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Combining HCD Research, Testing, and Pilot Learning for Microinsurance Design

September 30th, 2021

Through its AfyaPoa range of products, Insurance for All (IFA) has been delivering affordable and relevant protection to underserved Kenyans in the informal sector for over two years.  Intending to broaden its reach through new gig economy partnerships and strengthen and improve its products and distribution approaches, IFA, with support from FSD Kenya and research assistance from 17 Triggers, conducted a four-month research and design phase followed by a six-month pilot.

Human Centered Design, or HCD as it is often shortened, is a research methodology that’s gained popularity over the past decade as an opportunity to better incorporate customer perspectives into the design of products and services. By immersing with and cultivating empathy for customers, developing personas that representing key segments, testing low fidelity prototypes, and iterating quickly, HCD has been proven as a cost-effective way[1] for organizations to develop more successful products. As noted by IDEO, one of the pioneers of HCD and design thinking, the research approach seeks to find the intersection of desirability, feasibility, and viability[2].

But while HCD holds much promise, it’s not a panacea for success.  In fact, much HCD research leans more heavily on capturing desirability for consumers but comes up short on feasibility and viability when solutions are put into real world circumstances.[3]  Thus, IFA’s project wanted to combine both HCD research with a pilot to stress test solutions and capture sharper learnings on these latter two dimensions of HCD. Below we highlight some lessons learned about combining HCD research with a pilot and surface four key takeaways for other organizations designing for similar products and markets.

HCD Research and Pilot Process

Over its years in business, IFA has cultivated a number of partnerships with potential distribution partners. To allow our research to go deeper, we first recognized we’d need to narrow our focus from many possibilities down to two key personas. We chose Eric — a 35-year-old married father of two– to represent boda boda motorcycle drivers from Sendy, a digital on-demand delivery service, and Sylvia — a 39 year old market vendor–to represent members of a specific Nairobi-based SACCO.  The team mapped out customer journeys of current AfyaPoa products and built a series of hypotheses about the motivators and barriers to insurance uptake amongst these two groups, including difficulty the paying annual premium, lack of trust in insurance companies, and horror stories about slow claims processes.

Three weeks of field visits, interviews, focus group discussions, ideation sessions, and pitch tests helped the teams surface insights, build and narrow solutions to those most desirable to our personas.  Separate products and customer journeys were designed for the delivery drivers and the SACCO members with unique distribution approaches aligned with partner organizations. With the design pieces in place, IFA set out on a multi-month pilot.

During the pilot, the two products diverged in their success.  For the first month and a half with on-demand delivery drivers, IFA had already exceeded the number of sign ups they had achieved over 12 months prior to the HCD research. Face-to-face sales engagements bolstered trust and understanding amongst customers that previous digital channels were not able to achieve. The products offered seamless premium deductions from daily earnings, while combining cover for mandatory third-party motor vehicle cover alongside health benefits.  Desirability proved to help drive feasibility, and early results indicated that viability could be achieved with continued scale.  On the SACCO side, however, the pilot never managed to take off.  Partner complications led to long delays and ultimately the decision to explore other strategies.  In this case, despite a product backed up by HCD research, the pilot showed it was neither feasible nor viable.

Takeaways for other organizations

Based on our experience, we think a few lessons could be useful to other organizations thinking about combining HCD research with a pilot.

Be intentional about considering feasibility and viability upfront in the design process.  Following ideation sessions (where we want to go big and DIVERGENT with our ideas), we must have a CONVERGENT stage where we can apply criteria that helps us filter out ideas that may not be feasible.  By critically considering things like partners, technology, and regulatory issues before progressing with prototypes, teams can help ensure that outputs of HCD are better positioned for success upfront.  In our case, a partner issue could have been earlier identified as a red flag before trying to progress to a pilot.

Blend customer feedback with global lessons. In the case of microinsurance, perhaps the biggest of these foundational principles is that we need seamless payment collection mechanisms. Likewise, products must employ principles of simplicity, affordability, and active engagement with and education for potential customers. Without these, we’ve seen hundreds of products fall apart due to low take-up or high lapse rates. Listen to what customers say they want during the research stage, but always blend this feedback with global lessons that show what is necessary for baseline feasibility.

Go live sooner rather than testing too many variations during the research stage. During the prototyping and iteration stage of HCD, it can be tempting to try many different facets of a product all at once (e.g. product features, pricing, marketing messaging, value added services, small nuances of sales processes, etc).  While there are insights to be gleaned during iterative testing, especially on the feature components of products, even more, reliable lessons often surface when products “go live” during a pilot. Run A/B tests of various marketing messages. Test different sales approaches in different locations. Add rapid experiments from which you can isolate success or failure indicators. Pilots are a great opportunity to prove whether a difference exists between what customers SAY during research and what they DO in real circumstances.

Dedicate resources to learning throughout the pilot.  While organizations typically commit extra time and resources to the intense “design sprint” research period, often, the pilot gets significantly less focus. It’s key that organizations put in place a manager tasked with setting a learning agenda, tracking data, and pivoting with revisions to the product or customer experience. Through this internal leadership, a company can better ensure buy-in takes root in the company and learning continues.

In the case of IFA, the pilot will carry on for the next few months by further iterating sales approaches and exploring new partnerships.  Ultimately, HCD and pilot/iterative approaches to learning are not once-off activities, but mindsets that organisations can continually employ even as products evolve and scale. With the customer always at the center, desirability, feasibility and viability are more likely to converge for success.

[1] https://research-collective.com/human-centered-design-roi/

[2] https://designthinking.ideo.com/

[3] https://www.itad.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Human-Centered-Design-Paper.pdf

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