Imagining the Future of Women’s Contraception

Project Brief

Over the years there have been concerted efforts to distribute modern contraceptives, including the oral contraceptive pill, condoms, injectables, implants and intrauterine devices (IUD) in developing countries. However, there are still 225 million women in these markets whose contraceptive needs are not being met. About half of pregnancies amongst adolescent women aged 15–19 are unintended, and more than half of these end in abortion, often under unsafe conditions. Under these circumstances, the Family Planning program at The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made a strategic decision to further stimulate the development of ground-breaking contraceptive technologies that address the unmet needs of women in developing countries. To further this strategy the Foundation partnered with FHI 360 and social innovation consultant Pabla van Heck, as project manager, to host two ideation events based on human-centered design principles and grounded in user insights and their contexts.

Quicksand along with project partners FHI 360 and Ms. van Heck conducted extensive research in Kenya and India to uncover unmet needs for contraception use, and these findings were leveraged using human-centered design methodologies to facilitate insight-driven ideation for generating new product ideas in women’s contraceptive technology.

The project followed a simple structure carried out in both countries: an initial field research phase to arrive at user-centered insights and a second phase built around a week-long ideation workshop in which field insights were used to inform and ground idea creation.

Before kicking off the research phase we familiarised ourselves with existing content,  including online research of family planning programs, communication campaigns, and recent reports, such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), in order to develop a better understanding of each country’s context. Informed by our desk research, the overarching project challenge, and input from the project partners, we created a set of broad enquiry areas which helped us frame discussion guides and other supporting collaterals for the field research.

As with any formative qualitative research engagement, it was key for the initiative to harness and capitalize on the contextual knowledge possessed by local communities in as active a manner as possible. Accordingly, research assistants and field coordinators were included in the field teams along with user-centered design practitioners from Quicksand and technical experts from FHI 360. This multidisciplinary approach helped to ensure that a wide variety of perspectives were brought to bear on the research activities.

In Kenya, we conducted research in Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu. In India, the locations included New Delhi, along with Kolkata and Shantiniketan in West Bengal. In both the countries, the locations were thoughtfully selected in order to afford access to a range of contexts - across factors such as city size, development stages, occupations, access to healthcare, and cultural practices. Nairobi and Delhi, for example, were picked for the “big city” perspective, whereas Kisumu and Shantiniketan are smaller towns that gave us access to people from rural areas.

The synthesis took place in multiple parts, one happening in the field after interviews and through daily debriefs while the second occurred in a larger multidisciplinary group of researchers and designers during which observations were grouped and consolidated via affinity mapping into tangible insights.  

All the findings were turned into stimuli to inspire and motivate workshop participants to develop and hone ideas that would stimulate the push for new contraceptives. Our main objective for the ideation workshops was to encourage participants to:

  • Come up with new disruptive ideas in contraceptive technologies for women

  • Emphasize the value of human-centered design to the field of contraception

  • Cross-pollinate across diverse fields - family planning, technology, design, health, gender studies, and more

The workshops were constructed in a series of complementary phases that not only introduced the participants to the realities faced by the women we met, but also helped them systematically make sense of the information for current and future needs. These phases did not always manifest through chronological sessions, but the workshops followed this overall structure.

Our team introduced, throughout the workshop, dynamic ways to help participants come up with ideas, building on the information shared with them. We used various templates to capture ideas with gradually increasing levels of fidelity and complexity. More than 200 ideas were generated from the two workshops combined.

The expectation is that this foundational work forms the basis for continued efforts in the space - to focus on continuously innovating on revolutionary products that are rooted in user needs and that can dramatically improve their contraceptive experience.

In this regard we have created several collaterals that can assist others who are already working on this subject or looking for some inspiration to further their existing work:

  • Idea catalog: Captures all the ideas from the ideation workshops held in Kenya and India

  • Microsite: Provides an overview of the entire project and has links to various reports and collaterals from the project

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