From Skeptic to a Believer: HCD & Silicon Valley Tools to Improve DFS

From Skeptic to a Believer: HCD & Silicon Valley Tools to Improve DFS

By Nandini Harihareswara, Regional Technical Specialist, Digital Finance
March 06 , 2017
Lusaka, ZAMBIA - 


This blog post is the first of a series dedicated to the lessons UNCDF MM4P learned in applying HCD methods introduced by Tillman Bruett in this previous post.

I came to MM4P as a skeptic of human centered design (HCD) – this buzzword/acronym was all the rage as I left Washington DC from my former job. When I went to the workshops describing HCD work in financial inclusion, I came away feeling like the work done didn’t really amount to much, and didn’t really have a lasting impact on the people that we want to be more financially included.

Enter 17 Triggers to the stage – UNCDF-MM4P searched around the world for the best HCD firms they could find, and best-in-class they are. Working with them completely changed my mind about using Silicon Valley, iterative testing models. They changed my mind because of two things.

First, their very tactile, very visual methodology of “Vision of Perfect Workshops”, combined with UNCDF’s local market knowledge, forced all the major stakeholders from the top to the operational to sit together and a) discuss the assumptions behind the project and the state of the market; and b) together, decide and agree on what the end goals are for the project and c) how we would measure success. This sounds so simple—don’t all projects do this? No, they don’t. We assume everyone has read the reams of documentation that is produced before we begin implementation – they either never read it, read an old version, or they have forgotten.

Second, is their commitment to living and working in the field while researching a customer or agent’s experience, iteratively testing either product design or marketing design of products. At times, they almost served as a booster team to the service provider – quickly iterating on training, on communication to agents, on channeling concerns of service provider stakeholders – and problem solving. Based on their iterative testing-driven insights, we created on-demand incredibly useful tools that solved the small problems of poor communication with stakeholders (like sub-agents/tellers) that are often ignored in digital financial services implementation by providers.

The buy-in and insights that come from both of these pieces of human centered design methodology had immediate impact on the two providers we have worked with. With every report we gave – whether it was on successes/challenges on product design, system problems, or training missteps, the providers met the feedback head on and immediately re-aligned resources to address problems. And that’s when you know you’ve made impact – when a service provider makes lasting changes within their organization that tailors what they’ve learned to accelerate what they want to achieve.

Together, we are supporting our Zambian digital finance providers on how to test, launch and scale products – using a Silicon Valley approach. We are not only opening minds about what truly a customer or agent faces in their journey to be a “power user” or “power agent”, we are also testing liquidity models never tested before. Our goal is to create a massive change in the Zambian market, resulting in every financial service provider believing that taking this approach is the “new normal”.

For more information, please contact
Nandini Harihareswara
Regional Technical Specialist
Additional Information
Nandini Harihareswara
Regional Technical Specialist