Moving to data-driven decision making - will this digital information service help? [Part 1]

By Kennedy Kirui
  Published 27 Mar 2018
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The importance of data-driven or data-aided decision making has been identified by many organizations as the key to survival. However, data-driven decision making is not as common as you would expect. A key contributing factor to this is the fact that to utilize data well an organization needs to put in a significant investment in personnel and tools to collect, analyze, and use data.

A consortium comprised of Africa Practice, Code for Africa, and iHub, through funding from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is working on a digital information service primarily targeting small and medium-sized NGOs trying to make more data-driven decisions. The service seeks to provide an easy to use data portal providing data in different ways and levels of granularity targeting players in the human development sector with the initial focus on providing information and data about agriculture, education, health, and financial inclusion. It will also allow interested parties to get up-to-date quick reference guides on the political and development landscapes in 10 selected countries (DRC, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda).

To increase the chances of the service being adopted and utilized by the target users, the consortium chose to leverage the user-centered design approach. iHub took the lead on this and I was the lead UX researcher on the project. The iHub carried out a field study in three countries (Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania) and a 5-day design sprint workshop in Nairobi, Kenya.

How exactly did we go about it? In a two-part series, I will share we went about it. In the first post, I will cover the field study and in the second I will talk about the design sprint.

The case for user-centered design
From a cursory search on Google, you will find a lot of information about the user-centered design and why it is a good problem-solving technique. I stumbled across a great video using the analogy of a cat food maker to explain why this approach is important.

As a cat food manufacturer, I have to make sure I:

  1. Satisfy the cat first - the user should always come first. There are other stakeholders in the project but if the user is unsatisfied no one else will be satisfied
  2. Remember that I am not a cat - never assume you know your users and don't think their preferences and tastes are similar to yours. To satisfy them, you have to go out and learn more about them. Relying solely on what you know about the user without involving them in the process will be costly in the long run
  3. Find ways to play on the cat's own motivations - users have their reasons for doing certain things. If you can align your product with their motivations, your product has a better chance of succeeding

If you do all the three, your product stands a better chance of being adopted and used by your target users.

The Field Study

As the first step in the user-centered design approach, we conducted an ethnographic field study.Traditional market research is based on highly practical questions presented to the target population and conclusions drawn from the same. Ethnography, the method most famously used by anthropologists, requires a different, more holistic approach. It involves visiting the study participants in their homes or offices to observe, listen, and sometimes even participate, in a non-directed way. With this approach, you see people’s behavior on their own terms and not the terms you define. Why include this in design research? Whatever product you are developing will be used in a person’s natural environment, and how people answer survey questions is not always a true reflection of how they actually behave. For this reason, ethnography is often a good complement to more traditional market research. It allows you to better understand the broader environment around what people say in interviews and surveys.

An office the iHub UX researchers visited in Nigeria An office the iHub UX researchers visited in Nigeria

The service will be rolled out in ten different countries and will initially focus on four sectors namely health, education, agriculture, and financial inclusion. Some are English-speaking while others are French-speaking. Africa is not a country - there are vast cultural differences between different countries. Being well aware of this, the consortium chose to pilot the service in three countries and based on the learnings from the pilot roll it out in the remaining seven. Tanzania, Senegal, and Nigeria were chosen as the pilot countries. The field study was conducted in Lagos, Abuja, Dakar, and Dar es Salaam.

The study involved small and medium-sized NGOs working in education, health, agriculture, and financial inclusion mirroring our initial focus areas. A team of two from the iHub traveled to Nigeria and Tanzania and spent a week in each country talking to the service's target users. For Senegal, we had to change tact.

Language is a huge barrier between Francophone and Anglophone African countries. To overcome the language barrier, we worked with a UX researcher from YUX Dakar. This also allowed us to tap into their knowledge of the local ecosystem making the study more productive.

During the study, the iHub team sought to understand how the participating organizations designed and implemented programs and the role data played in the process. The guide used during the conversations with the participants covered seven key talking points:

  1. How did the organizations identify programs to implement?
  2. How were programs designed and activities to be carried out identified?
  3. What tools and resources (data portals and any other places providing information) did the organizations use during program conceptualization and implementation? What were the gaps or challenges they faced with the tools they were currently using?
  4. How were the organizations structured, what roles did they have internally, and how prevalent was data roles?
  5. How did the organizations evaluate success or failure of the programs they were implementing and at what stage and frequency level were this done?
  6. To what extent did the organizations use data to evaluate the impact of the programs they run?
A study participant demonstrates a platform built internally to visualize the progress of a program A study participant demonstrates a platform built internally to visualize the progress of a program

The team also sought to understand the type of support the organizations involved in the study would require in order to take a more data-driven decision-making approach. Last but not least, they explored the importance of multilingual support in improving the adoption and usage of the proposed digital information service.

The study was conducted between December 2017 and January 2018. The findings were consolidated and presented as a report shared with the consortium partners and other relevant stakeholders. The report formed the basis for the design sprint workshop. The design workshop was a way to consolidate the findings and develop a plan forward. This has been covered in the second part of this series which you can read here.


Interested in learning more about our projects and services and how you can leverage the user-centered design approach to solve some of your most pressing problems? Drop us a line at consulting[at]





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