Sawing a bed in half to create bunks that will fit in a small room may seem strange at first glance, but look deeper: Furniture on offer in Brazilian stores does not meet the needs of low-income customers. As a result, these consumers either modify what’s available, or spend more money to have something custom made. Therefore, the data that suggests that Brazilian low-income consumers invest very little in furniture for their houses is misleading. They do invest, but not in the places covered by this data.
Participatory market research can provide reliable data for the development of inclusive business models. By involving the target group as partners rather than passive objects, researchers cannot only see the world through their eyes, but also discover new solutions together with them.
At Endeva, we define research as participatory when it gives the target group the ability to influence the researchers’ perspective.
BENEFITS OF PARTICIPATORY MARKET RESEARCH
Bringing in the target group’s critical insights from early stages can circumvent many common challenges that business models operating in low-income markets face. Although relatively more resource and time intensive than pure desk research, well-designed participatory market research can yield great benefits. First, it empowers and creates trust. Researchers are often foreigners and recognized as such by the communities they’re observing. Trust is important, and can be gained through deep interaction and dialogue. Secondly, it enhances understanding. A product may not sell for many reasons – local perceptions, informal rules, or constraints. A person may not want to replace a stone cookstove with “superior” solar cookstoves because the solar version doesn’t allow for warm meals after dark, or stones used for cooking are traditionally an inheritance for their daughters. Lastly, it can identify innovative solutions straight from the users.
Endeva’s experience with such market research in places like Brazil, Sierra Leone, and Madagascar has given us some great insights on the best ways to get the information that businesses need and empower low-income communities to work on a partnership level to create products and services.
MARKET RESEARCH METHODS AT THE BASE OF THE PYRAMID
Participatory market research is not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are many different methods that can be applied depending on the situation and the product or service. Endeva has identified the main research methods, organized by the various outcomes an organization can aim to achieve:
|Type of information obtained from consumer
|Interview, focus group
|Idea competitions, toolkits, Innovation workshops
|Role of target group
|Respond to and discuss questions
|Co-create products and services
|Target group observes itself
|Target group is asked for information or consulted for specific information
|Target group engages in joint activities and “co-creates”
Outcome 1: Use Context
Self-documentation encourages participants to portray the context of the product or service with their own eyes. In Brazil, we gave people disposable cameras and papers with happy and sad faces. They were encouraged to put the smiling face on furniture solutions they liked, in their homes or those of acquaintances, and the frowning face on what they did not like. They took photos of their observations to provide us with documentation.
Outcome 2: Perceptions
Semi-structured interviews and focus groups allow researchers to gain deep insight on how the target group views their needs and experiences with certain products. For example, in Sierra Leone, we developed a seasonal calendar with the members of a cassava cooperative, which allowed us to identify when they sold products and cash flow was strong, as well as when it was significantly less.
Outcome 3: Solutions
The target group already has ideas about solutions, and these reveal more information about preferences and constraints. In Brazil, people were asked to draw ideas for furniture they would find useful. Using space efficiently, e.g. through multifunctional furniture, emerged as a key theme.
WHAT WE LEARNED
Our experiences in Brazil, Sierra Leone, and Madagascar resulted in lessons on how to best prepare, implement, and use the methods described above. These lessons include:
- Get informed about the local context as well as possible before beginning the research; work with local researchers if possible.
- Focus your research on key questions to maximize time and resources.
- Select participants purposefully, e.g. by speaking to opinion leaders, like the mayor or teachers, or by leveraging existing social groups, like farmer associations.
- Brief participants by clearly stating the reasons for your research and what they can reasonably expect to come out of it. Don’t create false expectations!
- Use visual materials to avoid problems with language or literacy.
- Triangulate results by combining different research methods.
- Be aware of your research methods’ blind spots to make the results as objective and useful as possible.
What is your own experience with market research at the BoP? Share your insights and discuss with us, here in this blog or at our upcoming peer-learning workshop on Sep 10 in Berlin!
Note: This blog post is a summary of a longer article that will soon be published in the first book of the BoP Learning Lab Network.
Endeva is an independent institute based in Berlin, specializing in building, sharing, and applying knowledge of inclusive business and private sector-led development solutions. For the projects mentioned in this post, we worked with the following partners: market research in Brazil was done for the Research Centre for Design and Sustainability (Núcleo de Design e Sustentabilidade) of the Federal University of Paraná; in Sierra Leone we worked in cooperation with the ILO’s Youth Employment Network; and in Madagascar, we worked with HERi Madagascar.