Practices in innovation and design are evolving continually. Human-centred design has seen steep growth amongst for-profit businesses in recent years. Even the idea of stakeholder management and (do not articulate too loudly) stakeholder engagement are finding common ground.
However, for-profit and for-impact organisations still engage stakeholders and beneficiaries only to evaluate findings, ideas, prototypes and products even though there is tremendous evidence that really and deeply engaging customers or beneficiaries in framing a problem and creating solutions is very beneficial.
Instead of creating ‘A solution looking for a problem’, an approach that results from organisations developing products and services based on their expertise, we need to start from the need-finding and trust in our ability to create solutions, whether that happens with our expertise solely or we have to crowdsource knowledge.
In an article in ‘Innovations, Technology, Governance, Globalisation’, Joanna Cea and Jess Rimington refer to the three benefits of engaging beneficiaries from the start and making them part of the team: Innovation, Quality and Capture of Market Share.
We come to better innovations.
Our beneficiaries, considered non-experts of solutions, tend to develop better novelties than experts. The reason for this might be that non-experts are the experts somehow. They are the experts on the need. Better than anyone else, they understand the mental model of those experiencing the need. They also better know than anyone else the context of those experiencing the need.
We create better quality.
When we engage users from the get-going, they will also evaluate the generation of ideas and the prototypes we create. At every step of the process, they are there to reflect on the quality of the products or services we are building. We can do this from a heuristic point of view, but none better than the beneficiaries can evaluate from an experiencing viewpoint.
Capture more market share.
When we involve beneficiaries in developing and designing innovative products and services, they will advocate the solutions we come up with. But even more important, will they advocate these solutions in the language spoken by those who suffer from the same needs at the channels these people use.
When we are deadly serious about the impact we want to make and the desire to help others, we have to admit that we can have some technical expertise of worth but cannot understand the need to the fullest without engaging our users. That counts for for-profit as well as for-impact organisations.
The same applies when we are not deadly serious and only looking for profit. It’s that simple.