Ep.33 Developing cultural competence | Kungu Labs

A thought-provoking conversation on the intersection of cultural anthropology, design, and social impact.


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Mathews Wakhungu [EP 33]

[00:00:23] Adrian: Thank you. Matthews. It's real great for us to meet in person for the first time. Yeah. And welcome to the show. And first of all, we have a icebreaker question we'd like to ask.

[00:00:33] So, is there a meaning or reason behind your name?

[00:00:37] Mathews Wakhungu: Well, definitely there is. I think I do carry two names that I use and quite, they're out there. Mathews Wakhungu. Mathews is quite biblical in itself, you know? Mine is just interesting that it has an S at the end. So that's one of those things but I think one of those carries a meaning is Wakhungu which is my second name.

[00:00:58] I come from the Bukusu culture and Wakhungu means... it's a worm, it's an army worm so to speak. It's an armyworm that does come and destroy our crops. So, my dad probably was born during a time when there were armyworms, so that's the meaning behind that. I do have my own given name that has a significance, but I hide it because it's impactful but not in a good way, negatively.

[00:01:31] So, I dropped it at some point when I was quite young because I observed how people named... who carried that name were behaving. It's a name that signified people with tendril hands. People who will, they'll be holding these glasses, just drops without knowing, you know, just slippery hands.

[00:01:53] I think culturally as an anthropologist, I do believe names carry significance and they have an impact of those who bear them. So, that's why I dropped it and I've never used it ever since. So, that was replaced by Jackson, which is quite also a very Western name, doesn't have so much significance. So, Wakhungu is that one name that has real traditional significance in my culture. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:02:23] Adrian: And you never even refer to the previous name?

[00:02:26] Mathews Wakhungu: No, I actually hide it, that's why I won't tell you what that is because the next thing is you guys will be calling me that name and then I don't wanna use it, so I keep it a secret.

[00:02:36] No, but probably my mom and dad only know about it and maybe my sisters. Mm. But even any person I meet, I don't, I don't share that very much.

[00:02:46] Adrian: Mm, interesting. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Wow. And what made you then take on, another name, other names?

[00:02:53] Mathews Wakhungu: Just cause I dropped my given name. I naturally took over my dad's name.

[00:02:59] Mm-hmm. So, he's a Wakhungu. So, then I've carried on the legacy of being a Wakhungu. Mm-hmm. So my kids will be Wakhungu. So, that's the only traditional name I have, so I'll hold onto that dearly. So, I'll keep that.

[00:03:12] Adrian: So, what's the significance that you see in cultural anthropology, like you said, of names?

[00:03:19] Mathews Wakhungu: Traditionally, they say that it does carry the spirit of those who are named. There's a level of dissemblance and there is a spirit that is carried within a name because a name is lauded. It has a whole life behind that name. So, when you're given that name, there's some characters that people do tend to take. I may not specifically tell that that's something I may need to go do some research about, but I know, and I believe that names do have certain significance, important significance.

[00:03:51] In terms of how it shapes behavior as well, you know, and sometimes is what people tell you about that person that allows you to behave a certain way. So if your called, let's say this glass, and they say, glass used to be like this, and then they normalize the behaviors of glass, right? So, when you behave like glass, you'll think it's normal to behave like glass.

[00:04:14] Whether it's good or bad, that's what you become. You actually embrace that behavior and that identity of being a glass, so to speak.

[00:04:24] Adrian: Yeah. There are some names that just don't get used because of the significance, because of the association to others, right?

[00:04:31] Mathews Wakhungu: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.

[00:04:34] Adrian: How did you then get into cultural anthropology?

[00:04:38] What were your influences growing up? What led you there?

[00:04:41] Mathews Wakhungu: I first actually get a good introduction to the field of anthropology in 2016, 2017, around there. But looking back, I think there is that aspect of a social scientist that was in me that I never knew.

[00:05:00] I was quite passionate about science. I tended to really enjoy social science subjects even in high school. That must have been history. I loved history and understanding people's way of life and other things because that's where, that's the subject that was taught and that was significant to their social aspects and as well.

[00:05:20] The social science part didn't show up until I actually finished my master's and transitioned into the PhD. That's when the social science came. And then I joined anthropology. But from a long time, even in high school, I was interested in the social science subjects being social studies was being taught in Kenya, has been taught in Kenya for a while. And then history. Those were among my favorite subjects to do apart from science.

