Method in Action

Peers Observing Peers

THE PROJECT is partnering with Marie Stopes International (MSI) in Zambia to design new family planning and reproductive health offerings that speak to the needs of young people. Tackling such a difficult topic, not typically discussed openly, meant we needed to take a different approach to our usual research model. Instead, we empowered a small group of teens from the community to join us in the process by becoming researchers themselves.


During our first visit to Lusaka, we gathered a group of 14 teens, both girls and boys, and coached them on research techniques. The benefit of enabling local teens to become researchers was three fold: 1) It took the pressure off of the individual interview and allowed these teens to speak about sensitive topics through the eyes of their peers. 2) It left these teens with great research and empathy-building skills, that will hopefully empower them to become better leaders within their community. 3) It imparted to them and the community at large a much more intimate understanding of why we were there, and what we were doing. We split them up into small groups each with one design team member acting as a mentor. These small group workshops coached participants on a number of interviewing and observation techniques—the right questions to ask, what to look for, how to keep an open mind, how to avoid leading questions, and how to dig deeper into the important themes that arose during their research. We then sent them out into the field for four days to practice their new found skills.

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We found that this approach was particularly useful in delving deeper than a typical interview would have allowed us. Yes, we benefited directly in that an interviewee is likely more comfortable talking with their fellow peers (our new researchers) than with a foreign designer. But another great benefit was how much this technique opened up the door for our new researchers to draw in their own analogous experiences to validate their own findings. In other words, the process of interviewing peers provided ours new research team with a buffer, which enabled them to speak about sensitive topics with a third person perspective. However, as their empathy-building skills grew they were also more willing to relate to their interviewees and draw in their own experiences. Furthermore, empowering participants with these research skills helped them to better understand our process and alleviate some of the inevitable pressure of ‘having the right answers.’ In the end, these researchers provided incredibly valuable contributions to the insights.

Minnie bredouw portrait
Minnie Bredouw

Interaction Designer, IDEO