Posts Tagged ‘user centered design for bop’

Design of Digital Financial Services for Inclusion Needs More Respect and Humility to Succeed

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Source: https://twitter.com/SharonKith

In the past week alone, I’ve seen three glaring cases of unquestioned assumptions around the design and implementation of Digital Financial Service (DFS) particularly for financial inclusion, but also otherwise. This gives rise to the question whether the industry is prepared to undertake the mission they have set for themselves.

The first is that their technology, in whatever form – the app, the device, the USSD service – will and should (unquestioned, remember) disrupt people’s behaviour completely. While it is true that using a mobile phone to make a payment instead of cash is a change in behaviour, or rather, habit, it is not the same as type of change as transforming the entire culture to become more individualistic as opposed to communal; or less relationship oriented and more contractually transactional. I am finding the words clumsy to use and hope that one of you reading this has the expert knowledge at their fingertips to better articulate what I am attempting to describe. Hofstede had a clue.

There is a fundamental arrogance in framing the need for human intermediaries in the digital financial service transaction model as a “necessary evil” – sounds like a toddler’s bad habit that they need to be weaned off in order to become adults. The bulk of those who are financially excluded live in cultures where human contact and social relationships within the community are more important than faceless, meaningless transactions by the individual isolated with their techno-utopian device. To expect this to change to conform to your pretty little use case diagram is rather presumptuous, if not downright offensive.

The second is more generalized. Its a blithe disregard for any differences in context and operating environment between the more formal economies and those where the informal sector is the majority. Nobody pauses to question whether there are differences that need to be considered. Its like landing on Mars expecting the same atmosphere. This report on the global emergence of a cashless economy ends with offering 3 implications of 4 megatrends.

If indeed two of these implications are the outcome of the single factor of increasing financial inclusion, then how can they be lumped together with the third implication which is clearly one meant for more advanced consumer markets? The interpretation on transaction volume and pricing behaviour is thus rendered inaccurate as it does not distinguish between the digital payment ecosystem currently prevalent in emerging markets from that existing in advanced markets.

When your fundamental premise has no foundation, your extrapolations and projections will not only be in error, but the unquestioned starting assumptions will snowball along the strategy and product development chain leading to a vast gaping void between your original intent and the actions taken, much less the outcomes aimed at.

Lastly, when it comes to fintech in the African context, there’s a pattern of analysis that is either too basic in its assumptions – mobile phones are good for digital financial services and nobody has actually noticed this fact because we never did; or, too ready to read the worst in a chart or the data. This leads to policy recommendations in 2016, ten years after Mpesa was introduced in Kenya, that offer up such insightful suggestions as “Africa must promote the use of mobiles to include the excluded financially.”

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This is rather disheartening for the rest of us who have been watching the African digital financial economy move forward in leaps and bounds, in many ways far ahead of the rest of the world. It also takes the current conversation back to kindergarten level rather than the post graduate courses we could be discussing. Given the advancements already actively engaged with across the continent, isn’t it time that policy researchers took the trouble to come up to speed?

And given the importance of financial inclusion, isn’t it time that the stakeholders actively working on digital financial services took their target audience seriously, with some respect, and wee bit more humility? They might discover their efforts move forward much faster.

 

 

People, Pesa & Place: A Multidisciplinary lens for innovation in social & economic development

ideo model

This original Venn diagram visualizing the sweet spot of innovation success is a familiar one, with as many variations as there are practitioners. One of the most common is the one below, where business, people (or, as often, design) and technology replace the human centered qualities of viable, desirable and feasible.

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I’ve used them both for years, particularly the latter, evolving it incrementally in the project for the Dutch govt where we looked at barriers to adoption of new agricultural techniques (technology) introduced in international development programmes.

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Yet, I still struggled with this framing when actually considering solutions for programme design and development, or rather, any  products and services meant for the poor in the developing world.

Innovation, this Venn Diagram said, happens at the intersection of the attributes of viable, desirable and feasible. A solution that met these criteria would have greater chances of success. This made sense and it still does.

However, when it came to solutions meant for the lower income demographic, particularly where the majority were managing on irregular, often unpredictable, income streams, from such activities as informal trade and subsistence farming, there were additional issues to be considered. These were often critical to the success or failure of the newly introduced innovation.

For instance, inadequate infrastructure is a fact of life. Whether is variability in electricity supply in the urban context or lack of it in the rural. Things we take for granted in the operating environment in which these lenses were first framed – pipes full of running water, stable and reliable power, affordable, clean fuel for cooking, credit cards and bank accounts – are either scarce, inadequate or unreliable for the most part.

Feasibility, thus, takes on an entirely different meaning in this context. Each location or region (place) may have different facilities. Launching a service in Kenya or Tanzania, even for the most rural and economically challenged, means we can think of using mobile money solutions in the business model, while a similar service in India would have to be designed to adapt to the local context. On the other hand, India has an extensive postal system as well home addresses, while this is still a barrier to delivery in many African locations.

Similarly, the viability of a concept, in this context, must look beyond just the conventional definitions of business, business model or marketing. The embedded assumption here is that a marketplace already exists, with all the support services, information flows and distribution networks.

