Technology Salon


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a discussion at the intersection of technology and development

Insights on Using Customer Insights for Better ICT4D Interventions


On the same day as the Super Bowl and Chinese New Year, twenty professionals gathered in Bangkok for a Technology Salon seeking to answer the question ‘Are Consumer Insights the Answer to More Effective ICT4D Interventions?

Kristen Roggemann of DAI, kicked off the conversation by sharing how her team has been gathering consumer insights to more appropriately design ICT4D interventions and the discussion took us on a journey exploring what consumer insights really mean and what it looks like in practice.

An initial definition of consumer insights was put forward explaining the process as being very targeted research into a specific market segment that helps to gain insight into the types of technology access people have and how they are using that technology. This is done by not only asking, but also observing.

An example was put forward of a project that had originally planned to use SMS to reach its target audience. After conducting a rapid assessment over three days, the project realized that only 3% of their audience actually preferred using SMS. With these insights the project was able to change course and engage with their audience via the social media and chat platforms they were already using. This not only saved the project thousands of dollars in SMS costs, it also increased the effectiveness of the intervention.

Participants put forward a number of different ideas of what they are doing to gather better, more timely, relevant and actionable data on their audiences, from large scale surveys to micro-perception surveys, as well as how those insights should be shared, including through storytelling, infographics, and maps. This led to a debate over whether there is a common understanding of what ‘consumer insights’ means or if some were interpreting it as being the same as more traditional assessment and research approaches within development.

With the lines blurring between what people understood consumer insight to be, one participant put forward a clear illustration from the world of laundry detergent.

Knowing how many people use laundry detergent is more like a traditional survey, whereas understanding exactly what mothers (a subset of the population) feel when deciding which detergent to use is consumer insights. That information can then be used for very targeted advertising to that subset—or in the case of ICT4D, to more effectively determine how to engage with that population group.

Given the only recent appearance of the term ‘consumer insights’ in the development field, the group pondered whether it is only a matter of time before the phrase becomes just another trendy buzz word, like ‘user-centered design’, that everyone seems to claim to do, but that very few people put into practice faithfully.

While the group didn’t reach a full consensus on what the implications of consumer insights are for ICT4D, it was an intriguing discussion of different methods for understanding audiences, and certainly a more lively couple of hours than how the Super Bowl turned out, or so we hear.

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