Serious fun: The first Core Innovation Lab

Aug 7th 2018

Organised in Seattle in May 2018, Core’s first innovation lab brought together a range of experts and partners to experience its human-centered design approach, tinker with early concepts and innovations and co-design the initial Discover phase of the project.



In May 2018, over thirty interdisciplinary development and health specialists from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Scope, JSI, Intellectual Ventures and Global Good participated in a joint workshop to learn more about human-centered design.

With people as diverse as architects, engineers, family planning specialists and water and sanitation experts in the room, the room was full with  knowledge and experience, a fertile ground for innovation. 

The workshop participants

The workshop brought together over 30 interdisciplinary development and health specialists

“Creative problem-solving is achieved through serious fun and productive play,” said Rose Matthews, Design Consultant and facilitator of the Lab. 

“At this Lab, we wanted to create an environment where it is safe to experiment and try new things, knowing that our rigorous human-centered design methodology will root out the best ideas for incorporation into Core.”

Hands-on learning

The participants were introduced a selection of tools, which the Scope design team had created for the Core project’s different stages, from Discover to Create. The participants were invited to try the tools and to experience what hands-on concept development through human-centered design could be.

For the participants, this was an opportunity to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams, and explore the methods and techniques, which put users at the heart of innovation.

The tools which were presented for the participants included the life course journey tool and a role playing cards game, which were created for the Discover phase of the project in order to to spur productive dialogue with women in the field.

In addition, they got to test out a discussion aid called ‘How might we?’, which was created to explore how challenges become opportunities for design in the project’s Understand phase. 

For the Create phase, a deck with ‘Rose’, ‘Bud’, or ‘Thorn’ cards could be used to differentiate fully formed ideas from ones with potential that needed further development and concepts to be dropped altogether. A ‘Venn radar plot’ concept evaluation sheet was also created to figure out which of the design ideas could work and which would not. The participants tested these in practice. 

True to the values of continuous learning, which is central to the human-centered design method, the inputs created in the lab were solicited to adapt, refine and further develop these tools, and to root out less effective options early on.

The project wanted to move forward with only the interventions and tools that were most likely to succeed with users in the country context.

The "Rose, Bud, Thorn" tool

The “Rose, Bud, Thorn” card deck was created by the Scope design team for the Create phase of the project. In the Innovation Lab, the participants got to test the tool.

Users needs are a starting point

The lab demonstrated how human-centered design helped place people at the centre of the creative problem-solving process, and was well received by the participants. 

Some were already familiar with the approach, while for others, it was a new working method.

As one participant put it, “The human-centered design principle of starting from the user’s needs is the only way forward in innovation. It should be at the heart of everything we do: in our way of thinking about problems and in our way of collaborating.”  

This was the first of a series of events that will be held in the different project countries over the next two years.

Core Innovation Labs will bring stakeholders and experts together at critical points in time to guide, co-design and test early concepts and interventions, ensuring their active involvement at every step of the innovation process.

Core's suite of Tools and Resources