Enabling a focus on equity

Sometimes I find that beneficiaries are not part of the decision-making process to ensure the solution take-up later.

Program officer


There can often be a tendency for investments to focus on developing products, services and policies for an ‘average’ user in an ‘average’ situation. The result is that we can miss out on those who are most vulnerable while in the search for a solution that is responsive to a larger majority.

To focus on greater equity for more vulnerable groups, you may want to bring in a design partner who has the explicit role of developing solutions that would respond to the needs and wants of less typical users in harder to reach settings and scenarios. Developing an understanding of what people on the margins of a population group may need will help you to reach that broader population overall. This is because a solution that meets the needs of what designers often call the "extreme user" will also typically work for your majority user. Additionally, talking to users who are more difficult to reach can often spark creativity by opening up the design process to new situations and considerations.

Common outputs or deliverables

Tips and tricks

  • During planning, consider the additional time and partnerships that may be needed to identify and work with harder to reach population groups.
  • Consider whether your design partner can help to explore a particular population based on their unique vulnerabilities or whether this ability will need to be augmented.
  • Design research informed by the social and behavioral sciences is a strong way to develop a hypothesis in a potentially under-explored area. Consider whether your investment will need to include some sort of validation process for exploring these hypotheses more deeply for there to be stakeholder buy-in.
  • The investment can benefit from ensuring that design partners have access to and are committed to delving into the existing literature on a particular population, vulnerability, or health/development concern as a starting point for their endeavor.
  • With design-based and other qualitative research, insights are not often validated, but rather are triangulated by considering the relationship between listening to what people say they do or how they explain what others may do, and watching that behavior unfold in action.


  • Be wary of potential design partners who do not factor in the ethical considerations of working with more vulnerable population groups.

Questions for potential partners

  • How do you intend on finding and/or engaging with groups who are harder to reach or in vulnerable situations?
  • What is your approach for identifying extreme users and understanding their relations with other more majority users?
  • Can you share with me your approach to data triangulation?
  • Have you included the time and expertise necessary for doing a thorough review of the global health literature available on this topic?
  • Can you tell me about any experiences you have had working with partners who were able to help validate and quantify some of the outputs of your work - behavioral segmentations, archetypes/profiles, preference for product attributes, discrete choice exercises, etc.?

Resources and links