Emily Ward on Empathy in Design

Emily Ward is an EWBNZ team member who recently returned from Cambodia, where she was working with Engineers Without Borders Australia to increase accessibility for Cambodians with a disability. We spoke to Emily about her experiences and the upcoming Pathways to Development workshop on Community Engagement for Better Outcomes.

What was your role when working for Engineers Without Borders Australia in Cambodia?

Emily: I worked in partnership with the Agile Development Group to deliver projects like the Mobility Tuk. Before Cambodia, I had worked as an engineering manager in the Air Force, so I provided a technical skillset that included risk analysis and safety management. I was able to bring communication and organisational skills, and knowledge of the design process to the team. As an outsider, it's easy to come across like we're telling the community that they need to change the way they do things. The Agile Development Group brought their local knowledge and facilitation skills to the table. Together we were able to work with communities to deliver projects in a sustainable way.

What skills did you find useful when delivering projects?

Honestly, the biggest asset was having empathy. Human-centered design is really important when you're working with communities. It's important to collaborate with others to identify solutions, especially if you want your solution to last. Working together is how you get buy-in from the community, how you can ensure that your solution will be maintained.  Learning patience was also an important skill!

What do you think your typical engineer in New Zealand can learn from humanitarian engineers?

Engineers can learn the importance of empathy and the importance of stakeholders in design. At the end of the day we are designing for people. We are solving problems in a way that works for all stakeholders. It's a way of looking at challenges from a different perspective, a way of thinking outside the box. And this can be applied to any challenge, not just engineering. We're moving away from copy and paste solutions. We're talking innovation here!

Emily Ward will be facilitating the Pathways to Development workshop organized by EWBNZ in partnership with MAS on 3rd April in Christchurch.

Get your tickets here!