Design For UNICEF – ITP Fall 2011

Jorge Just, Adjunct Professor. email:

Office Hours: Monday 6:30pm or by appointment



Every day, an estimated 24,000 children under the age of five die from mostly preventable causes.


UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund; is a UN Agency that takes on issues affecting the health, well-being, and opportunities of children and youth around the world. An increasingly important part of their mission is finding creative ways of addressing issues that negatively affect young lives.

UNICEF’s reach is wide—it’s the #1 purchaser of pencils in the world, and in 2010 responded to emergencies in half of the world’s nations—and increasing includes creating and managing novel communications tools, from online forums for youth journalism to communications support for youth AIDS activists. Because many of the youth served live in places with poor connectivity (whether because of poverty, state controls, crisis, or displacement) UNICEF also creates and manages field-deployable communications hardware that improve basic access to communications, whether via SMS, Internet, or FM radio.  A list of UNICEF Innovation projects can be found at, including auto-disable syringes and a reconfiguration of the supply chain for a nutrient-dense peanut-based food called Plumpy’Nut. 

Design for UNICEF starts with an embrace of the opportunities and constraints of serving a diverse, young, and global population. This class will center on a place—Northern Uganda—and focus on a topic: improving the lives of vulnerable and hard-to-reach children. Our goal is to create new and engaging tools and to find innovative ways to improve work that is already being done. Northern Uganda is our focal point, but the proposals we make and the prototypes we create should be scalable beyond its borders.

The projects in Design for UNICEF will be imagined, researched, designed, and tested by you, working in groups. The course will proceed in three basic stages: Ideation, Creation, Feedback. Ideation is the process of having an idea, and making it specific enough to be worth criticizing. Creation is about turning that idea into a prototype or mockup that is fleshed out enough to invite response from potential users. Feedback is the period of user testing, presentation, and iteration of the idea in an effort to continuously improve it.

A project can serve fundamental functions (e.g. gathering and distribution of information; aggregation of ideas or questions from the field; translation or annotation tools; etc) or it can relate specifically to one of the grand programmatic challenges (education; health and sanitation). Your goal is to come up with an project that is simple enough, compelling enough, and effective enough to merit testing with real users. The choice of whether or not any of the projects coming out of the class will be worth additional resources will made by the UNICEF Innovations team.

Assignments & Grading     

Work in the class will consist of research and development with your group, and presentation of that material to your classmates and to members of UNICEF and invited guests. Your grade will reflect your level of participation in class and on the email list, and your work on group projects. You will also be required to present one T4D innovation to the class, which will count towards 10% of your grade (see below). ITP is pass / fail. And according to our advanced math, a C is a fail. Don’t do C-quality work. What's the point?

Class Participation

ITP is about collaboration and sharing. But this class takes it to a whole other level. We will think of ourselves as a design firm, with UNICEF as our clients. Our goal is to become as knowledgeable as possible about our subject, and to come up with viable project briefs and prototypes that can be proposed to UNICEF for possible implementation. To get there, we’ll have to share the load. You will be expected to learn about Northern Uganda and to help your classmates learn. And you’ll be expected to provide constructive and critical feedback, to improve the overall quality of our work. Basically: you’re going to have to talk and share.

Attendance & Tardiness

You’re expected to be in class and on time. Once you’re there, you’re expected to pay attention to invited speakers and each other, and to ask questions and give feedback. If you know you’re going to miss a class, tell me (and your group) as early as possible. Miss three classes and you’ll fail. If you’re more than 30 minutes late, I’ll count it as missing half a class. If you find yourself having problems with this—or with anything at all—please contact me. We’ll figure it out.

Innovation Presentation

You will find and research an innovative project, solution or system that relates to technology for development, and you will present this work to your classmates. Your chosen innovation need not  relate to UNICEF, Uganda, or even children, but it must pertain to development work, and you should be able to connect it to the themes and scope of this course. Your presentation should answer the following questions: What it is and who’s responsible. What problem does it attempt to solve or improve? And more importantly: Why is interesting? Did it work?

Presentations should be around 7 minutes long, and we’ll have two per class session, starting with the second session. You’ll be expected to post your reference material (presentation slides, links, etc.) to the class website.

The Rundown

Innovation Presentation: 10%

Attendance & Tardiness: 15%

Class / Email List Participation: 30%

Project Work: 45%



Note: This will be updated as we continue. Keep checking.




Official Sites:            




Note: this will change and evolve as we continue, and as the schedules of invited guests solidify. I will add updated readings and assignments to this document as we go.


Week 1. Sept 8: Introduction of Class Form and Theme

An introduction to the class structure and theme; background on UNICEF and communications design goals and constraints; a visit from Margaret Smith, NYU Librarian for Physical Sciences. (


You’ll be divided into groups of two, and assigned a topic related to Northern Uganda to research over the next week. Next Thursday, you’ll give a ten-minute presentation on what you’ve learned. Our goal is to learn as much about Northern Uganda as we possibly can, and to share with the group. As the semester continues, you’ll be expected to act as the class resource whenever questions revolving around your topic come up. We’re relying on you.




Week 2. Sept 15: Northern Uganda

We give each other a crash course in Northern Uganda. Expect guests.