[00:05:45] So, even though I wanted to be an industrial engineer, I tended to do well in this. So 2007, I get into environmental science and natural resource management. At that moment then I'm doing a lot of conservation work and studying conservation and other things I'm not quite sure about what I want to do after college.

[00:06:05] So then, I took a break because in Kenya it was hard to get a job. So, I actually moved to landscaping, as I'll share that's what part of some aspects of design that come in. Mm-hmm. So, I moved into landscaping because I loved gardening. So, I started gardening for people and made a living out it.

[00:06:25] And made a career and built a company, a successful company through that. But then I started doing my master's in environmental policy carrying on what I've done at undergraduate level. I think that was when a light bulb moment that I started to connect social science to what we do every day. In terms of even innovation.

[00:06:46] If you want to build successful recycling initiatives, you have to have an understanding of how people behave, what they think, what they do is so important in the success of that technology. So, then my master's was actually my first venture, even without knowing it into the anthropology side of things.

[00:07:07] Mm-hmm. Looking at how people's culture, and perceptions affect how we design things. Mm-hmm. I went to the University of South Florida in Tampa to do my PhD. I then had a conversation with my advisor who read my proposal, my initial proposal, and say, I think your proposal will be a really good fit at the Department of Anthropology.

[00:07:28] Through that introduction, Dr. Christian, who has become my mentor now, who was able now to gimme a proper introduction to the field of anthropology. I'll say I found a home in Anthropology because that's when I found I was able to make the connections between people's perceptions and culture and design.

[00:07:47] So, that has been a long time coming. But today I do call myself a cultural and design anthropologist, because I play at this intersection between research, cultural research, being able to understand people deeply and understanding of how that understanding of people translates into design. Mm-hmm. Design, whether it's for product design, user experience design, it could be designing social development projects. It could be aspects to do with environmental justice, which I still do believe I play. So, I do wear several hats, but all of them have a foundation of social science and the anthropology side of thinking.

[00:08:29] Adrian: Mm-hmm. . . What's your process then when you are working in what you do now? What's your process of work?

[00:08:36] Mathews Wakhungu: The process does tend to change with the kind of projects we are working on and the kind of different problems you had to solve.

[00:08:43] Our approach when we are involved in software design is different to an approach when we're involved in, let's say a mental justice project. So, I will say it's been really interesting and perhaps one of the things we could share is maybe the journey towards now becoming a design researcher, which is the space that I play in at the moment is then I do a lot of research that goes behind the design of things, right?

[00:09:12] The design of product, services, and experiences. So in that aspect, I think because I do wear many hats, my process of doing research depends on the different problems that I'm addressing. Through Kungu Labs, which is an organization I founded in 2018 and started operations in 2020.

[00:09:34] We mostly have done a lot of work in the areas of software and product design. And in that kind of line we are doing a lot of ethnographic research, which is basically much different than just sending someone a survey. Mm-hmm. It is being in the ground and being within the context of that person you want to understand.

[00:09:54] To understand them and then get a bigger and broader context about their lives and how specifically that context allows you to understand that particular problem you want to understand about them. From the Kungu Lab's perspective, our research tends to be a lot of to do with ethnographic research, but it's quick because in this kind of sector, especially when you're working with corporates even though some non-profits will be involved, most of the projects tend to be short.

[00:10:23] So then, we have to really design quick, rapid ethnographic studies that will allow us to get rich qualitative data, analyze it, and then it is only through that understanding through an ethnographic point that we are able to then inform design, and we do tend to do a lot of ideation sessions. After a whole phase of research, we then do bring together stakeholders. We go through the report with them and then have presentation and we call that building empathy, right?

[00:10:55] They're able to understand what we have seen in the field and from the lens of the reports and a lot of, you know, rich descriptive information about certain topics we could be studying. That's when, then it opens conversation for design, right? How do we solve this problem and how do we solve this problem through an ideation session that's mostly collaborative and very participatory.

[00:11:19] Mm-hmm. So, it's through that that then we are able to inform design. So, I'll say from that perspective is rich, rapid ethnographic research leading into additional sessions for design.

[00:11:30] Adrian: So, in terms of comparing to design thinking or human-centered design, would you put yourself at the front, right at the beginning of that process? How would you compare it in, in terms of your work compared to what someone might describe design thinking as.

