“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Innovation creates change. That is pretty obvious. Innovation is all about changing things for the better. But, taking a narrow view of innovation by designing solutions and products solely focused on the customer – or “human centered” innovation that is just focused on the end user – can sometimes work out to a non-optimal solution.
This is because focusing narrowly on the end user can sometimes ignore the larger macro system. This is where an economically oriented methodology of looking at actors and systems can help the new product design process.
Tatyana Mamut, who is an economic anthropologist had an interesting story and model to use to vet larger implications of products that have good human-focused intentions:
During a recent project that took us to Ethiopia, we interviewed a local treadle-pump manufacturer who noted that the era of NGO and government interventions created expectations among their small-farmer customers that many agricultural products and services should be provided free of charge or at heavily subsidized prices. While the NGOs and government officials were certainly well-meaning in their work and support of farmers, their actions lowered the value of agricultural goods and services so much that local businesses closed shop or were forced to seek subsidies from the NGOs themselves in order to remain profitable.
Some quick back of the napkin economic thinking could have helped design a more optimal economically/ system-based solution.
Tatyana, working at IDEO, is working with a framework to analyze the impact to several actors in the system. It consists of 4 actors:
Constituents: Identify the primary constituents and their relationships. Who are the primary people the solution intends to affect? Who are the people, organizations, and other actors that are related and linked to the primary constituents?
Funders: Delineate the funders and investors. Who is bringing value in terms of money and other resources to the system? Who else—foundations, investors, shareholders, governments—are related to primary funders and have stakes in the funding?
Society: Determine the stakeholders in society who may be touched by the innovation. Beyond the primary constituents and those who are directly related to them, who else may be affected or have a stake in the intervention? What actors—such as schools, businesses, different social classes—may experience a value gain or loss as a result?
Nature: Articulate the aspects of the natural environment that may be affected. What areas of the natural environment need to be considered? Where will resources be extracted and how will they be allocated? Who—people, organizations, or public authorities—speak for these aspects of nature and the environment?
Next, posit where you might look within the framework to track the actors who will gain value through the innovation as well as those who might experience a loss of value.