By; Kaelyn Griffiths

I have developed such a love/hate relationship with the phase of understanding through this process. I think there is something so beautifully uncomfortable about waiting to design a solution until we can design WITH the stakeholders. My main grievance with this phase is the sense of urgency without direction; as we’re gaining all this information and figuring out how to analyze it, it’s hard not to try to jump to solutions or take one experience as a general experience. From talking to a few of our participants, it has been especially difficult to balance a comfortable, personable space for them, while also not asking questions that are too sensitive or questions that would reveal any bias I may have. With this, it has allowed me to listen a lot more closely to their experiences and truly empathize with students across all extremes. This honestly felt a little upsetting because there were just so many students who haven’t felt as supported as they should in pursuing their passions at Duke, and although I had some similarities with these students, it was disheartening to hear multiple other students have these experiences. 

Working on a project where the team demographic is a part of one of our larger stakeholder groups has been an obstacle. During this phase, we have really worked on holding each other accountable for decentering our own perspective and assumptions from how we frame our interview questions to ensure that our participants never feel judged or projected on. Through this, we were able to find a few “pain points” as we called them, or problem spaces, when we converged some of our key findings. Talking about these problem spaces was quite rewarding because throughout this entire phase, that was one of the first times I felt like this process was making sense and soon we’d be able to converge our other key findings and start designing solutions. 

I think some of the most memorable parts have been the points where we were given feedback and made quick efforts to change what was necessary so we could move forward. When making our stakeholder map, we were quite extensive, and the amount of people we wanted to talk to was an ambitious number. After receiving feedback, we started to discuss our most important stakeholders and personally, it gave me more focus and direction with what the project still needed and what our next steps were as a team. It has been a pleasure working with a team that is always ready and willing to adapt and it has made me much more open minded and flexible.