[00:11:47] Mathews Wakhungu: I think we do cut across the design thinking spectrum because we are involved at the first step of understanding the problem first, because then it's only through research that you're able to understand how big the problem is and how, you know, what kind of problem you're dealing with. And concrete the problem.

[00:12:05] And even as we start again, it's now we are involved in getting a bigger context about the problem and who the problem affects and being able to identify who we are designing for, the different personas and other things. So we do cut across the spectrum, apart from the space where the designs of the solution happens.

[00:12:25] Mm-hmm. Right. We do provide recommendations, but then there's that space. Let's say for example, recently we were, we worked with a non-profit funding organisation called FSD, Kenya. FSD Kenya were helping us, design a micro insurance product and through that, our work involved doing a lot of qualitative research across the country.

[00:12:46] Through that, being able to write a report and share with the stakeholders. So, it's through that we are now contextualizing the problem itself, and then we were involved in the design. Then we actually just hand over to the people who are supposed to do the design. And in this case, we were working with actuarial scientists to be able to design the product because then the different product designers, who you work with depends on the kind of field you're working in. If you're working in the software industry or a software project, then you'll be talking to a lot of software developers and engineers to implement those recommendations. Mm-hmm. And then after they have implemented, we do come in, in the usability testing side of things.

[00:13:26] When they draw out the prototype and we need to give feedback. That's an area we do provide our expertise in, and then as we roll out, we can always then be part of the people who continue to build the monitoring and the learning aspects of, the project that we have participated in.

[00:13:42] Adrian: Okay. Yeah. So you are at the beginning and then you hand over your insights for prototyping. Then you come in again for testing and analyzing some of that testing, some of those insights.

[00:13:56] Mathews Wakhungu: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that is quite typical of software projects. But again, we have found that that has become a really interesting project roadmap for even non-software projects that we find that there's this lovely space because as you, when you work in a really fast space industry, this template now has started really working well in terms of also implementing non-software projects.

[00:14:20] Adrian: So, what kind of ethnographic research are you doing and what's driving a software product?

[00:14:27] Mathews Wakhungu: I think, software products in our experience has not been the complete product that we are designing. It has always come from a bigger problem we are trying to address, and then software becomes just a tiny portion of the solution, right. So it's we are not going for technology first. It's almost like we are doing a lot of exploratory research, right? Being able to understand the bigger picture of everything and all the, all the way, the bigger picture, and then to the tiny detail, and then stepping back, mm-hmm. And then being able to review, okay, what are the main problems and how do we solve them?

[00:15:03] And then technology does come in but most of the time it could be as simple as designing a new process or changing a process, as far as adding different steps. Right. If it's for a HR issue, it could be just adding someone else to change the entire user experience. Right.

[00:15:21] I'll give an example. We have just completed a countrywide study we have done with FSD, Kenya and a company called Maisha Poa Startup in the microinsurance sector. We were studying how chama groups, you've heard of Chama, right? Mm-hmm. How could we be using chamas as a platform to distribute microinsurance. Thinking of Chamas as a place where people come for economic empowerment, but also that's a place where people do share.

[00:15:48] It's actually become an informal insurance policy that then if they have a problem, Chama members will step in. If I'm bereaved, if I'm sick, there are always these kind of contributions that happen. Mm-hmm. So, through that process, I think technology wasn't part of the conversation. It was more about how can we use it?

[00:16:07] And one of those questions were how are chamas, how do they come in, in existence first, right? Mm-hmm. So, these really broad questions that allow us to narrow from that broad question of how do they come in existence is, what are the Chama dynamics? How do people behave in chamas that will make them fit or not fit for microinsurance distribution.

[00:16:29] Mm-hmm. So, through that we are able to identify different dynamics that culturally and behavioral that are able to help us understand, okay, if, if this is something we need to think, these are some of the considerations we need to continue thinking about. And then going as far as now knowing what are the main challenges in the everyday experiences if they have experienced insurance products.

[00:16:51] So through that, we will then find that it is a tiny portion that will say, okay, how do we then speed up the process of onboarding? Right? It could be okay through, maybe we need to have user software that will help the insurance agents capture that information quickly instead of them filling paper work.

[00:17:07] That's when now technology comes in as an enabler to better use experiences. Mm-hmm. Yes.

