Monika Rohe

Lunchtime Seminar

Tuesday, 9. February 2016 - 12:00 to Saturday, 15. June 2024 - 6:48, Leo 18

SPEAKER: Robin E. Mays, University of Washington, USA

TOPIC: Valuing What Works: Success Factors in Disaster Preparedness – A Human-Centered Approach to Designing Systems for Humanitarian Practitioners

SPEAKER: Robin E. Mays is a humanitarian practitioner and ethnographic researcher who explores the human and contextual factors of disaster and humanitarian response systems that lead to effective response. Her research revolves around understanding contextualized and dynamic meanings of value and effectiveness within humanitarian work; the balance of structure and flexibility in effective rapid response; the role of decision-making and implications for design of technology. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. with the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington, and participating with ERCIS as a Marie Curie Fellow within the NITIM network. She has worked for over 18 years in rapid response operations and logistics, with an 11-year career as a humanitarian logistician. As a member of the response communities she studies, her research couples an insider perspective with a theoretical framework drawn from human-centered design, understanding hidden work, change adoption, and lowest level empowerment.


In order to understand how to design for a humanitarian model of operating, we interviewed over 100 practitioners in 6 countries to answers these questions:
- What are successful Red Cross preparedness practitioners already doing that works?
- How can the organization better support their information needs in what they are already doing?

The overall findings convey factors and behaviors for success that were consistent across multiple contexts. We found success to center above all else on an outcome of communities acting and advocating on their own behalf to meet their own needs. These practitioner-centered success factors can guide the design of technology and information systems based on a better understanding of what constitutes successful humanitarian work. They offer an approach to designing for humanitarian systems that informs and improves support services, plans, and protocols across the humanitarian community, and the technology that supports it. Practitioner-centered technology design will enable humanitarian organizations to evolve their various information and support systems to both improve the two-way interaction between the community and the practitioner and fit those systems appropriately within the practitioner’s complex work environment.

By using human-centered methods, our research provides valuable insights into designing organizational support systems where culture, environmental context, and human interaction are at the core of the success. Our approach advances the ability to understand, honor, protect and serve the humanitarian imperative while enhancing response-elements that are difficult to accommodate via traditional for-profit business approaches. Our research uncovers important insights into the essential elements of effective response, and therefore essential considerations for information and technology design within this context.