November 29, 2012

Sampling uncertainty

This drawing was made by Jeroen Meijer of JAM visual design, Amsterdam, earlier this week during the workshop we held on Monday, November 26th, 2012.

Its a visualization of the chart I use to show how participants were sampled for the prepaid economy project. The axes represent the individual's ability to accurately predict either timing or amount of their cash flow status, and thus, their ability to plan. By all rights, this should be on the Prepaid Economy blog where this topic has been an ongoing matter for discussion but I wanted to share the communication potential of this format.

Its also a way to segment the undifferentiated masses in the informal economy, where traditional means to segment a population demographic such as income level or education may not be relevant or skew results leading to misinterpretation. What if one could cluster by patterns of cash flow, and thus, consumer behaviour?

November 25, 2012

Your margin is my opportunity: entrepreneurship in the informal economy


Each of the persons in the photograph is an entrepreneur whose mission is to increase the amount and sources of income streams for her needs. But this spirit of the informal economy's engine has been best captured in these words by Bart Doorneweert, my colleague in the ongoing project here in Holland.

Your margins are where my opportunities lie.

But of course, how simple yet powerfully effective strategy to follow. Can you not see it amongst the manufacturers of China?

November 22, 2012

“Leadership is like being in love” ~ Richard Farson

Many years ago my friend, the late designer George Nelson, told me a story I will never forget. Early in his career George worked for a time with Frank Lloyd Wright. One day when George and the great prairie architect were taking a walk and talking, Wright was struggling to find a metaphor that would explain the essence of architecture. At one point he stopped and pointed to a flower, saying, "Architecture is like this flower….no, that’s not it." He then walked a bit farther, turned and said, "George, architecture is like being in love." After he told me that story George said, "Dick, I hope it doesn’t take you as long as it took me to figure out what he meant by that."

Well, I’m afraid that it did. But I’m beginning to get the idea. It is a paradox. In order to be a professional, one must be an amateur. The word amateur comes from the Latin amator, meaning to love. An amateur is one who does something for the love of it. Of course. Love and passion are the organizing forces in leadership and management, overriding technique or skill, just as they are in almost everything worthwhile doing—romance, parenthood, creativity. Paraphrasing Wright—leadership, then, is like being in love. And paraphrasing George—I hope it will not take you as long to understand that as it took me.

Leadership is like being a good host at a dinner party. Consider what that entails. A good host thoughtfully plans the evening, carefully composes the group, takes pains to create the proper environment, arranges the appropriate seating, sets the agenda or program for the evening, introduces subject matter for discussion, lubricates difficult situations, soothes relationships, takes responsibility, moves things along, attends to details, keeps controversy at a manageable level, adds humor and optimism, comes early and stays late, brings guests into the conversation who previously may have been marginal, handles one thing after another, shifts attention easily, listens well, doesn’t dominate, is at ease with self and others, and, most important, enables the guests to be at their best.

Leadership is not a skill. There are no "expert" leaders, just as there are no "expert" friends or husbands or parents. The more important a relationship, the less skill matters. Leadership is a high art. It is too important to be a skill. It needs to be understood and appreciated for its esthetic qualities, for its gracefulness and beauty, just as we appreciate these qualities in a great athlete—quite apart from that athlete’s contribution to the victory. While we can appreciate them in their own right, in both sport and leadership these esthetic qualities are fundamental to success. ~ Excerpt from the essay "Designers as Leaders" by Richard Farson

I was reminded of this essay by a tweet asking if design can offer leadership but when I went looking for the essay I found to my dismay that not only is the hosting site down but The Wayback Machine has not archived any of Richard Farson's body of work. This extract is taken from my old blog, where I'd published it back in February 2007. As you can see by the stars in my eyes, I'm a confirmed fan of Mr Farson.

That was taken at the very first Overlap in May 2006, by Steve Portigal. We were part of the original organizing committee and Mr Farson was an extremely respected and active participant in our conversations on business and design.

November 19, 2012

Takeaways from experiencing the human centered design process

Design adds greater value in the long term by being applied to the HOW of business (practices and process), whereas being applied to the WHAT of business (products) ends up having limited value as those products become commoditized. ~ paraphrasing Clement Mok, March 1st 2005


For an audience who will neither practise the design profession nor tend to apply the user centered design process in their day to day work, what could be the essential takeaway from a day spent immersed in the experience?

