As Design for Social Innovation students, we’re constantly reminded of our responsibility to be social – to deliberately involve people in our projects, both in the design process and in our imagination of their impacts. We want to share a powerful experience we had while working on our thesis project, which seeks to improve the interaction between doctors and patients in government hospitals in India.
The services offered in these hospitals are pro bono and attract a huge number of rural patients, leading to doctor-to-patient ratios as high as 1:800 and long wait times. At GB Pant Hospital in Delhi – one of our research sites – we found that a patient waits for an average of 4-6 hours to meet a doctor for just 4-6 minutes! We observed that some of the wait time was caused by a lack of guidance and information. Some patients weren’t familiar with hospital protocol; some needed help getting the correct paperwork and filling it out; some couldn’t read the hospital’s text-heavy signage. The hospital staffs are simply not large enough to give patients the logistical and emotional support they need. So we designed a volunteer-based assistance program to help fill this gap.
To prototype the program, we planned a trip to India to visit two hospitals. We hoped to recruit a group of young, enthusiastic college students who were willing to work with us for a couple of days as volunteers. While building this volunteer group, we wondered how best to incentivize their participation. We were asking them to step into a highly stressful environment, after all, and to dive into work with a pair of designers they’d never even met. We landed in Delhi still thinking about this question.
In the end, the volunteers – all energetic 18-22 year olds pursuing professional degrees – suggested the best answer themselves. On the day of testing, our team of nine volunteers assisted more than 90 patients. Surrounded constantly by patients asking for assistance, they remained unshaken and determined to help. The volunteers were proud of their impact and, when the topic of incentives came up, told us they were against monetary incentives. Instead, they wanted certificates from DSI to recognize their work. They wanted to think about the time they’d contributed at the hospital as professional development, as work they’d continue to build on in the future. They wanted future employers to see it the same way. And they believed that a certificate would encourage volunteers to do better work.
This was one month back. We’re now back in New York, developing the volunteer program further and digesting what our first team has taught us. With encouragement from Despina Papadopoulos, our thesis advisor, and Cheryl Heller, the founding chair of the program, we’re ensuring that all the volunteers receive certificates of recognition on behalf on this program. We welcome feedback or questions about our project, which can be sent to Swar and Pragya.