Denique Ferguson is a Senior Service Designer at the SlashRoots Foundation in Jamaica. She helps the team define and explore problem spaces, planning and managing the research, communication and prototyping activities that turn who’s, what’s, how’s and why’s into how-we-might’s. She especially enjoys those moments in the process when the team’s understanding of a problem shifts and insights are most likely to emerge.
After studying Electronics and Social Marketing at the University of the West Indies, her experiences working as a Business Analyst spurred her to pursue an MSc. in Human-Computer Interaction Design at Indiana University Bloomington. Working at SlashRoots appealed to the Fulbright alumna’s desire to use human-centred design to address civic and social problems, such as how to improve inner city communities’ abilities to access and pay for electricity in Jamaica.
Here is a conversation with Denique.
Tell us about the Slash Roots foundation project?
The SlashRoots Foundation is a Jamaican service design organisation. We use technology, human-centred design, and data to improve public services and address complex societal problems. And by that, I mean we don’t just build an app or website to solve every problem: we talk to people, we participate in their experiences. We work with them to test various process and digital solutions before building one out, having learnt what does and doesn’t work. We focus mainly on Digital Literacy and Skills-Building, Open Data and Open Government, and Citizen Participation. So far our work has taken us across the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. As founding partners of the Caribbean Open Institute, SlashRoots champions open data and open government in the Caribbean. We’re also founding members of Code for All, an international network of organisations that serve to empower citizens and strengthen civic services using technology.
How are the recipients for projects selected?
Whether potential project partners approach us directly or via their requests for proposals, we look for projects that help our societies to be more equitable, inclusive and sustainable. In other words, if we think of “quality of life” as a pie, will this project help more people to get a share of the pie? Will it help to ensure that each share of the pie is a fair share? Will this project ensure that pie is not just available for the people who are here today, but for those who are to come in the future?
One such project is the Caribbean School of Data, where we’ve partnered with the Mona School of Business and Management and Google.org to expand work we started in Haiti across the Caribbean: the CSOD is currently training young people, who are otherwise not in employment, education or training, in a range of digital skills demanded by the modern labour market. These young people will now be able to take advantage of previously inaccessible technology-driven employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.
Can you tell us about some successes of the projects you have done?
Most recently I’ve been working as project lead for Tell Your MP, which is a participatory budgeting programme. The programme invites citizens to work with their Member of Parliament in a non-partisan way, suggesting, voting on, and monitoring community development projects. We’ve partnered with the Mona School of Business and Management and MP Julian Robinson to pilot it in South East St. Andrew. Tell Your MP has expanded the opportunities for citizens to be involved in the long-term development of their communities, and is making the process more transparent. Transparency and participation are more important than ever as means of combatting the lack of trust and apathy increasingly facing governments worldwide, posing a challenge to meaningful democracy.
If someone wants to propose a project what should they do?
Complete this sentence. Growing up my hero was…
…no one person, but many—real and fictional. I’ve been blessed with family and friends who’ve been admirable in different ways and in different seasons—whether it’s in their thoughtfulness, or confidence, wit, or grace under adversity. But one quality that stands out to me over and over again is that of nobility under pressure, where your actions aren’t driven by whatever reinforcement you get or don’t get from other people or circumstances, but instead come from the value you place on yourself. That’s extremely hard to do. It’s far easier to be a little less generous when times are tight, even though you think of yourself as a kind person, or to value yourself to the point of arrogance, which serves no one well. As a little book nerd, the first example that modelled that for me was Sara Crewe in A Little Princess.
The book, movie or song that changed your life?
I don’t know that I’d call it the book (I’m hoping I’ll read yet more eye-opening books), but Tom Peters’ “Re-imagine!” has had a very significant influence on me. It was that book that introduced me to the fact that design was more than just how something tangible looks: it could also be applied to how things worked. Design is problem-solving. And I knew that that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I was yet to figure out exactly how, though, but the answer to that found me a few years later.
Thanks for the interview. Do you have any final thoughts for the readers of Jamaicans.com?
Just as much as technology offers new ways of earning money or entertaining ourselves, it also allows us to reimagine the way we manage our societies. This involves very important decisions that really shouldn’t be left to “techies”, but should also involve people who might not be so technically inclined, but who still have to live and work in these reimagined spaces. I mean, don’t turn down an opportunity to learn how to build electronics or code, if you can, but just as important as that technical knowledge is figuring out what we should (and shouldn’t) do with it. And that figuring out is something you can and should take part in, regardless of your background.
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