The Global Innovation Week from September 28th to October 6th, 2017 was a forum for innovators, investors, and implementers to converge in Washington DC to exchange ideas about how innovation is integrated and implemented in international development. To help kick off an entire week of presentations and gatherings, an entire day was dedicated to the Scale to Impact Summit, with conversations and presentations about the challenges and barriers faced by innovators and their new technologies in the quest to increase impact and spur development.
One key message of the Scale to Impact Summit was the importance of human centered design in efforts to scale innovations in development. This bottom-up approach includes beneficiaries in strategy for what to innovate, how to build it, and how to distribute it. Using this method ensures that beneficiaries receive maximized support; and an innovation, process, or project that is designed to be effectively utilized by beneficiaries is more likely to achieve success with scale.
One innovator shared their experiences with incorporating human centered design as an approach to scaling their technology. Reel Gardening is a company that encases natural, high-quality seeds inside a biodegradable, nutrient-rich paper tape, making the growing process fast, easy, and effective. The process saves up to 80 percent in water consumption and yields quality, pest-free plants. However, the key farmer demographic could not afford to purchase the products offered by Reel Gardening, and school feeding programs - another target customer - weren’t buying the materials designed for schools because they were far too large in land area to sustainably maintain. These challenges could have been prevented using human centered design methods for inspiration, ideation and implementation. Realizing this, Reel Gardening tweaked their product for schools, producing smaller teaching plots and working with schools to incorporate agriculture in their curriculum. They also incorporated a “buy one, give one” model, so they could leverage sales to a higher social strata in order to help the poorest people in the most need.
MyAgro used human centered design to create their product of mobile payments to incrementally pay for agricultural inputs. Realizing that smallholder farmers are not a homogenous or static group, MyAgro sought to help them overcome the expensive agricultural inputs with different packages to purchase seeds and other inputs incrementally or on layaway. They continued to integrate human centered design when they received feedback from customers who wanted more support; MyAgro then developed a network of local agents and vendors.
The approach used by Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation to negotiate milestones with potential private sector partners is reminiscent of human centered design. These milestones are carefully crafted with the consideration of partners, involving them directly in the planning process, but also motivating and incentivizing them to reach milestones that will improve their business strategies and operations in order to reach more smallholder farmers. This upfront, collaborative, and streamlined milestone-based approach is in itself an innovation, and was also showcased at Global Innovation Week.
MyAgro and Reel Gardening successfully incorporated human centered design in order to increase their scale, and Partnering for Innovation involved a variety of stakeholders in partnership development to create strong, successful partnerships. In agricultural development, farmers should be first, and human centered design is one way that organizations can ensure that innovation meets farmers’ needs.
Evan Bartlett is the Knowledge Management and Acceleration Support Intern for Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation; she is also pursuing a master's degree in Global Human Development at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.