Sitka Technology Group

Responding to Climate Change with a Design Thinking Mindset

A project that aids Colombian onion farmers struggling with lackluster harvests took center stage in November when the Stanford Social Innovation Review published “Using Design Thinking to Tackle Climate Change When ‘What You Know No Longer Works’” by Sarah Stein Greenburg and Dr. Madhuri Karak. As hinted at in the title of the piece, Stein Greenburg and Karak set out to address “ambiguity problems,” or issues that can no longer be solved by traditional, time-honored methods. The article goes into great detail on the collaboration between Stanford University’s (the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) and Rare’s Center for Behavior & the Environment and how they used design principles to help Colombian farmers take better care of their land and increase agricultural output.

The authors write that ambiguity problems like the one Colombian farmers are facing “demand new decision-making tools, designed for and with the people instrumental to long-term resource management,” and that’s where the concept of design thinking comes into play. When utilizing design thinking, solutions are built from the ground up for a specific user group to help solve the challenges they directly face. Because global warming results in unpredictable weather, many agricultural practices will have to adapt to a new normal, making climate change one big ambiguity problem for "frontline communities" i.e., farmers. 

In Colombia, onion producers were experiencing poor crop yields due to “longer, hotter summers and unseasonal rainfall,” leading them to question their farming methods that had been passed down generation after generation. By utilizing a design thinking mindset, the project team zeroed in on the relationship these farmers have with the land to prioritize solutions that this user group could understand and implement. Access to proper tools and much-needed soil health information empowers farmers to aptly respond to environmental challenges resulting from climate change.

Like farmers, natural resource managers are discovering new problems that can’t be solved by traditional strategies. These issues are only going to become more complex as time goes by making it imperative that broadly applicable solutions are sought now. Stein Greenburg and Karak write that a person utilizes design thinking by “understanding the problem from a human perspective, exploring and testing a range of different solutions, and iterating repeatedly.” A design thinking approach would allow developers to produce software that can adapt over time alongside the modification of practices. And with the user top of mind, software produced in this manner has a longer life span while being more intuitive to operate. 

Broadsheet - Alevin

Sitka’s signature combination of design thinking and agile development puts us in a prime position to respond to climate change. Our DataDiagnostic service transforms data into models allowing organizations to see their current data management practices and systems visualized (as shown in the image above). Doing so helps prioritize areas of improvement and guides businesses reacting to the changing environment. By quickly designing and deploying customized solutions for our clients, we gather real-world user feedback that confirms right practices and informs the next steps of rapid adaptation. 

Developing software that supports sustainable usage of the world’s finite supply of natural resources couldn’t be more crucial. We’re here to help people find the right approach that lets them communicate and coordinate in response to the changing world. Reach out to begin planning for the future today.