Helping children to find their voices in social accountability

We partnered with Save the Children to design learning tools, using human-centred design, to ensure that children were not excluded from social accountability.

Project Background

We partnered with Save the Children, designing learning tools using human-centred design, to ensure that children were not excluded from social accountability. I-SAF helps people by making sure the services they receive from local government are delivered well. It’s important for children to be included in these processes as services covered by I-SAF include education and healthcare. We helped Save the Children to create tools that would make it easier for children to be included, and to have their voices heard.

Beginning in 2015, a 4-year partnership between the government and civil society groups aimed to reduce poverty in Cambodia by providing greater access to public services. This was known as the Implementation of Social Accountability Framework (I-SAF). I-SAF programmes focused on improving the quality of services provided by local commune councils, health centres and primary schools to the provincial areas of Cambodia. The goal was to educate local citizens in understanding their basic rights and access to these services and empower them to be able to hold service providers accountable for their work. As the programmes targeted adults, Save the Children created the Child-Centric Social Accountability (CCSA) documentation to promote these services among children. By encouraging them to participate in I-SAF programmes they, as the future generation, would be involved in decisions that would affect their lives for many years to come.

Research, Design and Testing for Save the Children

In 2018 we designed and ran human-centred design sessions to make CCSA easier to use and more effective.

We did this by providing participatory research, redesign and testing to find more interactive ways for children to engage with the learning tools that were being used in I-SAF programmes. The updated documentation would then be used by Commune Accountability Facilitators (CAFs) – adults who ran I-SAF programmes - and Childrens Club Leaders (CCLs).


Save the Children Cambodia


Human-Centered Design
Product Design
Policy Design


David Burton
Project Management
User Research and Design
Human-Centered Design

Jesse Orndorff
Human-Centered Design
Product Prototype and Design

Chhorvy Chan
Research Facilitator

Ouk Chantrea
Research Facilitator

Research: Understanding I-SAF learning tools

It was important for us to gain an understanding of the I-SAF materials in order to make sure that any redesign would come alongside what CAFs were using rather than introduce something entirely new. Through key informant interviews, we learned that one of the main tools used by CAFs was a series of posters describing citizens’ rights and what they should expect of their local commune, primary schools and health centres. Each poster had a picture showing a basic right that could be clearly communicated to someone who is illiterate. There was also a simplified title in Khmer that explained the right. For those who were literate, there was also a detailed description of each right. This design meant that the materials could be taught to a wider audience with a ranging level of literacy and understanding.

Design: Educating through storytelling

With the research phase completed, the next challenge for us was to design learning tools that would resonate with a younger demographic and could be taught by CAFs. Working with existing resources that were familiar to CAFs, we decided to build on the concept of the I-SAF posters by adapting them into a storytelling tool. The team created characters from the family members on the posters that were shown to be engaging with local service providers. We designed several scenarios involving different family members interacting with local services. These scenarios would match the image from the I-SAF posters and were then put together as a simple storybook for the CAFs to go through with the children. By creating characters with personalities that children can identify with and introducing a storytelling approach, the hope was that this would be a fun way for the CAFs to tell them the story of a family engaging with local government.

Testing: Testing storybook designs in the field

Once we had updated the CCSA documentation with new storybook designs, we tested them during a field visit to Prey Veng. Field visits are an opportunity for us to work directly with target users, in this case the CAFs and CCLs, and give them a chance to try out our design tools to see if they would engage the children better. It’s important to include a human-centred design approach into our work. By observing CAFs and CCLs using the storybook designs, seeing what works and the challenges they run into, we’re able to adapt and improve our tools based on user experience. Our goal whenever we test is to make sure that we have designed for what people need.

Community Accountability Facilitators testing our storytelling prototype with children from the Cambodian provinces.

Challenges: Observations from the field

CAFs are a vital part of the CCSA, as individual citizens with a clear sense of engagement and ownership in social accountability, providing a visible example of public service in communities. Having said that we did note some gaps in capacity during the field visit. As they were originally trained to teach these programmes to adults, it was clear that the CAFs were very comfortable teaching adults. However, this came across during the sessions with the CCLs. In the early session run by the CAFs, the children didn’t interact as much or ask questions. One of the challenges we faced was finding ways to encourage the CAFs to engage more with the kids on their level.

Another challenge was helping children to stay engaged with abstract ideas and governance processes through the content. We found that talking through the physical experience of going to school or going to a health centre helped to keep things relatable.

Results: CCSA is important but access for children still needs improvement

Though CCSA called for long sessions, children and CAFs were engaged and interested in the process. This represents a significant resource for Cambodia’s ongoing social accountability activities. The initial phase of I-SAF was completed in 2019 but has since been refunded. The CCSA is just one example of child inclusion in social accountability but in general there is a high barrier to entry for children to be involved in these types of programmes. As I-SAF phase 2 begins, accessibility for children needs to be at the forefront of future activities in order for social accountability to have a greater impact on young people.

Final thoughts and lessons from the project

Ideally, we’d always like more testing to find out which areas of the I-SAF programmes were most important to them. We found that for the kids, when the activities were more engaging, they cared more about what they were learning. This highlights how important it is for these kinds of materials and documentation to be taught on a level that makes sense for the target audience learning them.

Throughout our experience in human-centred design, we’ve learned an important part of our approach is to work alongside existing resources and systems rather than trying to create something entirely new. This was reaffirmed during our time with Save the Children. In this case it wouldn’t have been helpful for the CAFs, who have been running I-SAF programmes for 4 years, to have to completely change their teaching materials. Storytelling changed the teaching style but not the content and we saw this as a lower barrier of entry for CAFs.

Overall this was an exciting project. We love working on things which bring user research and user-focused design together. It was also rewarding to help engage Cambodia’s next generation in the governance decisions that will shape their own lives more than any other.