Call it experience design, but crafting a workshop for a multi-stakeholder group cannot begin without first identifying what it is we wish for them to experience. I've been mulling this over for the past couple of weeks, ever since the questions were first posed and here's my attempt at articulating the essence of what I believe to be the most important "Aha!" from this exposure.

Human centered: To practise, one must become.

Permit me to circumlocute for a moment in order to articulate this concept with clarity. There are numerous terms that have been applied to the way the producer (the manufacturer or the organization, as the case may be) communicated about their products and services to their target audience - "top down" approach, "push marketing", "mass communications", and of course, advertising. The idea was that you made a widget which you then advertised and promoted heavily in order to sell it to your intended customer base. "The job of advertising is to create a desire". Wants rapidly became confused with needs, and this can be seen everyday in the mainstream consumer culture we are all immersed in.

Begin with the users.

Don Norman wrote the book to advocate user-centered design - a philosophy that things should be designed with the needs and interests of the user in mind, making products that are easy to use and understand.

 John Heskett once said that an invention is not an innovation until it is adopted by the users.

Taken together, we find the seeds of the reversal in thinking that leads to a more "bottom up" approach or "pull marketing", to use the vocabulary of the preceding paragraph. That is, one isn't attempting to create demand so much as to identify it and then satisfice it, in a manner that offers value to the end user, thus lowering the barriers to the adoption of  your product or service or program.

Value is contextual. 

What might make sense for the producers, however, becomes even more challenging to gauge when attempting to provide solutions for end users across the vast gulf of disparities - of income, of socio-economic strata, of geography and culture and language, of experience and mindset, and thus, of values.

Understanding the difference. 

Human centered design took the premise that if we were to begin first by understanding our target audience, their environment and challenges, their lives and hopes and wishes and desires, we could identify "unmet needs", or gaps in the system, which offered an opportunity for innovation. New products could be designed to meet these needs, thus offering a value to the customer and differentiating themselves from the competition, considered to be inadequate. This is the central premise of the user centered design approach to solution development.

Respect, empathy, humility. 
  
Thus, we could proffer that the human centered approach puts the intended target audience (the user) as the focal point or the frame of reference by which to assess and evaluate the design, from their perspective. What are their aspirations, dreams, hopes and challenges? What do they want to do? What is the benefit of your product or service or program, in the context of their daily life? Why should they adopt your invention?

You, sir.

We hope to enable a shift from the top down, "we know best for you" approach that characterised the past and closer towards our common humanity where we work together to solve our closely interconnected world's problems.

Yeah, that last is a bit of a stretch but our aspirations must always be just a tad out of our reach no?

November 17, 2012

Brave new world in 2012: Refreshing Theodore Levitt's globalization of markets

Convergence of global markets and equalizing of purchasing power will finally offer the "global consumer" Theodore Levitt was seeking. ~ @nitibhan
I found myself summing up a search with these words at the end of a series of articles I found while digging around online. Now I want to explore this potentially emerging future a little more and see where its coming from and where it might be going. There seem to be two simultaneous shifts taking place, economically and globally. Even as we see signals of the rise of the "emerging global middle classes", many of whom could be classified as the former "poor", we note a concurrent decline in the same classes being noticed in the erstwhile first world.

For example, there's a special report on GlobalPost titled America the Gutted which covers what they call:
There is a deep unease spreading across the United States of America. As anyone who's living through it can tell you, the nation’s middle class — the backbone of the world's largest economy — is in distress.

Median income and net worth are falling. Unemployment remains a persistent and pernicious problem. Millions of houses languish in foreclosure, or drown under mortgages that exceed their market value. Health care, education and other day-to-day costs continue to rise, further pressuring family budgets.

To make matters worse, new technologies are decimating entire industries, and social safety nets are threatened by rising government debt.
and The Telegraph informs us that not only is it expected that the median annual income of the UK's middle class will fall by £800, but there's a brain drain as middle class professionals flee overseas for better paying jobs. Anyone old enough to remember the headlines just two decades or more ago will recall similar challenges in places like India or South East Asia. Canada feels their pain.