[00:17:13] Adrian: Great. You mentioned some of those kind of insights that, that you get the direction that people might be going. Is there anything particularly that you've uncovered, in terms of how people behave, any of the nudges that they're receiving that's been particularly interesting?

[00:17:32] Mathews Wakhungu: Yes. I'll start with these. I think I'll give you two examples. One of the example is the Maisha Poa product that we are helping develop. A really cultural insight from that is how do people view Chamas, right? If they think of it as an insurance product, an informal insurance, if someone dies, someone will contribute. So, why should I take a funeral cover? Right?

[00:17:57] That's a very big cultural insight in terms of how people perceive ... mm... their Chamas. Mm-hmm. . So, if you went there and say you want to use them as platform tradition microinsurance, they'll be comparing your product with their Chama. They're not complete X matches, but it's been compared. So in an aspect of design research that's so significant because it helps the designers think of that product of Chamas themselves as a competition for the product they're designing, right. So that makes a lot of sense. And then another aspect is because we are doing a countrywide study, we found that then the groups are quite homogenous in that if you went to Mombasa, most of those people who coalesce together into an informal Chama group are people who come from, let's say, a part in Western Kenya, Kakamega.

[00:18:52] They are together because they have similar problems. Right. If they got bereaved they're making the same type of journey to their villages. So you'll find people in Ukambani, who'll also have their Chama in Mombasa, even though it's a metropolitan region. Mm-hmm. But also there are aspects of trust because there's money involved, getting to know where someone lives.

[00:19:15] So these are tiny nuances that we may have missed if we sat in an office and we were able to just start thinking of a micro insurance product. Mm-hmm. So this kind of nuances allows us to be able to know how should this product look like? Another aspect is what is an ideal Chama group when you want to use that for a product like that.

[00:19:35] We had Chamas that had five people, others had 50 people. What is a sweet spot for that? So being able to assess how does a chairman with five people behave? Mm. What are the pros and cons for that? And how does a Chama with 50 people, even though it gives you mass in terms of product sales, how does that look like practically when you want to implement that?

[00:19:58] So that becomes problematic. Another example that we have used ethnographic research to really uncover information that is super helpful is... I was involved in a project at the University of South Florida when I just started Kungu Labs. So, Kungu Labs was also involved and in this project we wanted to understand water sanitation and health services in the city of Tampa. What are some of the things and consideration that needs to be put in mind when we want to improve this kind of services? So that was a citywide for the neighborhood, but that information was to go to the city and we were studying underserved communities. Communities that large proportion of those people who live in that community are minority communities, either blacks or Hispanics. Low income, mostly renters.

[00:20:45] In that aspect, one of the things we found, for example, that the city had rolled out a water conservation program, right? Had rolled out a water conservation program that was telling people about how to save water. Right. But the main problem that was affecting the water conservation was a little far more different. Right. One of the issue was water leaks, but the city actually could not put those two things together. Mm-hmm.

[00:21:12] That even though we are getting a lot of information about conservation, how should I save my water? How should I, you know, use less water when I'm washing and cooking. But the main problem where we are not conserving water were water leaks just because this community was, majority of them were renters and of low income. They were not getting repairs from the landlords. Mm-hmm. Right. So then it became a problem. The city needs to refocus their thinking beyond water conservation and look at the plumbing issues that were happening there that were beyond the reach or the intervention of the tenants.

[00:21:49] Mm-hmm. . Right? So there are really tiny nuances that may not seem obvious, but then they do prove to be significant in how effective a solution can be... mm-hmm... from a design perspective.

[00:22:01] Adrian: Yeah. That's why we call it wicked problems, right? Because it's kind of, you have one problem that's tied to another one, and they're all kind of forming this web of problems.

[00:22:09] So even if you try to deal with one, even if you try to deal with picking up sanitary waste from people's houses. Mm-hmm. The next problem is where does it go? The next problem is what do we turn it into? Mm-hmm. You know, and how do we get people to wash their hands and how do we give them clean water in the first place?

[00:22:28] Mm-hmm... and access to clean facility.

[00:22:30] Mathews Wakhungu: Yes. And other people have referred it to as spaghetti, a spaghetti model, right? Yes. Yeah. So many things jumbled up, but you really have to pick one, right. And then figure that out fast as you think of other, other things that are mixing between that.