Further, the current version of this framework, does not offer cues to the research and design team to look for, and take into consideration, elements such as cash transactions, cash flow, lack of formal financial instruments, seasonality, and a myriad other underlying reasons that drive preference for payment plans such as pay-as-you-go or credit based on future harvests.

And as we all tend to promote these diagrams as a means to anchor our explorations and discovery process towards identifying the design drivers for innovative solutions, it seemed to me that we needed more obvious cues to signal that these issues not only exist, disparate from what we may be accustomed to, but also need to be clearly and realistically described. There is far too much tacit knowledge and too many critical assumptions embedded in the current process.

LensUCSD_EFL_26May2015

This diagram is my prototype of the next generation of the original Venn Diagram, where the attributes of the lenses have been interpreted in the context of the difference in operating environment. While it has emerged from a focus on the erstwhile Bottom or Base of the Pyramid or the poor – both of these terms are anathema to me when referring to people – I believe that it might very well make sense to use it for a wider range of incomes and consumer segments, particularly in the African marketplace.

People, of course, does not change from the original, and desirability – that is, creating something that will resonate with them – permits us to lower as many barriers to adoption and minimize the dropout rate. This element came to fore in the Dutch project where the question posed was related to the sustainability of donor funded programmes to effect positive change after the funding ends.

Place replaces Technology, as a lens through which to consider the feasibility of a solution. Furthermore, the benefit of this is that it opens up the framing of the solution space, away from technology per se, and lets us consider a broader range of interventions. Technological solutions may be only one factor, and not a given, as the current framing assumes from the outset.

Pesa is the word I’ve chosen to designate viability. It means money in more than one language across the developing world and thus implies more than just the marketplace which may or may not exist in the formal sense assumed in the first generation diagram. In the context of new products and services, it can cover all aspect of the business model including revenue generation, payment plans, pricing and timing of introduction. And in the context of programmes, it brings to the fore the need to look at means for economic impact, and, uncover a way to measure this impact. Irregular income streams tend to make it difficult for people to know what their monthly income may be or whether, this week, they’ll have that mythical $1.25 or $2 or $5 to spend today.

I look forward to your feedback on this and will be writing more on the diagram separately pertaining to both innovative products and services for the emerging African consumer market as well as a framework for social design innovation for the economically challenged.

Understanding at the bottom of the design pyramid

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Before we can give form – and it does not have to be a tangible product but could even be a service, a business model or a strategy – to what we wish to do, its not enough to step back to just the function level, one must step even further back to envision the whole before one can even begin to pinpoint what the requirements are.

And before we can envision the potential solution space within which the requirements can be framed for the ultimate manifestation in the form of design, we must understand not only the what and how but also the why, when and where.The most powerful concept in this diagram, imho, is the fundamental importance given to ‘understanding’.

Without understanding – which in this sense could be seen as ‘grasping or grappling with the big picture’ – one cannot begin to envision or see what the possible directions or paths that ‘form’ or ‘function’ can take. Without the big picture view, the perspective into which all the disparate bits fall into – if not falling into place, then at least within understanding or at least coming to terms with – we cannot see far enough ahead in order to shape or manifest tangibly any plan of action or even, next steps.

I have said before that I believe that design is inherently a philosophy or a system of values first, and it’s implementation, in whatever form, second. Understanding the ecosystem in which your actions will take form comes first, which then leads to vision – only then can you begin to get down to the brasstacks of framing requirements and finally the design. We very often jump straight to the design – or the action – and this hierarchy of the steps required prior to any design is a useful reminder of the other 90% of the iceberg.

This approach has been the basis of my work in the little known geographies and the uncertain conditions of the emerging consumer markets of the developing world.

Human centered design: Surprising insights from rural Kenya

One of the most surprising things that struck me over the past couple days of running around doing recce visits for our upcoming rural research was just how rapidly and how well the concept of the user centered design (UCD) process and thus, the human centered approach to research and development was not only understood by our rural hosts but how much it was appreciated. As others in the field know, it can often be a challenge to explain to clients why user research is critical and what kind of difference it can make, more so in the former rich world.

Even the local councilor’s political protege beamed when he heard that it was critical to understand ‘his’ people first and their daily life before coming up with any product, service or plan. In fact it makes me wonder whether his little part of the world is in for any changes?

Mind you, we were extremely blessed during our visit to Makueni district – one of the more challenged parts of Kenya, where the arid landscape can suffer from insecurity of such essentials such as food and water.  Our contact there introduced us to his old friend, who was in between contracts, and Rafael (whom I’m sure I’ll be mentioning more in future posts) turned out to be an experienced expert in poverty alleviation programs and a trained anthropologist to boot.  Our initial meeting rapidly turned into a project planning session.

But that’s a welcome side note. I started this post because as we were discussing the methodology and approach that I intended to use for our consumer insights research, I found that not only was the UCD process grasped rapidly by all the others at our table, its value was also appreciated and understood.

As our local businessman friend explained, too often products for their market were simply direct imports or secondhand and shoddy goods “sent to Africa”. The fact that their community’s lifestyle and daily challenges were considered important enough to be understood first before the development of any strategy or device was felt to be a mark of respect.