Which brings us to this chart from the Financial Times:


And they are not the only ones. The venerable Economist, the trend following World Bank and of course, the OECD have all noticed this social and economic transition taking place. From Latin America to Sub Saharan Africa, the tortoise slowly munches the lettuce the hare tripped over. Australia expects succour from China's emerging middle classes while Brazil's former BoP get a mainstream soap opera (telenovela) of their own. When the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) goes mainstream, Houston, we have a very interesting situation here to be analyzed.

Almost 30 years ago, Theodore Levitt published The Globalization of Markets, a manifesto for global multinationals to focus on an emerging global consumer. The intervening years showed many such companies the challenges and pitfalls of the frontier markets of yesterday - Kellogg in India being the best known such example. Products had to be localized and pricing strategies reframed, the emerging markets were so very different from the domestic consumers of the sophisticated markets of the (sic) "Global North". The path to development was projected to follow that of the developed countries and much beating of chests occurred when the realization dawned that it meant a billion or two more automobiles on the planetary highway.

No such luck.

The past half decade's worth of financial crises and increasing scarcity of resources have led to an increasing equalization in the global water level. Instead of the high tide that would lift all boats, the levelling off of growth is leading to an entirely different equation of purchasing power parity. Tomorrow's equilibrium seems to imply a more frugal world. One only hopes it means greater cooperation and sharing, with our world as our community and not a fight to the finish scrabbling over the last piece of the pie.

November 9, 2012

From Motorola to Samsung: Eras of global mobile leadership

A recent conversation on Twitter with Neelakantan on the topic of Apple and emerging markets led us down the rabbit hole of reminiscing on mobile phones and their history of leadership in the recent past. We've read, written and commented on mobile phones since 2006 or so, and today's foray into the archives inspired me to write this post.


Motorola. The Razr.

Does anyone remember the days when Motorola was #1 in the world?

It wasn't all that long ago when Nokia toppled the leader to take over the top spot only to cause an exponential spread of this handy little device across the entire planet.
"The mobile terminals market is exhibiting extraordinarily strong growth in 2003, and we believe it could reach half a billion units this year," Dec 2003
Nokia was #1 in the world and it didn't look like anyone could topple them.


Then, Steve Jobs released the iPhone but even then it was never a contender for the top spot in mobile phone sales globally, narrowly focused as it was to only a particular segment of the world market.

Until Samsung...

Somewhere in the dusty archives of the blog are tables and charts of sales data showing Samsung's climb up the charts to #2 position which it held for some years until this year's takeover of the #1 position.
"Samsung is now on the verge of achieving 10 percent global market share during the latter half of the year. This is a psychologically important market share objective and further evidence that Samsung is clearly in Nokia's and Motorola's rearview mirrors," Prohm said. ~ August 2002
What does this tell us (other than the fact that Samsung should watch its back closely around 2016)?

That leaders come and go, each of the major players - the market makers and device creators - Motorola and Nokia - had their day in the sun. But each held on to this spot for shorter and shorter periods of time before the competing contenders knocked them off their perch.
The evidence supports recent forecasts that the popularity of mobiles packed with extra features is set to explode as they get better and cheaper. So far these devices have been slow to get off the ground, as they have been relatively expensive and have limited battery life. ~ BBC, 2004
There's a post here to be written analyzing the evolution of leadership against the changes in the operating environment and rapid growth of the emerging markets. What changed?


Can companies respond competitively in high flux transitions in their target markets or are they doomed to accept their limited time in the sun?

Mapping the path to prototyping an adaptable user centered design process

We've all seen the classic User Centered Design (UCD) process diagrams, mostly linear, that attempt to communicate the steps yet unable to capture the iterative nature of the activity simply due to the limitations on how many circular arrows one can add without losing clarity. When I first began exploring the process deeply for application in emerging markets, this is the one we naturally used during a brainstorming experience with David Kelley back in April 2006:


But those of you familiar with the application in the practice of user centred design will recognize that this section applies to the design planning phase, prior to the design and development of the first prototype, boxed up here as "implementation". You'll also note that "User research" or rather, "Immersion" in the field, is left implicit, although one can say that it is represented by the green circle. Exploring as I was, back then, the intersection of where design met business, I felt this diagram was limited in its ability to communicate what really happened, much less why or how.