[00:22:45] Adrian: But as you try to un untangle it, the other bits of spaghetti are still holding on.

[00:22:50] Mathews Wakhungu: Yes, absolutely. I think that's a great analogy. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:22:54] Adrian: Yeah. What other projects have, uh, challenged you and inspired you in the way that you think about culture and what you do?

[00:23:04] Mathews Wakhungu: Another project, I think one of, I think the most other interesting project was a software project we did. We worked with a big multidisciplinary team drawn from civil engineering, computer science.

[00:23:19] We had environmental engineers as well, and I was the only social scientist on the team. So then our role was to really bring this social perspectives and understanding of actually what happens in people's culture to the table, and be able to figure out what happens. So one of these things is we're working to help figure out in what ways could we help people who plan utilities be able to prioritize where to locate their wastewater treatment plans because it's all dependent. There's a whole science behind where a water treatment plan is located, right? So how do we figure this out?

[00:23:58] So being able to work through the different people with the different disciplines and bring together different minds and moderate these different conversations and then come up with a solution was among the most interesting and challenging experiences. Mm-hmm. Because then you are working with people from low level to high level in terms of expertise. You're working with people with different terminologies and different jargon in their different fields, so then makes it difficult that then it's your role to bring together as a mediator... mm-hmm... of different disciplines to bring together so they can put together thoughts and then see that through mm-hmm. So that was among the most challenging thing, and we developed an open source software called the Waste Water app.

[00:24:43] And that software helps different utilities across the United States figure out where should we locate our waste water treatment plants, where is the most ideal? Mm-hmm. And where is it the most socially economical or economically viable place to locate? And how big should the treatment plan be?

[00:25:01] How big is the population we are serving? So this kind of different calculations that are go beyond and, and when I say we are working with multidisciplinary teams is the model was an excel sheet, right. Starting off from Excel sheet into now a whole application with a user interface that different people with different expertise can now use to make decisions.

[00:25:23] Mm-hmm. So that has been really cool in that working with models that allow for decision making, because sometimes design falls on implementation. If we are not in a position of power to implement design decisions, then they don't become useful. But it has been really interesting that when you work with people who make everyday decisions that are impactful in the way we live our lives, that is super, super impactful.

[00:25:54] But getting into those circles is quite difficult, but when you get in that circle, I think it's, it's very, very productive. Mm-hmm.

[00:26:02] Another example was on a project we did from 2020 to 2021. We helped the City of Tampa develop a model to prioritize where the infrastructural investment should start from. It's still a design decision, because let's say a city has $2 billion, right, to invest in a project. To let's say rehabilitate the wastewater system or, or water system or transportation infrastructure for that matter. How do they determine where they should start with? How do they determine which communities they should start? So then it's us, a social scientist to start thinking about that working collaboratively with people who, with, from other disciplines.

[00:26:42] For example, in this project I work with civil engineers, environmental engineers to gimme data on how old is the infrastructure in the communities, how many more years does it have before it's repaired? Those kind of very interesting and complicated civil engineering stuff. And then bringing in the social aspects of who lives in that community, how much do they earn? What do they do? Do they commute to work? Do they have a car? So bringing and marrying all these different things into one model for decision making was so impactful. Mm-hmm. And then using this model and giving them to decision makers mm-hmm. Then they're able to use and make important decisions that will affect the most vulnerable in the community.

[00:27:26] Mm-hmm. So through that project we used this kind of different models. So we developed different indices. A social vulnerability index, how vulnerable is that community? Infrastructure vulnerability index. How vulnerable is the infrastructure in that community? And then thinking about that, the different industries holistically, we were able to help the city of Tampa start making prioritization decisions and investment decisions on how much they have. The little money they have, they knew exactly where to place their money, right? Mm-hmm.... for the infrastructure development. And through that, I think we just won an award, the 2023 Wesley Owners award, a prestigious award that is given to one project every year.

[00:28:07] Wow.

[00:28:08] Yes.

[00:28:08] Adrian: Wow. Well done. Yeah. Yeah. Congrats. Yeah. Deserved. How do you then go about this idea of having a big problem to solve in many different areas, or let's say city of Tampa, but it still has many, many communities just like Nairobi or just like Kenya, many communities. How do you go about solving problems on a local level if, for example, you have a really different community, in Mombasa and then in Kisumu and Nairobi?

