The Breakthrough Accelerator uses liberatory design, which builds on the principles of human-centered design (HCD) to test, refine, scale, and evaluate innovations.

Liberatory design centers equity by organizing typical HCD processes around two ongoing core practices of noticing and reflecting. These phases operate with an intent to see the system, which lets innovators identify potential equity challenges and systemic contributors to those challenges. In prioritizing situational and self-awareness, liberatory design asks innovators, “How can design address the effects of oppression?” The Breakthrough Accelerator centers an adapted version of that question: “How can innovation serve as a force for equity in adolescent sexual and reproductive health and address historical and current inequities?”


Liberatory design enhances the traditional HCD process by incorporating equity at its core. In HCD, innovators identify a problem (framed as “the challenge”), gain empathy by engaging in field research with end users to learn how they see and think about the challenge and the solutions they have used thus far, determine what the data tell them, propose and consider a variety of design solutions to address the challenge, engage in rapid prototyping to test out the most suitable innovation, and continue to seek feedback and adjust their innovation. Innovators often will cycle through the process in an iterative fashion and revisit earlier steps as needed. While HCD is a valuable approach that focuses on understanding end users and creating effective solutions, it may fall short in fully addressing root causes of inequity or inadvertently perpetuate inequitable power relationships.

Liberatory design directly aligns with the values of the Breakthrough Accelerator. We prioritize equity-focused solutions, holding that racism and inequity have been designed into systems and can therefore be redesigned. We value participatory methods, stressing that designing for equity requires meaningful inclusion of those impacted by inequity. 

Note: From Liberatory design for equity process [Image], by Anaissie, T., Cary, V., Clifford, D., Malarkey, T. & Wise, S. (2021), National Equity Project ( CC BY-NC-SA 3.0. This image was adapted with color modifications to match Breakthrough’s branding.