[Illustration of the Process of Design from a great height]

Shortly thereafter, in May 2006,  Damien Newman put the now famous "squiggle" up on his blog in response to a contemplative post of mine. Aha! I said, when I read what Damien had to share about his illustration:
So I decided to consider how to frame design activities in all disciplines, to discover which ones were worthy of placing on my map, could be the process one takes to set about producing a designed solution. I think in its most basic and fundamental form, the process of design that one embarks upon, can be seen in three steps/stages/phases (whatever): Abstract, Concept & Design.
At first there is a sort of theoretical, not yet in existence, essence of a thought, state or problem solution. As designers, we set about to bring that abstract state into a concept, something that can be communicated, perhaps visualized, definitely discusses and shaped. The final stage is the design of the concept, into the form, solution or final presentation of the concept.
I’m not sure if you were to have stood at Fort Point in San Francisco at around 1827, and said “We need a bridge to get over there” if that is a fair description of the Abstract, phase - but its about the time a typographer decides to start their first sketches of a typeface that it shifts from being abstract into a concept.
At a firm like IDEO, all design starts with a healthy amount of messing around in the abstract. Human Factors leads their approach to framing a design concept and problem - and they clearly (like others too) excel at bridging any gaps between these three phases, and at including the client, their customers and designers in the process.
This squiggle was in response to this post of mine from August 2005, Design vs Design thinking where I'd first attempted to distinguish between the tangible role of a human centered designer and those who were inspired by the human centered design process for business strategy and planning. But, as experienced practitioners and thinkers on the messy, chaotic, non linear creativity inherent in these activities will recognize immediately, the squiggle is too implicit to help communicate the process with clarity to audiences without exposure to the process, such as your typical client organization or institution. Linear, structured thinkers need to feel confident they understand what you are planning to do and how you'll go about it before they'll sign a check.

And so, we finally arrive at early 2008, where the first attempt to crudely diagram the evolving process for emerging markets and bottom of the pyramid (BoP) customers as articulated in my previous post from 7th November 2012, was prototyped so:
Quite a few circular arrows are missing from the How? and Next? phases here as it attempted to frame the bullet points from process description into a visual format. Now I hope that with the help of excellent visual thinkers involved in our current project, there is a chance that this process can be greatly improved.

November 7, 2012

Developing a user centered methodology for emerging markets and the bottom of the pyramid

When I first began strategic design planning and concept development specifically focusing on low income customers back in late 2007, it was a learning experience in more ways than expected.  The key challenge, which I'd identified back then and tend to refer to as the "values gap" between mainstream consumer culture and what used to be called the Bottom of the Pyramid or BoP market, can be articulated so:
The biggest hurdle to success in the BoP market has been a lack of understanding that this market is very different from the mainstream consumer culture prevalent in the developed world. Producers immersed in mainstream consumer culture (elements of which include easy credit, buy now/pay later terms, and style obsolescence) tend to consider those at the base of the social and economic pyramid as having a very similar or same worldview and value system as their existing consumers; that they simply have less disposable income. 
So the value propositions of the products, services, and programs introduced for lower income markets—particularly in the developing world—are still based on elements of the value system prevalent in global consumer culture. There is a gap here, and its most obvious in the marketing messages, advertising and communications which tend to emphasize product benefits or value that may not be relevant—much less contextually appropriate—to the BoP customer's life. When the value proposition of the seller has little or no resonance with the value system of the target market, it will most likely be ignored.
But this gap was not just in the findings from the fieldwork, I discovered.  It was also there in the user centered design (UCD) research process; in the approach and methodology; and, in the underlying assumptions of the methods and frameworks. After all, UCD has emerged from the same operating environment as that of the majority of the producers and most certainly has been part of, if not partially the creator of, the global mainstream consumer culture in which we're all immersed. Therein lies the rub. The process is not divorced from its context and thus, we found, it needed to be far more flexible as it evolved and was adapted to the challenge of conducting exploratory user research in slums and villages and townships across the developing world. For the human centered designer, more likely to have been trained in the heart of the most sophisticated consumer markets in the world, there were additional challenges when considering the new and emerging consumer markets at the BoP. Almost 3 years ago, I framed it thus:
The majority of industrial designers in studios and corporate departments around the world are tasked with the design of a specific product or application, isolated contextually, for the most part, from the larger ecosystem of the market primarily due to their experience of, and immersion in the existing sophisticated marketing infrastructure. They have the luxury of access to information flows - on packaging, distribution, supply chains and retail outlets as well as competing designs - and this lets them focus on refining a particular product, package or UI.

