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Factors effecting basic needs service design and innovation at the BOP

Alex Mercer, August 2012, Thesis Abstract

Paper 1: Factors Effecting Basic Needs Service Design and Innovation at the BoP

Purpose: In the context of poverty and designing for a populace characterised by limitations, the role of design has the ability to bridge the gaps between the ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’. The authors’ recognise that design for basic needs requires more than good design, it demands an in-depth understanding of a number of interrelated factors that contribute to its adoption, success and sustainability. This contextual study develops a framework to design and innovate appropriate products and services to meet the needs of the poor.

Design/methodology/approach: This paper adopts an integrative approach to building/understand theory and practice. The combination of a contextual case study, a review of current practice approaches from alternate perspectives in industries and the development sector, and an analysis of products and services operating that societal level, provide an inclusive approach to designing for the underserved.

Findings: A conceptual framework offers a set of interrelated factors that create boundaries for innovation spaces throughout the service design and development process. The authors’ outline key drivers for navigating through complex scenarios that are inherent to the world’s poor.

Practical Implications: The findings are considered to be theoretical, but its implications are aligned with current thinking and attitudes of the development sector and industry. The framework offers a tool for assessing current products and services and developing new offerings to meet the needs of the world’s poor.

Paper 2: The Role of Aspirations at the BoP

Purpose: Aspirations are increasingly being seen as drivers for businesses with products and services operating at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP). This paper discusses the development of a framework that aims to study the lifestyles of the BoP, understand what their aspirations are and how organisations can meet the needs, both functional and emotional, of BoP consumers with products and services that fill the gap between current lifestyles and aspirations.

Design/methodology/approach: A case study methodology is used to investigate the context of BoP consumers living in urban informal settlements in Africa. The empirical research adopts a consumer insight approach, used in FMCG marketing research, to understand the BoP consumer aspirations of 14 lifestyle parameters, with a focus on the basic needs of water and sanitation.


The authors find that consumers are articulate in conveying their aspirations and observe that they (aspirations) manifest themselves in subtle nuances through attainable products and services. They also find that meeting basic needs can become a platform for others (products and services) to succeed. This suggests that aspirationally sensitive value offerings provide an integrated approach to developing appropriate marketing strategies.

Research limitations/implications: The small sample segment used in this empirical research is unable to give a generalist view on the BoP. However, the lifestyle aspirations framework provides a systematic and robust tool for investigating, categorising and mapping the aspirations of the BoP.

Practical Implications: This aspirations-focused approach undertaken to investigate the BoP market offers industry organisations, government, aid agencies and practitioners a means to reposition their current marketing strategies. This provides an insight into developing new products and services that are sympathetic to the emotional and functional needs of the BoP consumer.

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