Putting the Consumer at the Center

By Beth Skorochod, PSI

During its 40-plus year history, PSI has continually refined its approach to understanding our beneficiary. We have learned that saddling the burden of behavior change solely on our beneficiary is neither fair nor effective. We know we must understand the entire ecosystem around if we want to design practical solutions with real people at the center. If, for example, we hope to increase uptake of modern contraception among young, rural girls in Zambia, we must not only understand that young girl, her drivers and barriers to the behavior on an individual level, but we must understand who influences her behaviors: peers, boyfriends, parents, community elders; what social, cultural or gender norms affect her actions; and what policies and laws impede or encourage her behavior around sexual and reproductive health.

We know we must also understand the market and how our beneficiary interacts with it. PSI believes that to make the market work for our beneficiary, we must understand the market structure and performance from the beneficiary’s perspective. Who are the players across the spectrum from production to use and how do they act in our beneficiary’s favor, or not? Does our young, rural girl in Zambia have access to modern contraception at the provider level? Are there enough manufacturers of a product to make it affordable to our beneficiary? Are importers bringing in the mix of methods that will best serve our young beneficiary?

To best answer these questions, PSI now uses different approaches and methodologies.

Increasing Empathy with our Beneficiary

It is not enough to understand literature reviews or research reports on our beneficiary and the desired behavior. From researchers, to programmers, to technical experts, PSI is sending multi-disciplinary teams out to engage with our beneficiaries and to shadow them. Beneficiaries are able to let their guard down in a way that doesn’t often happen in a research setting. PSI teams collect stories and observations that complement traditional research and help keep our beneficiary and their needs and experiences at the center of our program design. Refined research methods, such as mapping the evolution of beneficiary behavior and segmenting beneficiaries by behaviors, rather than simple demographics, are additional ways to understand and empathize with the consumer.


To continually sharpen consumer insights, PSI has begun prototyping solutions with our beneficiaries. These rough outlines of a solution are presented to beneficiaries for their feedback and critique. Prototypes represent the very early thinking of a potential solution, whether it be an experience, a product or even a message. It provides something tangible — a story board, a role play, or a physical representation of a product
— that helps beneficiaries articulate reactions they might not otherwise be able to verbalize. In short, we can build and refine potential solutions as well as continually collect beneficiary insights.

Beneficiary Engagement

With more comprehensive engagement, beneficiaries become a part of each and every step of solution design and implementation. In programs such as Adolescents 360, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, youth members of our target audience are engaged as researchers and data collectors, helping PSI teams analyze research and field results, creating and testing prototypes and helping to design and implement solutions.

Learning how to be more effective is a challenge at the individual level, to say nothing of the organizational one. But PSI has always put its beneficiaries at the center of its work. To better serve them, we must never shy from this challenge.

Beth Skorochod is Senior Technical Advisor for Social and Behavior Change at PSI.





Photo credit: Robin Moore

This article is part of an ongoing conversation about #MakingMarketsWork in Impact Magazine No. 22 “Are We Thinking Big Enough” issue. Join in the conversation with @PSIImpact.

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