This situation is almost reversed when it comes to the BoP consumer and the BoP markets. The paucity of information does not only hamper the BoP themselves but also those who seek to serve them. Furthermore, much of the market infrastructure is non existent or of a vastly different quality than that experienced in richer markets. Factors such as income streams that are irregular and lack of financial tools such as consumer credit available for outright purchase are issues rarely considered during the design process but can and do influence the final outcome.
 And so, when Emerging Futures Lab was born and marketing material crafted, I framed our methodology and approach towards the immersion phase that initiates user centered design and innovation planning for a wholly different marketing, operating and economic environment and geography. The BoP were the great unknown and design could not begin without understanding.  Subsequent projects in the field in the years since have refined the nuance a wee bit but here is the original basis:

--------

We begin at the end.

Our first task is to clarify and understand the goals of user research. Why are we looking at this market? Whom do we seek to understand? What are the questions that need to be answered? What do we want to do?

Our destination drives our planning.

Profiles are carefully selected to not only meet the requirements of the research agenda but also to best reflect the demographics of the emerging consumer market. We use our extensive online and personal networks to identify and recruit our potential users in rural Kenya or Philippines or India etc

We listen for meaning and value

Identifying key concerns, purchasing patterns, core values, behaviour and mindset that relate to our goals ensures the results will be relevant and usable. These values and key concerns are used to filter the ideas before a second round of refinement in order to ensure that all recommendations made are based on the results of observations and actionable insights from the field.

We question your assumptions

We identify and challenge your existing assumptions on consumer behavior, quality of life and environmental conditions faced by the BoP consumer in their in daily lives.

We maximise constraints and minimize complexity

Only after the selection of the most important user concerns and criteria against which future design concepts can be filtered does the conceptual process begin. Maximizing the design constraints before the brainstorming process sets the boundaries for the solution space.

We recommend exceeding expectations

Rigorously evaluated design directions and concepts that resonate with our userʼs values and fit comfortably within their budgets and lifestyles can help ensure sustainable success. Insights also provide the touch points and guidelines for developing programs and communicating effectively with your audience lowering the barriers to user acceptance and decreasing the rate of dropouts.

We aim to understand and over deliver.

November 6, 2012

Exploring the concept of user inspired policy planning

Getting up close and personal with Farmer Pedro at the Minbuza

Since late September I've been collaborating with Bart Doorneweert on an exploratory project for the Dutch government, taking a closer look at the design process for policy and planning related to private sector development of sustainable agriculture value chains. We've been thinking a lot about the user, the end user or the producer, that little guy at the bottom of the pyramid and where and how he fits into the grand scheme of things.

Bart's most recent posts have been giving me much food for thought as they articulate the familiar (user centred design process, planning and thinking) in a wholly new way and I'd like to share some key snippets here:
Immersion is a project development time allowance for identifying patterns of behavior and capturing unpolluted data, which explain current behavior (also called exploratory user research).
Even before you start working on developing a potential solution, you begin with finding focus by asking what would define the problem you are trying to solve.
Immersion is a form of subjective inference: something, which depends entirely on an individual’s perception. However, if patterns check out and tend to repeat themselves in other circumstances, or replicate concisely, then subjective judgment is compounded to a more objective phenomenon, and becomes verifiable by others.
It is then, when actionable insight appears, because the pattern has provided an insight and become a structure that organization can use to craft solutions.
[...]
The purpose of immersion is to discover patterns, which can evolve to a new basis for objective decision making.

Immersion can be seen as a mechanism for mitigating the constraint that uncertainty imposes on organizational decision-making.

With the pace of change accelerating, the immersion exercise increases in value and in necessity. It will need to be done more widely and frequently to update our current objective decision making frameworks, and prevent them from becoming an obsolete representation of the actual world.
What I liked about the way he's framed this activity of Immersion (call it exploratory user research or simply fieldwork), the first phase in the user centered design process, is how he has connected its relevance to dealing with the challenge of uncertainty and rapid change.

