How Can We Learn From People, to Design for People?

It’s 4:37AM. I silence my blaring alarm and bolt upright. Am I doing this? It occurs to me that it’s a Wednesday. Yes, I’m doing this.

I begrudgingly shrug off my covers and start getting ready for the Workshop. Once a week, I observe Yuwa facilitators leading discussions for their football teams, on topics ranging from general hygiene to talent show dance rehearsal.

Walking back to the bus stop after Workshop on a chilly January morning.

Today, I’ve asked to shadow Deepika**, one of Yuwa’s very first students to become a football coach. She leads me off the bus through the dim, foggy Jharkhand morning to her practice field. It’s freezing cold, dark, and honestly, a little creepy.

“Deepika,” I ask, “do you feel safe?”

A simple question that I assumed would be answered affirmatively to any of her supervisors turned out to be the turning point of my entire project.

“Actually, no” Deepika responded. She began to explain—a woman had recently been gang-raped near Kanke, and some mornings, she waits for more than 30 minutes for her players to show up for practice [1].

Not only was I shocked and saddened by this information, I was amazed by how little I had learned about Yuwa’s Workshop program through the formal surveys I was administering. It was only a few days before that I had interviewed Deepika about her experiences as a coach and facilitator, and for whatever reason, she’d chosen not to mention something that ultimately jeopardized her safety. An informal conversation had revealed more about the program than her responses to my carefully planned and cautiously articulated survey questions.

Reflecting on that morning, I’m left with both questions and learnings. How can we learn from people, to design for people? The answer, I’d believed, lies with the impact evaluation and survey design techniques I’d been trained in as an undergrad and graduate student. While I still believe in the power of evidence-based decision making, I was reminded that ‘good data’ at its core is really just… conversation and relationships with other human beings. And that concepts like ‘human-centered design’ were only invented to remind us all of that.

As an AIF Clinton Fellow, I am very lucky to have the opportunity to seek feedback and learn from the community I work with nearly every day. The program I work on is operating completely locally, meaning I can personalize my project to meet the unique needs of the players, facilitators, and trainers who I hope will use it.

As I venture into the field of social work, it’s highly likely that the projects I work on will be operating at a completely different scale; think thousands of villages across several states, as opposed to 500 girls in four villages within 10 kilometers of each other. I’ll need to rely on my evaluation background to help me create a learning and feedback infrastructure — but from now on, with personal relationships and conversations at its core.

Another scene on our walk back to the bus stop. Johar Jharkhand!

** Name changed for privacy.


[1] Sahey, Sanjay, and Gaurav Pandey. “Ranchi Law Student Abducted and Gang-Raped, 12 Arrested.” Times of India, 29 Nov 2019.

Jane is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Yuwa in Ranchi, Jharkhand. For her Fellowship project, she is developing a life skills curriculum for adolescent girls from vulnerable backgrounds around sports-based training to enhance education, build confidence, and improve health. As a student of economics and politics, Jane has been captivated by the beauty and complexity of India throughout her college years. She first traveled to India in the summer of 2017 to work with a social enterprise in Delhi. She has participated in a variety of India-based projects, including working as a research assistant at her university’s Delhi Jal Board Yamuna River Project in New Delhi, co-launching an apparel brand with young female entrepreneurs in rural Uttar Pradesh, and working for a Delhi-based environmental action group to evaluate sustainable solid waste management practices. She interned with the United Nations ESCAP to research women’s entrepreneurship in the informal sector, and participated in the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship to study Hindi in Jaipur. She is ecstatic about better understanding localized approaches to gender equity and development by serving on the AIF Clinton Fellowship. Ultimately, she hopes to become an expert in poverty alleviation in South Asia and to work in policy implementation by identifying best-practices, promoting accountability through monitoring and evaluation, and collaborating with governments to improve social protection for the most vulnerable.

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One thought on “How Can We Learn From People, to Design for People?

  1. I really appreciate your work Jane Hammaker..

    2.Girls Education
    3.Rural Area

    All the above mentioned areas are really far from our mainstream development. Sport for girls in rural areas hardly very few individuals have courage to do work with….

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