Jones Seminar: The Use of Design Ethnography in Engineering Global Health Technologies

Kathleen Sienko, Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering, University of Michigan

Friday, November 13, 2015, 3:30–4:30pm

Spanos Auditorium, Cummings Hall

Currently the design, development, and implementation of global health technologies insufficiently address health care needs in low- and middle-income countries. Most existing technologies are simple adaptations of technologies designed for use in high-income countries; however, the spectrum of needs in low-resource settings is often beyond the scope of such simple adaptations, resulting in products with limited impact. To develop technologies that address the complex challenges of global health, we have studied how conventional engineering design processes can be supplemented by methods derived from social science fields such as anthropology. Design ethnography, which encompasses processes for gaining a complete understanding of stakeholders’ actions, behaviors, words, and thoughts, provides a framework for acquiring tacit information from stakeholders which would not be obtained through commonly used methodologies in engineering design and market research. This presentation will draw upon medical devices we have recently designed and studied for traditional adult male circumcision and maternal health to illustrate the utility of design ethnography in the field of global health technologies. In particular, these studies indicate the need for engineers to understand the broader context in which a technology will be used, as well as the need for design decision-making processes to be based on rigorous studies that generate quantitative outcomes rather than anecdotal evidence. The presentation will also highlight some of our recent engineering education research on the topic of design ethnography.

About the Speaker

Kathleen H. Sienko is a Miller Faculty Scholar and Associate Professor of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Michigan (UM). She earned her PhD in 2007 in Medical Engineering and Bioastronautics from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Science and Technology, and holds an SM in Aeronautics & Astronautics from MIT and a BS in Materials Engineering from the University of Kentucky. She is the co-director of the UM Center for Socially Engaged Design (Insitu), and directs the Sensory Augmentation and Rehabilitation Laboratory (SARL), the Laboratory for Innovation in Global Health Technology (LIGHT), and the Global Health Design Initiative. SARL focuses on the design, development, and evaluation of medical devices, especially for balance-impaired populations such as individuals with vestibular loss or advanced age. LIGHT focuses on the co-creative design of frugal innovations to address healthcare challenges in resource-limited settings. She is the recipient of the NSF CAREER Award and several teaching awards including the UM Teaching Innovation Prize, UM Undergraduate Teaching Award, and UM Distinguished Professor Award. While at MIT, she was a winner of the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition.

For more information, contact Haley Tucker at