Uncertainty is the only certainty, I've often said, when it comes to the conditions in the operating environment at the Bottom of the Pyramid, and strategies demand flexibility and responsiveness in order to cope effectively with the perceived chaos of the developing world.  But what he's added here is this little insight from the perspective of policy and planning for sustainable development programmes:
It was once the wish of social engineering to control for uncertainty in the social environment. The premise was that you could make decisions based on a certain desired outcome, and hedge against the risk of it turning out otherwise. But through a couple of decades of iterating on the concept of social engineering we now know that it can only achieve so much. The power to coerce people to choose one type of behavior over another dissipates under change and uncertainty. The framework has shown to be ineffective, or too costly at best, and the social environment has increased in dynamics thereby making it less controllable.
It has been said that 96% of innovations fail and much of it is a hit and miss spaghetti on the wall affair. Human centered design planning has claimed to increase the success rate of the new - whether a product or service - by starting with understanding the intended target audience i.e. user research, exploratory and broadly focused, in order to identify opportunity spaces (and unmet needs) for design and development of products or services that offer value and resonate with users' worldview.  This is critical for ensuring that relevant, appropriate and affordable solutions are ultimately designed for the intended target audience. The aim, naturally, is to lower the barriers to adoption and decrease the dropout rate.

Conceptually we can take this thought one step further by applying the same approach to solution development for policy and planning of sustainable programmes for development in the agricultural value chain. We can begin our user centered approach by questioning and validating our assumptions about Farmer Pedro and refreshing our perceptions of his current day status, situation and aspirations, as much as any multinational mobile manufacturer, but in practice, how would this work in an arena that has traditionally been top down and on a grand scale?

Is it enough to be inspired by the human centered process, in a complex multi-stakeholder context such as this, to simply remember his presence in the meeting rooms of the first world, or is there a way to add his voice, far away though he may be, to the design and development process?

As Bart has written, too many programmes fail to continue once donor support is withdrawn i.e. they are not sustainable in and of themselves:
Rather than focusing on the results of a project, I propose to take a different perspective on the purpose of private sector development. The task of a private sector development project is to create a temporary organizational vehicle, which is geared to search for the new business model that will deliver replicable and scalable ppp impact. In other words, it’s not the impact itself we’re after, it’s the business model that will deliver the impact. Private sector development, as a complementary coalition of for-profit, and non-profits, should limit its resources to validating such a model, ie. a feasible, viable, and desirable model.
Exit comes after such validation.

November 5, 2012

Tap lock: Design that mirrors need


These are jua kali manufactured locks for taps, where the padlock goes on the little handles shown and the contraption protects your faucet from either being stolen for scrap metal value or your water being used by unauthorized people. It was seen in the market in Nakuru, Kenya.


This is a conceptual design for a lockable faucet that I spotted on YankoDesign today. The blurb says:
The concept addresses the need for keeping these faucets secured and locked as unauthorized people may use them. The Locko uses a combination lock system to keep the tap locked and only those who know the combination will be able to use it. This will help prevent water theft (yes this happens!) and wastage. LOCKO is also a 2012 red dot award: design concept winner.

November 4, 2012

Innovations in transport business models across Europe


Spotted outside the Zuid Park Business Center in Amsterdam, this is a taxi stand cum charging station for electric vehicles. And its not the only one, as I saw the same taxis waiting at Schiphol airport. They were asking half the price of a regular taxi for the trip to the center of town.


In the same parking lot, I also noticed these Smart cars from the Car2Go service, a pay for use rental car service. A similar service is also becoming popular in Tallinn, Estonia where you can access the vehicle directly via your mobile phone. Rent instead of purchase business models are popping up all over. Below is the line of bicycles waiting for customers in Barcelona - the only downside here is that registration for this service is limited only to ID holding residents of the city.