[00:28:38] Mathews Wakhungu: What I've learned over time is solving that problem, I think is thinking of the scale. And I think you've, you, you're spot on in terms of from a local community to a large city, how? I think the scale.

[00:28:52] The scale allows you to think of different stakeholders involved at, at different scales. At the community level, if you are addressing an issue of laundry facilities, the stakeholders involved, there are laundromat owners who live around there. Right? So a solution will have to involve those people... mm-hmm... and at that scale. So the scale does matter because it does tell you which kind of stakeholders need to be engaged, but also it allows you to figure out which kind of personas or communities or groups or the most vulnerable groups in that area, right? Mm-hmm. If you are looking at a community or your neighborhood, you'll be able to think about people who need that solution most, right?

[00:29:37] In a different way compared to a city. The city is much bigger. And then there are different other tiny groups that you may need to think about. Mm-hmm. Right. So I think the scale does matter because it guides you on how who needs to be involved, how big in terms of the solutions needs to be.

[00:29:53] Right. That's where also do you design, your research, to understand the problem deeper. It takes more time to understand larger scale problems than small scale problems, right?

[00:30:05] Adrian: What kind of problems would you like to try and approach and try to work on?

[00:30:11] Mathews Wakhungu: I think just looking back at this project that had just won us an award, I feel quite interested in taking this idea of underserved communities and infrastructure, right? How can we continue the legacy or work around helping address issues on infrastructure justice, I mean infrastructure justice in the sense of communities that are most vulnerable, but live in the areas with the worst infrastructure.

[00:30:44] How can we continue addressing this? Mm-hmm. How can we continue having these conversations with the ears of the decision makers who do the budgeting and the key decision making? Yeah, I think that's pretty interesting. So to scale, we may need to be able to figure out how do we take our model from the small scales to be able to design, for example, a technological tool that will be open source enough for people around the world to use, right?

[00:31:14] That I'm able to plug in information about socioeconomic status and the different infrastructural issues, and I'm able to get to know how bad this place is. I think that should help communities do that. Mm-hmm. Right. So using this kind of research to address justice issues.

[00:31:31] Mm-hmm... right? Mm-hmm... and underserved communities.

[00:31:33] Adrian: Mm-hmm. . Yes. Really interesting. People are disproportionately affected on so many different levels. Personally, it can weigh you down, right? Because something happened with the bus or because there's no water, because there's no power.

[00:31:48] Mm-hmm. And yeah, for sure.

[00:31:50] We've been using human-centered design, for a while. A lot of people have different names for it, but really on the fact that we need to focus on the planet, we need to focus on life-centered design because we share this planet with many other species and life forms. How do you feel about that?

[00:32:10] Mathews Wakhungu: That's pretty interesting. At some point I actually almost printed a t-shirt. And I was thinking, because I have one t-shirt called human-centric, good for human-centered design work. And you know, I'm really interested in what you guys are. I think it's a really important thought for us to continue, and I think that's one of those critiques for human-centered design, that how well do we consider other things beyond us, right? Are we selfish in our thoughts? Definitely, yes but it does in, in itself... it's not a bad thing, but I think it's a challenge for us to think about the impacts of our design.

[00:32:48] I think that's the one way we can then address that critique that we are not thinking about life centered design. Mm-hmm. That we think about the impacts of our design. Mm-hmm. We don't have to change it, reinvent it, but we just have to be a little more thoughtful about the impacts of what we do.

[00:33:05] Mm-hmm. The impact, the social, environmental, and any other impact may think of, of the designs we produce. Mm-hmm. Right? Think about that. I think that addresses that critique, right? And again, already a lot of work is happening. For example, I've just given you several examples of how, for example, Research, ethnographic research and design decisions, environmental issues can be addressed by design decisions.

[00:33:34] Mm-hmm. That is in itself, right... a way to address the critique of we are human-centered only, right? Mm-hmm. When people are designing out waste, designing out waste of traffic, designing waste out of manufacturing. Those are already decisions that are going towards the bigger life goals that we have.

[00:33:57] Mm. But environmental conservation and these kind of conversations. Mm-hmm. Does that make sense?

[00:34:02] Adrian: Yeah, for sure. For sure. Yeah. Glad to get your inputs on that.

[00:34:06] Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much. Where should people find you? Any other closing thoughts?