You’ll be assigned groups, and our first design challenge will be posed: Three ideas, four slides each, using the template on this page


Note: Read these BEFORE you start thinking of ideas.

Leverage Points: Places To Intervene In A System (pdf) - Donella Meadows

Design Research & Why We Do It - Panthea Lee

Mobile Justice: An Argument For 'Boring' Solutions - Kate Kontriris

Week 3. Sept 22: First Design Challenge + IDP Camps / Guest: Toshi Naito, Innovation Coordinator, UNHCR

You’ll make your first presentation and receive feedback from the class and hear from Toshi Naito, who has worked in Northern Uganda, registering Sudanese refugees as they left to go back home. Now he's the global innovation coordinator of UNHCR.

AssignmentYou’ll be assigned new groups, and a second design challenge will be posed. Two ideas, fifteen minutes on each.



Week 4. Sept 29: Second Design Challenge + Malaria / Guest: Valentina Buj

You’ll make your second presentation and receive feedback from the class and from our guest, Malaria specialist Valentina Buj.


Your assignment is to sleep under a bed net this week, for at least one night, but preferably for a few days. Document the process of putting it up, taking it down, using it. Take some pictures and some notes. Post them.

Each of you should come to class prepared with:
  • One way of improving the bed net. (You can focus on your experience, or on any of the problems Valentina highlighted--from bed net shape to bed net shipping)
  • One idea for what we can do with bed nets once they've lost their efficacy. Remember there are millions of bed nets out in the world that are no longer useful. What can we do with them other than make garbage? Context is still Northern Uganda. 
There won't be formal presentations, but I've assigned you new groups to help in brainstorming and in organizing bed net handoffs if needed. You'll also talk about your ideas as a group, so if you don't collaborate at least connect so you can limit overlap.

Chris and I will find people in Uganda who you can have a 30 minute conversation with over video chat. You'll interview them, do a bit of research to build upon what you learn, and then report back to the class. We hope you'll come back with three or four discrete problems or potential areas of intervention. The goal is to come back with the conceptual equivalent of bednets: things we can focus on as we shift to deeper, more sustained work on a project.  

Week 5. Oct 6: Bed Nets! / Guest: Valentina Buj

We'll go through your ideas as a group, and then we'll have class discussion about design challenges, where projects fit on the spectrum from individual to community to nations, and lots, lots more. 


As soon as you can, please meet as a group and figure out 1) A specific area of interest. 2) What sort of person would it be most helpful to talk to? 3) what do you want to ask them about? 

Do that, and then email me some variation of the following: We'd like to speak to someone with knowledge about ____________________ in Northern Uganda. We have specific questions about ___________________.

Be as specific and detailed as you possibly can. For example: 

If you say: "We want to talk to someone with knowledge about Internet Kiosks in Northern Uganda." 

And then say: "We have specific questions about how powerful they are, how well they work, and whether they can be connected over mesh networks."

We'll find you someone different then if you say: "We have specific questions about how people use them. Is it purely searching for information? Or email/chat? Has anyone tried to launch a social network for mothers using the kiosks as a base?"

Substitute Internet Kiosks for Education or Health, and mesh networks for mobile classrooms or nutritional information, if you'd like. Just email us soon (this weekend at the latest), so we can get cracking.


Week 6. Oct 13: From The Source / guests: Terra Weikel, Seth Herr, Jean-Marc Lefebure of UNICEF Uganda

Our guests all work for the Tech For Development team of UNICEF Uganda. You can't find a group of people more informed about the challenges and opportunities in Northern Uganda. Plus a primer on how to conduct an interview in such a way that it'll be useful and interesting to both you and your subject.

Assignment: In groups, you will conduct a thirty minute interview with the person in Uganda who we've selected for you. You'll present a user profile of that person, where they fit on the implementation spectrum we've discussed, and several challenges or potential projects you identify during your discussion with them. Make sure you send Jorge & Chris a set of sample questions before the interview, so you can get feedback.

Week 7. Oct 20: User Profiles

You'll present your user profiles, followed by discussion. Plus you'll fill out cards with three things: potential areas of interest, where you want to work on the implementation spectrum, and where you want to work on the low to high tech spectrum. 

 Assignment: You'll be placed in your final groups. Come up with three potential ideas to present.

Week 8. Oct 27: First Presentation by Final Groups / guest: Sonaar Luthra 

Week 9. Nov 3: Second Presentation by Final Groups / guest: Robert Fabricant

Week 10. Nov 10: Work Week

A hand-picked all-star team of designers, tech4dev types, Ugandans, teachers, and others will work one-on-one and round-robin with each group to provide guidance, feedback, and creative criticism.

Week 11. Nov 17: Monitoring & Evaluation, Budgeting, Sustainability & Appropriate Technology

Mini lectures on monitoring and evaluation—how to build feedback systems into your ideas so that you know they’re actually helping--plus budgeting, sustainability and appropriate technology. Followed by discussion and progress updates from each group. 

Week 12. Dec 1: TBA


Week 13. Dec 8: Final UNICEF Presentation

Groups present to UNICEF staffers and outside guests, followed by discussion. This is your final, but not your final presentation.


Week 14. Dec 15: Public Presentation At UNICEF HQ

This is a mandatory public presentation at UNICEF HQ. It's your public debut. Enjoy.