Mind you, the urban pay as you use bicycle concept is not new, though ubiquitious but the cafe/bar below is certainly different even though it won't get you anywhere ;p


Prioritizing whom you put at the center of the strategy and why

The tacit mandate for companies interested in the BoP market is that your product or service must either fill an 'unmet' need (of which the poor have many), or provide a way for them to enhance their livelihood or quality of life. Why else would they divert their limited and hard-earned cash for your product or service? So the fundamental consideration before design would be to focus on the benefit to the BoP: Is there an opportunity for social or economic development?
Next, the solution must be well designed—contextually relevant, appropriate, and of course, affordable. But the best designed product or service in the world will not sell if your customer is unable to find it. Since logistics and transportation is as much of an infrastructural challenge in the developing world, distribution becomes critical in ensuring the availability of the product. The entire supply chain might have to be built from scratch.
Once you've made the right product and got it out to where its needs to be, are your customers aware of its existence, what benefits it may provide for them, and the reasons why they should think about purchasing it? Is there a demand for this product, or can one be created? Does the value proposition of your offer resonate with the value system and worldview of those at the BoP?
And finally, the whole offering must cohesively hinge upon preserving and ensuring the dignity of your new customers. The poor are not looking for handouts, but rather opportunities; providing them with such products or services through a filter of 'charity' or 'social work' serves no one.
Our work in the field observing those at the base of the pyramid had led us to conclude that their life of adversity—managing in challenging conditions—evidenced a very different value system and worldview from what is commonly considered mainstream consumer culture. Their buying behaviour and decision-making criteria imply that those in the lower income strata—particularly in the developing world—are not 'consumers' but in fact extremely careful 'money managers' for whom an expense is often an investment whose return must be maximized. They tend to be risk averse and seek greater value from their purchases.
So an integrated strategy—one that looks beyond the design of the product or service for the other 90% but also takes distribution, demand, development and dignity into account while touching the core values of the BoP customer—could be considered a framework for best practice. ~ The 5Ds of BoP Marketing: Touchpoints for a holistic, human centered strategy, January 2009, Core77
 Why?


Lets take the example of your average social enterprise seeking to sell a cookstove or solar lamp to the erstwhile BoP customer. Do you know where he or she goes shopping? If you're targeting rural customers in Sub Saharan Africa or South Asia, what are the odds of there being formal retail within accessible distance? What are the odds of your subsistence farmer dropping by a supermarket when he's in town next for market day? What kind of a difference will it make to your distribution strategy or demand creation and customer awareness program if it were designed from the point of view of your intended customers and their daily life, environment and buyer behaviour? What if these assumptions were validated prior to investing thousands of dollars in setting up traditional distribution channels, per the conventional product introduction strategies as developed in the more sophisticated mainstream consumer markets?

Most social impact programs, whether they offer a new product or a service, or a program for socio-economic development of some sort, tend to focus their efforts on meeting the perceived needs of their most visible stakeholders. Rarely are these the intended recipients or end users, that is, the customers who would be purchasing the product or participating in the program or service. Thus, when when there is little or no traction in sales and/or use of product or service, its always a headscratching surprise. No wonder, when marketing may focus on value propositions that attract funders or changes in design are based on intermediary feedback, with little or no resonance with the actual needs or challenges faced by those among the intended target audience.

Human centered design, which inspires this holistic approach to the design of a strategy or plan, provides us with an approach which prioritizes the needs and challenges of the people considered most important for success or failure. Over and over, we learn expensive lessons when little or no impact is observed. Experience shows that the most dangerous assumption at the start of planning a program or crafting a strategy is that there is no difference in context between BoP markets and mainstream ones.

Whom do you choose to respond to? 

Prioritizing a particular user group allows for more relevant design and development. Iteration after initial implementation, that is, testing the prototypes in the field, need to be based on accurate feedback and if this aspect is not considered critically, then strategies get misaligned as multiple voices may offer conflicting or indirect information.

What do you choose to focus on?

Time and money are not unlimited. Prioritizing which set of voices to listen to and what context or needs your service or program is meant to serve helps increase the focus of the efforts and the resources.

As our most recent experience with agricultural value chain innovation in the context of social and economic development for Bottom of the Pyramid markets shows us, the lack of clarity and understanding of who exactly is the "User" ie. not having a specific focal point for planning and for program design leads to a cascading series of challenges from initial implementation through to end result, and thus, impact.

What essential aspects of the approach, philosophy and methodology from human centered design can offer value to such program development for donors?