Using design thinking to help fight Ebola

OpenIDEO and USAID launch global call for innovative tools to help health-care workers on the frontlines of the virus.

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OpenIDEO, the global social impact platform of design and innovation firm IDEO, has teamed up with USAID to run a worldwide open innovation challenge that it hopes will generate new solutions for the healthcare workers, care-givers and communities on the frontlines of the Ebola crisis.

Called Fighting Ebola: Grand Challenge for Development, the challenge went live on both OpenIDEO and USAID’s websites on 7 October and runs for a month, throughout which collaborators will be simultaneously gathering research and developing breakthrough ideas.

The team at OpenIDEO, led by managing director Jason Rissman and challenge manager Deb Parsons, will support the conversation, helping to connect collaborators, provide inspiration and encourage refinement. Ideas generated during the OpenIDEO challenge that fall within USAID’s priority areas may be encouraged to submit their idea to the US government agency’s Challenge Grant where they may be funded, further developed and implemented in the next few months.

The project focusses on interventions that will help health-care workers perform their job more safely and effectively. Working in conditions of extreme heat and humidity, they face many obstacles in providing timely care to patients – for example, heat stress caused by Personal Protective Equipment, lengthy infection control measures that leave no room for error and communities reluctant to seek care.

Health-care workers need new tools to win this fight, says USAID’s website.

The ideas that have been contributed already on OpenIDEO's online platform include gloves that are built into hazmat suits to minimise the risk of infection when taking them off, modified pop-up isolation tents to allow for safer monitoring and treatment of patients and using decommissioned cruise ships as Ebola isolation wards.

The initiative has been championed by US President Barack Obama, with the Centres for Disease Control, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the US Department of Defence also on board.

The Fighting Ebola challenge was inspired by President Obama’s address to the UN on 26 September, during which he called the outbreak in West Africa a “national security priority”. He outlined the need for a coordinated, global response to fight Ebola and stop the crisis.

USAID responded to the call by launching the Fighting Ebola challenge as a swift and efficient way to generate and source new solutions to fight the raging epidemic. USAID reached out to OpenIDEO to host the open innovation challenge and engage the global community.

At OpenIDEO, we believe that the global community, armed with design thinking tools, has the power to develop new solutions to some of the world’s trickiest problems, says Rissman.

The challenge is rolling out in a number of stages to lead participants through the design process. “Starting with the ‘research’ phase, community members share background, field research, interviews and more to understand the problem from all angles,” he explains. “Then in the ‘ideas’ phase, the community shares and builds on the inspiration, developing new solutions."

The refinement and feedback phases will then take place off-platform as part of USAID’s Challenge Grant. Participants with ideas that show potential will be encouraged to submit their ideas to the Challenge Grant for potential USAID funding where they may will be further developed, refined and implemented.

“We want to tap the global community to discover and design new solutions to the Ebola crisis that can be implemented in West Africa in a matter of months, not years,” Rissman notes. “We need new perspectives, many voices and a lot of collaboration to stop the current Ebola outbreak.

The challenge closes 7 November 2014. Visit OpenIDEO's website to submit your ideas and learn more.

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