Fellowship Learning & Reflections: Nzisa Kioko, YLabs

July 14, 2021

Nzisa is a Human Centered Designer and Researcher who is passionate about solutions that bring impact to the users. She is a graduate of the University of Nairobi (Bachelor of Arts in Design) and the Nairobi Design Institute (Human Centered Design, UX, UI) and has been working at the intersection of design and research to create, test and co-design experiences since 2018. In her line of work, she is excited each day by the opportunity to work towards impacting communities within different demographics. Through her work, she has had the amazing opportunity to immerse herself in different cultures and communities, and to collaborate with individuals with diverse expertise; and from different backgrounds. Outside design, she loves reading, writing and collecting books. In her free time, she volunteers for the St. John Ambulance (Kenya).

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your work?

My name is Nzisa Kioko. I am a designer, with a background in interior design, as well as human centered design. I graduated in 2016 and started practicing interior design the same year. Post that I worked in the same design firm for almost three years. I started doing Human Centered Design because I came to a crossroads in my career where I didn’t feel like what I was doing had an impact on anyone. After I quit my job in 2018, someone approached me to do a project for a children’s hospital. It was majorly an interior design project, but I got to spend time with the kids and talk to them, and design with them. So we ended up designing a hospital to make children feel at home because they spent so much time in that hospital. We also didn’t want them to feel scared, so we tried to see how the space could reflect that. This experience introduced me to including the user in my design process. And from that, I started being interested in Human Centered Design, which led me to attending the Nairobi Design Week, where I met people who already practiced it. This resulted in me going back to school for a year to change my career. 

The transition to HCD has been both easy and hard. Easy because I got the opportunity to join a global design institute, which offered a fellowship, and with that came all of these opportunities for me to practice. Hard, because it’s always hard to start again, especially when you’ve had this very promising career trajectory and then you get to a crossroads, and you don’t know what’s next. It is hard to go back to zero. It was difficult for me, both intellectually and financially, because I had to quit my job for a year and start again from the beginning.

What excites you the most about the HCDExchange design fellowship? 

HCDExchange offers the opportunity to connect with a community as part of the fellowship. A community is important when you start a career, and when you are looking to set yourself up for your career. It opens up opportunities for you and shows you what else is happening in the industry as well. It also helps you set pace by having a benchmark on what’s happening.

Can you tell me about the organisation that you are working with and the project you are working on? 

YLabs is a company that designs, tests and advocates for youth driven solutions, which address the biggest challenges to young people’s health and economic opportunity. Currently, YLabs is partnering with Amref on the Youth-led Action for Sex Education (Faya) project, which seeks to test and demonstrate cost-effective, innovative in-school and out-of-school channels to deliver comprehensive sex education delivery in Kenya. Of the four channels that are being tested, YLabs is responsible for developing a digital solution to deliver comprehensive sexuality education to adolescents from the comfort of their phones.

The Faya toolkit is an eight chapter manual that has topics from teenage pregnancy, to HIV AIDS, to understanding ourselves, and learning about gender and life skills within it. The toolkit has a participant manual, a facilitators manual, and a parent manual. Our job at YLabs is to turn this manual into a digital delivery option. There is evidence that comprehensive sexuality education plays a major role in improving sexual reproductive health outcomes for young people but there is no evidence indicating which is the most cost effective delivery channel in Kenya. Towards the end of this process we hope to be able to use what we have learnt from research to deliver Comprehensive Sexual Education digitally. You can check out the progress of this project here

What has been happening in the FAYA project from the start to now? Where are you currently in the process? 

Since I was not part of FAYA from the beginning, I started with a mini onboarding session where I got introduced to the whole project, and where they were at. The next step was to start research. We started doing research planning for field activity. We talked about locations, budgets, participant recruitment, and also created the assets for testing, and the testing kits. Our recruitment criteria targeted boys and girls between the age of 15-19. They needed to have access to a smartphone-either owned or shared and come from Homabay town sub county and Nyali sub county. We also looked at in school versus out of school youth, from different religions and from urban/peri-urban and rural contexts. Our participants also included some vulnerable youth as well as parents of teenagers and influencers. In January, we went to the field, where I partnered with other colleagues to collect data from young people in both Mombasa and Homabay. In this process, we had to also collaborate with the government, because this is a project that’s looking to have buy-in from the local community, local authorities, and government bodies. We had to talk to the government before we accessed the young people, and we also had to involve government officials in research data collection, and in the reporting of what we were finding in the field.

What was the process of gathering insights for you?

