Design Thinking for Children

Innovation is not all about technology. It’s often about how we can do things a bit differently to create value.

Policymaking is hard work. So it’s especially frustrating to see, after all the work is done, that policies end up sitting in a shelf somewhere, gathering dust, instead of being effectively put to use. Bringing design thinking and co-creation to policy-making is trying to make a positive difference for children in Nicaragua. 


  • From Jan 2013
  • Up Dec 2013
  • Stage Finalizado
  • Reto: #primeras72horas
  • Place Managua

General Description

Children growing up in Nicaragua’s Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region face numerous constraints that make it difficult to thrive. Home to the largest concentration of indigenous and Afro-descendant children in the country, the region is also one of the poorest and most prone to natural disasters. This is discouraging as the country as a whole is the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere and the world’s fourth most vulnerable country to climate change.

The complexity of these interwoven factors is a reminder that context does matter. When the region’s government and council decided to develop a Regional Policy for Children, it became clear that the policy needed to be crafted in response to these contextual complexities and not as a product of wishful thinking of well-intended people.

The human-centered design is a methodology that combines rigorous inquiry and creative analysis, drawing on the tools of ethnography, journalism, and systems thinking. Design thinking helps designers develop products that people want. It can also help policymakers put themselves in the shoes of the people they are trying to serve with their policies, understanding what they truly want and care about, and what is possible given available resources.

In the course of eight months, a multi-sector working group composed of members of the Regional Council and Government in the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region, supported by UNICEF Nicaragua and Reboot, a global social enterprise, journeyed through an interactive and innovative path to develop a human-centered Regional Policy for Children:

  • Identifying challenges using a quantitative survey (Lots Quality Assurance Sampling)

  • Building empathy and understanding priorities behind the numbers (over 350 people reached through design research tools, including children taking pictures of their favorite and least-liked parts of their communities)

  • Making connections and finding entry points (co-synthesis of findings and identifying policy objectives)

  • Peeling the onion (in-depth investigation to understand causes and bottlenecks, using service trials to make policy-makers understand people’s lived experiences from multiple angles)

  • Re-imagining the future (through a variety of design exercises, findings became actionable opportunities for the regional policy)


Natalia Adler , Social Policy Chief, UNICEF Nicaragua
( )

Milja Laakso, Social Policy Officer, UNICEF Nicaragua
( )

Elisa Mandelli , Adolescents Participation VNU , UNICEF Nicaragua
( )

Maria Gabriela Martínez, Social Policy Assistant, UNICEF Nicaragua
( )

Grupo de trabajo multisectorial

Under the leadership of the Secretariat on Women, Family and Children, a multi-sector working group composed of members of the Regional Council and Government in the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region, was created to lead the policy-making process. For more information, please contact Delaida Wilson ( ).


Reboot is a social global enterprise based in New York City with expertise in applying human-centered design to social development. Reboot worked with policymakers and UNICEF to transfer skills and capacity to enable their use of design thinking in the development of the Regional Policy for Children. They also conducted immersive design research, adding an in-depth lens to two policy priorities: (i) the problematic of single mothers; and (i) the issue of social values, discipline and self-development amongst children.


Peeling the onion

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UNICEF share challenges and projects to enable knowledge sharing and collaboration in
support of innovation for children.

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UNICEF Nicaragua

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