshop. They also needed help securing an appropriate venue in DC and planning all the logistics for the week-long event with more than 100 people.
Taking advantage of DTG’s international footprint, we formed a team for this project made up of designers and facilitators from Columbia, Germany, Spain, Mexico, and the U.S. Collaborating closely with USAID staff, we co-designed a workshop to enable USAID and its potential partner organizations to develop a greater understanding of the challenges of the MOMENTUM APS.
All participants in the workshop had to learn more about the MOMENTUM goals and about each other in order to gain a greater understanding of what was possible. The co-creation workshop was not about finding solutions; it was focused on understanding the goals and results that the MOMENTUM program aims to achieve through its partners. An equally important goal of the workshop was to help organizations network with one another so they could develop new, more impactful partnerships.
To host the workshop, DTG reserved American University’s Washington College of Law in Washington, DC’s Tenleytown neighborhood for an entire week in July. USAID invited more than 80 participants from a variety of organizations, including international health experts from Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, and the U.S. At least 30 USAID staff attended each day of the workshop.
The five-day program included plenary presentations from top USAID officials, breakout sessions featuring technical experts on relevant topics, and co-creation exercises that helped participants analyze the MOMENTUM challenges. Through these activities participants developed a shared view of the environment and factors influencing maternal, newborn and reproductive health in developing nations.
After the close of the workshop, DTG facilitators joined the USAID health team to share insights and analyze the outcomes of the five-day event. The USAID team was pleased with the results and felt the collaborative, open atmosphere fostered by DTG enabled them to gain deeper insights into the MOMENTUM challenges and build a better understanding of their potential partners. In the week following the co-creation session, one of the key objectives of the project was confirmed: multiple new partnerships were formed to fill specific gaps that the USAID team had identified in the various consortia amongst the participating organizations.
For DTG, this was one of our largest projects involving more than a dozen facilitators and support staff. We had to be adaptable and guide four parallel sessions full of technical experts all looking to position their organizations for funding from USAID. Many adjustments were made to our initial plans, but in the end we were able to guide the participants and USAID through a process that helped refine the MOMENTUM APS and improve the landscape of possible partnerships and solutions to the goals of the program.
While it was an exhausting week, we know that our tight collaboration and partnership with the USAID MOMENTUM Design Team achieved the key objectives of the co-creation workshop. We look forward to hearing the results of the funding round, and following the progress of the important work that will be done in maternal, newborn and reproductive health as a result of this co-creation effort.
For more background about the MOMENTUM APS grant that was the subject of this co-creation workshop, check out the grant opportunity here.
Design Thinkers Group USA provides services to public, private and non-profit organizations. Contact Ashley Hunt, email@example.com for more information, explore options with DTG.