Why Do We Care about User Research?

Tags: , , , ,

អត្ថបទ​នេះមានជាភាសា៖ kmខ្មែរ


By Vantharith OUM

ICT4D Advisor
Development Innovations

Here at Development Innovations, we help our partners better understand technology, and how they can use it in their daily work. However, technology is not magic; it’s simply a tool, and won’t guarantee us any success unless intended users are happy and using the tool. Users are beneficiaries or people that benefit from our intervention.

We say, don’t start TECH-FIRST, but rather USER-FIRST.

That’s why and when user research comes to play – putting people or users in the center of the design and engaging them at the beginning of the project to increase likelihood of success.

User research is embraced by businesses and startups because it helps them build a tool that will make them money! However, among civil society, this practice is not always used. Maybe the term ‘research’ itself tends to give a wrong impression that user research must be costly and time-consuming, but it really doesn’t have to.

User research challenges our assumptions and informs our intervention design by getting us out of air-con offices into the real world and meet people on the ground. Here are three benefits of user-research for NGOs to consider:

  • Showcase your NGO as an innovative, learning organization by getting data and updating your institutional knowledge on your beneficiaries and their needs regularly. Recent data can help you refine your strategy for better results.
  • Maximize your impact as your project’s goal and objectives are met by delivering value for users. Engaging users during the development phase of your intervention welcomes beneficiaries to be part of the process in defining problems and co-designing solutions. Our beneficiaries are the experts on their priorities!
  • Save time and get more focused information about your beneficiaries for winning proposals. User research doesn’t need to be costly and time-consuming. Running user research rapidly with small budget proves your institutional innovation. Highlighting initial results of such rapid field study on users can give your NGO‘s project or proposal competitive edge.

Fieldwork with Eco Fresh Box & Rat Hunter

For the past month, I had the privilege to join our partners on two separate field studies to the provinces. The purpose of the fieldwork was to get feedback on the products the teams are currently developing. These two teams are part of the EPIC Program, a one-year social business support program run by Impact Hub Phnom Penh and Development Innovations, funded by USAID Cambodia.

The Eco Fresh Box team sees the problems that many farmers face in storing and transporting their products to market. Farmers lose money when their produce rots before it is sold. They are developing an eco-friendly box made of bamboo and burlap that will act as a cool storage tool to help vegetables stay fresh longer. Food waste costs Cambodian vegetable farmers some $52 million dollars a year (MAFF 2016 & iDE 2015).


The team interviewed four vegetable farmers through a local vegetable cooperative in Kampong Speu. They interviewed farmers at a vegetable collection point where the farmers transport their produce and deliver to the cooperative. The team members split roles – one as interviewer while another as note-taker, and recorded their interviews so they could look back on them.


Next , the team did a product demo with fewer participants to get feedback on the box. This helped the team to validate assumptions with customers. The users were able to see, touch and feel the product.
For me, I learned a lot watching the farmers interact with their product – what did they think? How did they feel about it? Is it helpful enough to actually purchase it?


The Rat Hunter team is concerned with the risks that farmers are taking to protect their dry-season rice fields from rats. They are developing a safe and environment-friendly sound-emitting device that can scare away rats from damaging the rice fields. It is estimated that 5-10% of annual loss of rice crop is due to rats, an amount that could feed 200 million people each year in Asia (IRRI 2013).


Rat Hunter

The team used in-depth individual interviews with rice farmers in Takeo. The team used visual aids to better communicate with farmers. E.g. showing pictures of rats of different species to identify which species were common; explaining how their sound-emitting device would work using a diagram.


Rat Hunter

Next, the team broke up and I followed one of the team members going door to door to conduct the interviews. It was very insightful to see the current solutions farmers were using to tackle pest problems, including rats. During one interview, a farmer was asked to show a tool he used to control rats – an electrocution device he ordered from a local mechanic.


Rat Hunter

After the interviews, the team had a session with rat-trap makers, arranged through a local farmer cooperative. The aim of this session was to get inputs from people with expertise in rat catching. The team learned about the moving patterns of the rats and rat behaviors in damaging the farmers’ rice field.
It was very rewarding to engage with the experts to help refine the product and improve its usability in the rice fields.
Where can I start?

Sign up for a free advisory session @ DI today and check out our Tech Resource page for other useful tool-kits!