Step 1. Analysing the context

To get off to a good start, you will need to take time to gather the information and build your understanding before you start proposing design ideas. We refer to this as analysing the context. For example, you will not be able to propose an appropriate way to improve electricity access without first understanding what people use electricity for, how important it is to them, how often they use it, how much they use, what potential generation resources are available or how any of this might change in the future.

For the purposes of the Engineering for People Design Challenge ‘context’ refers to all the factors, internal and external, that influence how people live their lives.  Whilst people everywhere share many of the same needs, how people live is also affected by factors such as geography, politics, culture and the environment, all of which differ from place to place.  Analysing the context is about understanding these factors, and how they are interrelated, to determine how they will influence your decision making throughout the design process. There are many tools available to help direct your research so that you can gain an understanding of context in a manageable way. The following three diagrams provide some guidance about what you could consider, but this is by no means the only way to do it.

You can use these diagrams alone or together. For example, when thinking about environmental dimensions from an individual perspective you might realise that wanting the surrounding area to look attractive is important. If you then consider this from a national perspective you might realise that protecting sensitive habitats and biodiversity is also important to help maintain a tourism industry. Consider what has led to these perspectives and whether they may change in the future. Ask yourself:

  • Are there any synergies between these findings or any conflicts? To use the example above, if an attractive surrounding area for an individual means high rise buildings, shops and restaurants this would be in conflict with the national perspective to protect sensitive habitats and biodiversity. If an attractive surrounding area for an individual means a thriving natural habitat then this would be synergistic with the national perspective.
  • Can you extract anything from these findings to form assumptions about the context? By analysing the context you should be able to identify and justify any assumptions you are making before you start designing solutions.

Top Tip: Develop an awareness of the limitations of your assumptions, for example if the situation were to change, how would that affect your assumption?