It makes me ponder whether we do the economically or infrastructurally challenged a disservice to continue to think of them as the BoP – no one, if asked, would ever consider themselves the base or bottom of anything.  And I wonder if that’s why so many of these socially beneficial products or poverty alleviation products and programs fail because to embrace them would imply to one’s peers and community members that one was ‘beyond hope’ or ‘poor’ regardless of one’s one economic challenges?

Raising some concerns about urban user research insights being applied to design for rural markets

So, how exactly do you make this thing work again? (Jan 2009)

The Rural Market Insight Group at the Centre for Development Finance (CDF) conducted a six-week product test with a Base-of-the-Pyramid (BoP) household in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The purpose was to explore whether urban user testing of rural-targeted BoP products yields relevant user insights in early design stages. Surprising results warrant further research of this potentially valuable technique.

It was with great interest that I browsed through the results of the CDF’s research conducted for a newly designed cook stove.  Their rationale for evaluating the applicability of their research results across the urban/rural divide was framed thus:

However, extensive rural user testing that would provide the necessary design insights is demanding for companies with limited time and budgets, looking to scale up quickly. Companies must locate rural test sites, target households willing to test and provide user feedback, make multiple site visits to collect data and analyse insights, modify prototypes and repeat the process several times in several locations.

A valid point. Particularly when the BoP market’s pricing requires minimizing sunk costs during the R&D phase.  The research team then tests the user testing process/methodology with an urban BoP user who shares many similarities with her rural cousins in her kitchen. Their findings include:

 While it will always be necessary to conduct BoP product testing with a rural target audience, urban testing can alleviate financial and logistical challenges that researchers face when conducting early-stage usability and design testing on BoP consumer energy products. Urban spaces offer high densities of BoP-product users, many of whom retain rural behaviours. Close proximity to potential testers allows for low-cost, high-contact interaction with testers and continuous tracking of user behaviours that would go unnoticed with less contact.

So why should there be any reason for concern? The team emphasizes the need to put the user at the center of the design process and articulates the challenges and limitations well.

Timing, context and relevance

The success of these findings should not imply that that understanding user behaviour among urban migrants from rural regions offer actionable insights for rural BoP users in their own environments.  User testing is not the same thing as user research, and certainly not exploratory or applied user research of the kind implemented to identify  opportunities or develop new market strategies.

What is the difference between user testing and user research as applied to the context of the user centered design process?

From Josh Walsh’s linkSimply put, the biggest difference is when they are used in the process.

Here, a product that has already been designed and prototyped is being tested in the field [implementation] in order to apply the findings to refine the design of the particular prototype. The basic idea or concept for a product emerges from the insights which are based on the initial user research (immersion) – the findings from prototype testing offer insights for improving an existing design but by this stage, but  will not answer the question of whether the basic design was appropriate for the user’s environment in the first place.

And if these research findings are also to be used to offer affordable and relevant products, then the financial behaviour as well as access to and affordability of the relevant fuel will change significantly between the urban and rural environments.

From the researchers’ own document:

The Quality of User Experience – Alben 1996
The UCD concept is based on questions about user experience with the product:

1. Does the user understand how to use the product?
2. How does the user feel while using the product?
3. Does the product serve its purpose?
4. How well does the product fit into the user’s environment?

Cost, Convenience and Caution

Refining an already designed prototype can certainly be done conveniently and cheaply nearby, however initial concept development and design strategy should not be assumed to rely on the same findings.

Another grey area of confusion emerges from the UCD process popularized in the development of softwares and websites, being conflated with the human centered design approach when it is implemented for industrial design of tangible artifacts that are manufactured with materials and resources.  It is far easier and cheaper to tweak a prototype for user interfaces or software applications and then test it with the users, after requirements gathering, than to change the basic engineering or mechanical aspects of a product’s design even in the prototype phase, once the concept has been developed.

Therefore, it is far more important to get the initial research done correctly among the target audience for actionable insights that lead to concepts and design criteria before the product is designed or prototypes are even built and test.  In the long run, that saves far more time and effort, not to mention costs, than attempting changes much later in the product development path. It is where major commitments are typically made involving time, money, and the product’s nature, thus setting the course for the entire project and final end product.

Here is a snippet on the role of User research or User centered research and the when and why  during the product design and development process:

User-centered research is regarded as an integral part of the design and development process. To most, UCR is presented as an essential component of how concepts are conceived, developed and tested in contemporary design. It is involved in all parts of the design process used to best address user needs and expectations. This entails using the research during early phases to identify new design opportunities as well as testing concepts during later development and postproduction phases. As such, the UCR is defined as a tool for  generating new opportunities as well as evaluating concepts in development.

Value for money and a return on investment

There are far too many well designed products for improving the lives of those at the Base of Pyramid that have never quite managed to achieve their goals than those that have succeeded.  Understanding the variety of powerful tools design makes available for observing our potential audience, their needs and their environment and knowing when to apply what and why can often save far more time, effort and money in the long run while improving the chances of success for the new product introduced.