While we were in the field we were lucky to have a youth recruiter who was connecting us to adolescents. All we had to do was schedule these interviews and plan travel to reach where we had to go. Once we began working more closely with local government officials, we were able to conduct interviews with adolescents and parents at community health centres. We went to a health centre, met our community health worker who would then help us with location logistics and connect us with even more youth to engage in the research and testing process. During the interviews we had different design activities that we used. We used elicitation, role play, interview guides and interactive prototypes to help gather information. We had interactive prototypes that we got them to interact with, and then asked questions about the interaction. We also used AB testing (split testing or bucket testing) to test design styles as well as colour palettes and differences between a story format and a question format for delivery of the information. At the end of each day, after collecting all the data we would do data entry in Google Sheets, while the team in the US would review the information overnight, and look for patterns that might change our prototype going forward. If anything needed changing, it was changed overnight by the US team. The next morning we would have a 30 minute meeting to see what’s changed and how we needed to plan for this in the day. So this cycle ran for four days where we collected data while tweaking our prototype if necessary. On the fifth day we did a mini synthesis with the whole team, and while on field we used our weekends to iterate on the solution. By the start of the next week we would have a new solution to test post incorporation of our learnings. These sprints ran for three weeks and on the fourth and final week, we just did synthesis, which also involved thinking about sharing back all the learnings and changes.

What were some of your learnings from the field and how have they informed the solution? 

During fieldwork we were testing three different directions of digital interventions to deliver the Faya toolkit. We tested 3 digital channels including testing a website called Faya digital, we tested a WhatsApp gateway where we had a chatbot, and we tested a Facebook and messenger option. A lot of young people were not comfortable with the Facebook and messenger option because there wasn’t enough privacy according to them. Other people who do not concern themselves with their information would also get notifications. If they like a page, people would know what they were doing on their phones, and that made them feel that there will be a lot of judgment on Facebook. FAYA digital had a lot of buy-in from parents as it didn’t have any other distractions. They knew if their child was on FAYA digital they were not talking to other people, they were just learning information.

However, young people didn’t really like the experience of digital as much as their parents did. They also cited the issue of having to buy data bundles to get online to access FAYA digital. So WhatsApp became the young people’s platform of choice because firstly, in Kenya there are free bundles options that include WhatsApp. So that meant adolescents would be engaged, learn and access services in the whatsapp chat bot even without data bundles. WhatsApp was also seen as very private and personal. So unless someone knows the WhatsApp chatbot’s name there is no way anyone would know what they’re doing, and as a user they can also delete their history after they have got the information they wanted. So we created a WhatsApp chatbot called ‘Doki and the solution is called ‘AskDoki’.

How are young people included in the process? 

Young people have taken an active role in leading this work each step of the way. We hired a  youth recruiter to be our eyes and ears on the ground, connecting us to other youth to be part of the research and prototyping process. Young people like myself have been hired and trained to lead research and prototyping sessions, and make sure that we are being guided by what youth participants share with us. We also work closely with youth champions in each county, who will be important local advocates for AskDoki throughout implementation and scale up phases.

What are some of the tools that you have used in your work and why do you find them useful? 

We have used Mural for synthesis and brainstorming, and it has been like an MVP tool for most of us. It makes it easy to work as a large team, where everyone just contributes real time and any clarifications are sought as you go. It’s basically an online white board. For prototyping we had both digital and physical prototypes. For the digital prototypes we used Invision for design and live prototype testing and Rasa gateways to monitor chatbot conversations during remote testing. 

For planning, I find Google Docs very helpful because you can collaborate on them from wherever you are in the world. Google drive and folders also make it very easy for us to have processes set up that the team can easily navigate and follow. Even when you come back to it you don’t get lost when you’re looking for information or when you want to add information to specific parts of the process. 

How did you use digital and physical prototypes in the field? Which ones do you think worked better? 

Both worked well because they were both tangible and young people got to interact with them. The prototypes we created really depended on the activity and what we were trying to learn from it. So for the paper prototype activity we wanted to learn about preferences. We printed out different applications, like WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger and even IMO, and we wanted to learn which was preferred most by young people. So for them to be able to arrange these in ascending order or descending of preference it had to be tangible products to interact with and view together. For the digital prototype we were focusing on looking at the interaction that the young person was having with the information in terms of stories and FAQs and testing preferences. 

What’s next for the project? 

We just completed a month-long pilot and are synthesizing the results for further refinement of the platform before launch and scale. I will be talking to the Youth Advisory Board, as well as some influencers on what we need them to help us with on launching AskDoki. I’m looking forward to hearing what young people say about our solution.

What is one moment of success you have felt during the Fellowship? 

The remote testing phase has been a point of success for me because I didn’t really think I’d be able to do that on my own but I took it up and made it happen. I also did the content strategy, putting the training manual into conversations which was interesting as well as challenging but I managed to do eight chapters. 

I had a teacher who told me once, ‘don’t ever say no, just say yes’, and you’ll find out how to do it. So I’m all about the can-do attitude. 

Learn More: 

  • Twitter: @nzisakay
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nzisairenekioko/
  • Personal website: https://nzisakioko.wixsite.com/iamdesign
  • Organizational website: https://www.ylabsglobal.org/
  • Read awesome articles by Nzisa: keystrokesbynzisa.wordpress.com


This story is copyright Nzisa Irene Kioko and published on the HCDExchange website under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

This interview was conducted by Rimjhim Surana, HCD Specialist, HCDExchange. 

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