What We’re Learning: What’s our Value Proposition?

As we work through our Design for Scale lab, we’re tackling five key design questions – starting with question #1: What’s the value proposition of our innovation?

Very simply, the value proposition of your innovation is the benefit your solution provides combined with why it’s better than anything else that exists! The tricky part about value proposition is that it’s not defined by us. It’s defined by our user.

value propositionOf course, we always start implementation thinking that we know what the value proposition is for our end user. However, a key step in identifying our value proposition is being prepared to be wrong or not understand the full story.  We need to be prepared to learn from our users and pay careful attention to unexpected results. At the beginning stages of an innovation it is critical to use qualitative methods that can capture unexpected value that the innovation has.

A second way we can learn about our value proposition is to look for viral replication and sharing. To see people who are replicating or copying our work without prompting or incentive tells us we’ve found an area with a strong value proposition.

Once we’ve identified a value proposition, we need to be able to articulate it!

We’re loving the simple formats from these excellent blog posts: Proven Templates for Creating Value Propositions that Work and Three More Proven Value Proposition Templates that Work


Getting to know our “users” and our “scalers”

This month, our accelerator teams are diving into a lab on human-centered design with GRID Impact. At the core of most accelerators, incubators or innovation “hubs” is the practice of getting to know your end user or your customer. Human-centered design has famously brought co-creation and empathy to the heart of innovation in the private sector.

As development workers, though, we often pride ourselves on being deeply empathetic, on both an organizational and individual level.  Our programmatic frameworks are built on human rights and empowerment, after all. But how well do we really know the participants in our programs (our “end users”)? Lots of data from formative research and long-term local presence can sometimes lull us into a false sense of knowing more than we really do, especially when it comes to designing programs.

It’s only fair to illustrate the point by picking on myself. Years ago, I worked on CARE’s avian influenza portfolio.  When avian flu first emerged, U.N. agencies and NGOs knew we had to act fast to provide advice to millions of backyard farmers across Asia.  During those early days, CARE was one of the first organizations to raise issues from the perspective of local communities, such as the disproportionate impact that culling flocks was having on women since they were more likely to raise backyard poultry.

Because we were closer to the community, I was pretty confident CARE could develop useful guidance for farmers. We spent time on our formative research and got out to project sites to interview farmers.  But when I got home, I did something that totally changed my perspective.  I built a chicken coop, got a few chickens and put them in my backyard. I became a backyard farmer.

new addition

These were my chickens.  You are looking at a picture of Lucile, Cordelia, Buffy and Rogue.  In just a few weeks, these ladies taught me that many of those key messages that the humanitarian community collectively developed were actually pretty terrible and not at all practical.   It wasn’t until I dove into an immersive experience to understand our “users” that the proverbial light bulb went off.

So our first question in the accelerator is, how can we push ourselves further in understanding our end user?   Do we really understand the value of our innovation from our users’ perspective?  Can we articulate it from the users’ perspective? What evidence do we have that our users see their problem and our solution the same way we do?

Also, as we scale, we have to shift our mindset to thinking about the people and institutions that will replicate or scale our innovation as users as well.  How often do we miss the opportunity to design for their needs and constraints?  If we don’t design our innovations with these implementers or “scalers” in mind, we will definitely fail to achieve uptake.

Introduction to Human-Centered Design (HCD)

Human-Centered Design (HCD)

“Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving; it’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.” –IDEO.org

Why do a lab on human-centered design?

All innovation labs, accelerators, and incubators have “user-centered” or “human-centered” approaches as a core element.  They also embrace a mindset of rapid prototyping, testing, and iteration.  You’ll often hear the popular phrase, “failing fast” or “failing forward, faster.”  You’ll find those same threads in virtually all programs worldwide.

For the first lab session, teams are going to be introduced to these mindsets and also provided with practical tools to give them exposure to the full human-centered design process so they can immediately start doing something with it .  Experts from GRID Impact will be presenting this lab. More on them in another post!

Want to learn more?

Check out this Devex article on human-centered design for development.

Watch this video where PSI staff talk about embracing the methods of HCD as part of their way of working:


Meet our Partners: GRID Impact

GRID Impact logo

Meet GRID Impact

We’re partnering with GRID Impact based in Denver, Colorado for the first lab, Human-Centered Design, the teams will go through starting in early May. GRID Impact is a global research, innovation and design firm that specializes in human-centered approaches to complex social and economic challenges. They create scalable social impact in domains such as financial inclusion, sanitation, agriculture and alternative energy.


Their Approach

GRID Impact applies a hybrid methodology of behavioral research and design to economic and human development challenges. They combine the evidence-based insights and diagnostic approach of behavioral science with the creative problem-solving and iterative, collaborative processes of human-centered design for more predictable, longer lasting results. Ultimately, they believe this approach produces products, programs and services that respond to how human beings actually behave as well as their needs, preferences and desires.

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Photo Credit: GRID Impact

Human-Centered Design (HCD)

Human-centered design (HCD) is a creative and adaptive problem-solving approach to bringing novel ideas to life that allows “designers” to understand how individuals will likely use and interact with a product by bringing human beings (“users”) into the process. This collaborative and participatory design process relies on rapid, iterative prototyping and design methods.  Resulting designs don’t always solve the behavioral challenge – just because someone says they like a proposed solution does not mean they will use it. Data and testing are often the missing components.

Check out more of their HCD resources on their website and look for an intro to HCD post next week.