[00:34:12] Mathews Wakhungu: Part of my closing thought, I say at the moment, there's very little trust in research. And I think one of the challenges, it could be... the challenge is twofold, right? There is this aspect of legacy companies that have made it, or entrepreneurs that have made it from a corporate standpoint that then I know, I know how I made it, so what would research tell me, right?

[00:34:41] Secondly, there's this aspect of lack of trust in the quality of the research people do. So I think as a person in design research and design researchers out there, it is important to be able for us to learn how to communicate value of research, right? How do we communicate value of research? Why do you need research? And why do you need research when you want to design products or experiences? That's one thing that we need to continue learning how to communicate. Mm-hmm.

[00:35:11] Secondly, is the aspect of quality of research. That's something we need to address and that has to be done through mentorship. I'm only as good as I taught by my mentors. I only started growing when I saw how good other people's work were. Right. And how they taught me how to do good work. Mm-hmm. Right? So that's a conversation that we need to continue especially as we mentor the next generation of design researchers.

[00:35:42] And through that, we have just started an anthropology cafe and we are calling it Anthrocafe, which is a meet-up for anthropologists and design researchers who are interested in learning and continue to hone their skills around that aspect. And we have a lot of conversation about what is happening, new methods that have come up, different ways someone can reinvent themselves and package themselves.

[00:36:07] Mm-hmm. So these are conversation that we have meet-ups and that's something we're having, bi monthly meetups to mentor a new generation of researchers. Mm. Right. So beyond that aspect of quality and mentorship, I think the other aspect has to be that then we do continue for young, young upcoming design researchers. There's always that feeling of feeling like an outsider and never feeling to go.

[00:36:33] Right. An imposter syndrome that never goes away. Mm-hmm. Even a seasoned design researcher will feel like an imposter because we are always working on different products. If I'm taken to an insurance to design an insurance product, I'm going in there with a clean slate, open mind, because I don't know anything about insurance. I'm learning.

[00:36:53] So I think that other takeaway will be, we have to be open to learn, right? And we don't know anything. Nobody knows everything, especially with culture and people, we don't know. We are always learning about people and people's behaviors change and cultures change. So, we have to always be open to learn about people.

[00:37:11] Right?

[00:37:12] Adrian: Yeah, as design thinkers, ethnographers that's the thing. We are always the naive one. Learning. Yes. Right. From these experts or from the people who are living their lives. For sure.

[00:37:22] Mathews Wakhungu: Yes, yes. So, I'm available on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram as well. so across the digital spectrum, you'll find me.

[00:37:29] Mathews Wakhungu and then, Kungu Labs is also available. Mm-hmm. Available across the digital spectrum. So, open for work, design, research work, especially for those people who are interested in really rich qualitative research that gives different nuances and depth of understanding of people and how that translates into how we think of solutions. Nice. So, that's one of those things that we are available to do. Yeah.

[00:37:54] Adrian: Thank you.

[00:37:55] Yeah.

[00:37:55] Awesome. Awesome. Perfect. Thank you. Cheers. Great. I'm sure this isn't the last conversation we're gonna have.

[00:38:02] Mathews Wakhungu: I think. Yeah, we should do that more often.

In this episode of the Afrika Design podcast, Mathews Wakhungu, a cultural and design anthropologist, share’s valuable insights into how cultural anthropology influences our thoughts, actions, and design choices.

We also learn about Kungu Labs, his research and design lab that uses ethnographic research for **human-centered design and social impact innovation. **

We delves into the intriguing conversation between Mathews and host Adrian, highlighting the significance of names and cultural anthropology in shaping behavior and design processes. Through their conversation we explore the power of names, cultural anthropology and behavior, the journey to design anthropology, the process of design anthropology and comparison to design thinking.

By understanding the cultural contexts in which people operate, we can develop more empathetic and effective designs. Cultural anthropology enriches the design process by offering insights into human behavior and perceptions. As we continue to embrace the interdisciplinary nature of design.

Tune in to for a thought-provoking conversation

This is the third episode under the ‘Shifting Narratives’ program supported by the British Council SSA Arts.

Episode Credits

Produced by Nairobi Design

**Host: **Adrian Jankowiak

Producer, Shorts & Artwork: David King'ori

Music: Ngalah Oreyo (@ngalah_oreyo) and Mercy Barno (@merc.b_)