Prof. Muthoni Masinde presents to Scifest Africa on application of Design Thinking in the creation of ITIKI tool

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Prof. Muthoni Masinde presents to Scifest Africa on application of Design Thinking in the creation of ITIKI tool

Many innovations fail to create social impacts due to lack of involvement of targeted beneficiaries. Given that Design Thinking (DT) emphasises on empathy, invention, and iteration, its adoption in creating social innovations can help in reversing this trend.

On 16 February 2021, Scifest Africa, South Africa's National Science Festival (previously known as Sasol Scifest) hosted Professor Muthoni Masinde, an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Information Technology in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology (FEBIT) to present on the application of Design Thinking in steering innovation for relevance and social impact.

Scifest Africa, South Africa's National Science Festival, aims to break through popular misconceptions and create a new mindset about science, technology, engineering and mathematics by demonstrating that these disciplines underpin our everyday activities.

In her presentation, Prof. Masinde elaborated on the application of Design Thinking (DT) in the creation of Information Technology and Indigenous Knowledge with Intelligence (ITIKI) tool, a drought predicting tool designed for Africa's small-scale farmers, which she officially launched in June 2019. The tool is envisioned to bridge the gap between indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge.

She said that drought is a threatening natural hazard that remains the number one disaster in Africa, and of all the people affected by all types of disasters, drought is responsible for over 88% of them.

"The ITIKI was developed with the objective of delivering a high accuracy, affordable forecasting tool for Africa's small-scale farmers that boosts yield, incomes and resilience through better cropping decisions and its success was to be determined by the level of community participation in building it. This project acknowledges the fact that lack of an appropriate drought-forecasting tool for small scale farmers makes them continue to rely on their indigenous knowledge to predict the occurrence of rainfall and critical cropping decisions, but this knowledge seems to be disappearing due to climate change," she said.

The device is an integrated system (artificial intelligent algorithms, weather sensors and a Mobile Application) that combines weather data with the traditional knowledge of African farmers to predict droughts.  The weather and planting information is distributed to the farmers through text messages in their home languages and can be received on a simple and low-cost mobile phone. The forecasts are sent to farmers via an app or SMS message and are also accessible through a web portal, emails and audio files.

Prof. Masinde acknowledged that the main driver of ITIKI was the local people's knowledge on droughts, and that three design science tools were applied in the entire innovation process leading to high rate of adoption in Kenya, Mozambique, and South Africa.

"If we stick to the core science with a fixed frame without thinking about the people whom we are creating the products for, we will then fail to create an impact. Contextualised innovations built by, with and for local people, have a higher chance of succeeding and Indigenous Knowledge Systems bridges this gap because it supports ways that are culturally appropriate and locally relevant to them."  

She also said that when the tool was developed, they followed the design process by involving farmers, listening to them, and having consistent contact sessions with them to find out where their challenges are. They then came up with prototypes, tested those prototypes and repeated the process. "We have found that what works in Mozambique does not necessarily work in Kenya and in South Africa because each perceive things differently and their Indigenous Knowledge System (IKS) is unique. We ensured participatory community driven technique through brainstorming, storytelling, prototyping, and repeated learning launches so that we see which one works and which one doesn't."

She further mentioned that there are many challenges that are not only faced by farmers but the world at large. "We are now faced with COVID-19, and there are some places where locusts are invading farms, so there are many problems and I believe we can still use IKS in those domains as long as we use design science with our people. Do not go to the office, develop a product, and deliver it, rather involve the beneficiaries, and work together with them. When you do that, then we can say that you are an innovator. Imagination is the highest form of research, be in a quiet moment, think about it and you will become an innovator. Do you want to create innovations that are relevant and impactful to the society? IKS intertwined in the Design Thinking process is one of the best tools, and it works wonders."

Prof. Muthoni Masinde, grew up in Kenya and her own experiences inspired the draught predicting tool (ITIKI). The tool has been effectively implemented in Mozambique, Kenya and South Africa. She has since presented her innovative tool at the renowned World Bank Water Week in Washington, DC in April 2019, and was among some 500 delegates including leading innovators, thought leaders and partners to the flagship event.

Uploaded: 18 February 2021
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