Using Design Persona in Evaluation

During a recent evaluation with UN Women of the global contribution that the Entity has made to women’s economic empowerment, we used personas – a human-centred design tool – to enhance the utilisation and gender responsiveness of the evaluation.

Design Personas are commonly used in user-centred design of products and services. They are fictional characters with attributes that are specifically selected to represent a group of expected users. By stepping into the shoes these characters, the designer can create an experience that resonates with the needs (conscious and subconscious) of a group of the people that eventually engage with her product or service.

For the Women’s Economic Empowerment Evaluation (W3E), we undertook a participatory stakeholder analysis of the primary and secondary intended users. this resulted in 10 major groups of primary intended users – ranging from executive members of UN Women to local programme staff – and 7 groups of secondary intended users – from rights holders groups of women to private corporations.

For each set of intended users we identified the major use that they expected from the evaluation (based on inception stage interviews). For example, we identified that the primary intended use for the Senior Management Team was “help clarify and focus UN Women work on WEE; to form a 3-5 year vision and enable UN Women to position itself in a strategic niche that adds real value”.

From here, we clustered groups of users whose intend uses were closely related and who shared many contextual factors. For example, we combined users from other UN entities, member states, and international aid donors. The result was 3 distinct groups of primary intended users, and 3 distinct groups of secondary intended users. Each of these groups was then transformed into a Persona: given a name, identity and context.

For example, the ‘UN Women programme staff’ group became “Elena”, the rights holders (women) became “Agnes”, and the CSOs became “Constanzia”. We even gave each persona their own picture. For each of the 6 persona, we created a profile including: 1) name, 2) social role description, 3) background, 4) major concerns for women’s economic empowerment and the evaluation, and 5) usability needs.

Example of the Design Persona “Elena”

Name: Elena
Social Role: UN Women senior technical advisor
Background: Born in USSR, speaks Russian, some Tajik, and English. Originally worked for UNDPKO before leaving to work in OSCE. Trained at PhD level in International Affairs. Joined UN Women in 2012 and has contributed to work on both Peace and Security and WEE.
Major concerns regarding WEE: Feels that the current shift is towards instrumental justifications for work on WEE, and that this is influencing programming. Wants to see human rights and feminist perspectives clearly artciulated through UN Women’s positioning on WEE.
Major concerns regarding the evaluation: Wants the evaluation to really get inside the philosophical issues facing UN Women and to transmit some of the felt organisational constraints to senior management.
Usability needs: Requires time for one-to-one conversations with the evaluation team in order to get across the points she wants to make in away that she can be confident that they understand. Is looking to see these issues clearly reflected in all evaluation materials.

Using these Personas, the evaluation team brainstormed how to design the evaluation in a process that most met the needs and concerns of all the groups of users. In the case of Elena, the evaluation responded by:

  1. Providing time for individual interviews in the HQ study,
  2. Including a recognised WEE expert,
  3. Using an Open Letter to explore organisational issues,
  4. Providing opportunities to comment on drafts, and
  5. Applying feminist and human rights lenses to the evaluation.

In this case, the example of the Open Letter demonstrates how evaluations methods responded directly to the identified needs of particular intended users.

The use of Design Personas had very real implications for the evaluation. For example, it was the basis for the ‘act-based’ approach to free and informed consent that the evaluation took. It also highlighted issues such as respecting the time of participants during focus-groups: which directly influenced the decision to produce and handout pens and thank-you cards as acknowledgement for participants. We found the use of Design Personas as highly complementary to the other processes included in utilisation-focused evaluation and gender responsive evaluation approaches.