Kakuma Camp: Training REFUNITE’s Outreach Volunteers in Research Methods and Prototype Testing

Giulia Balestra

Q&A with Kennedy Steven, Research and Prototype Associate at REFUNITE, about his week in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya.


Kakuma Camp: Training REFUNITE’s Outreach Volunteers in Research Methods and Prototype Testing




Kennedy, can you tell us more about your mission to Kakuma and the training you conducted with REFUNITE’s outreach volunteers?

The main mission was to upgrade REFUNITE’s Outreach Volunteers’ (OVs) skills, to enable them to conduct research, product testing and prototyping. We did an intensive three-day training on how to carry out experiments, prototypes and surveys. We emphasized the importance of doing research, the do’s and don’ts of prototyping, and effective note-taking in the field.


What is the role of outreach volunteers in the camps and what did you achieve with this training?

Initially, the role of REFUNITE’s OVs was to reach out to refugees in the camps, raise awareness about the REFUNITE family tracing service, and register those who had been separated from their relatives to register onto REFUNITE and to start searching for their missing loved ones. However, we believe that, if we want to keep improving our system and help more people reconnect with their family, we also need to do more field research. One thing is developing a product in our office in Nairobi, another is taking that same product out into a refugee camp and have the end users try it and give us their feedback. We really value refugees’ insights and we want to keep designing our product around their specific needs and some of the constraints that we face in refugee camps. The OVs are in a good position for this and they act as REFUNITE’s eye, or hand, or foot in the field: they are from the hosting community and are extremely committed to our mission.

We achieved a lot during this first ever training with our OVs. The three-day training has been very demanding and the OVs have all been able to develop their skills in basic field research methods. They have also expressed the need and love of learning. On the last day, we all went to the field together and had the chance to practice what was discussed in the previous days. Our team was very impressed by how the OVs had digested the information and how effectively they were able to apply theory to real life situations.




What’s your definition of prototype and why is prototype testing important for REFUNITE?

Prototype is an early version of a product built to test a concept. Thanks to a prototype, people can see and use the product you are designing for them and provide precious feedback and insights. Having a prototype helps us in designing around our users and allows people to get an idea of the product and how it could be improved to better match their expectations.Through this process, we have to address the potential technical challenges of a design. These observations are then translated into failing early and inexpensively”: knowing, early in the design process, what will work or not, and change it so that by the end of the process we have developed the best product we can offer.  

Big companies launch products that are like wedding cakes – big, elaborate and complex. At REFUNITE, we like to release “cupcakes” – something small, simple and which works. Prototyping helps us in this…Making  “cupcakes” that people like.


Back in the office after Kakuma: What are some of the impressions or learnings that you will take with you?

I am sure that with this great team in Kakuma, we can now do a lot of this research work. This will improve our product and consequently the user’s’ experience. We are also happy that the OVs have gained new, transferrable skills that will stay with them. Well done everyone!


15th September 2016.