Mobile trends and weather forecasting in West Africa

In West Africa knowing when the next rain will come can mean the difference between success and failure for farmers, whose livelihoods depend on their harvests. We led Ignitia through a human-centred design process, beginning with field research to understand new trends in mobile usage and attitudes towards the weather forecast.

Together with Ignitia, our aim was to kick-start an expansion to Ignitia’s current industry-leading weather service for its customers in West Africa. The goal was to better understand how to expand the existing successful SMS service to provide greater value in a culture where the use of android smartphones is rapidly expanding and behaviours around technology are changing. The work was hands-on, with fast-paced immersion to Human Centered Design for the Ignitia team followed by 2 weeks of ethnographic-led insight gathering and synthesising in the field. We delivered to Ignitia human insights into an emerging target group, nuanced re-segmentation of their existing service users along with a series of concepts and directions for new digital services that were tangible and testable, informed by our shared new understandings.

The insights and opportunities that this first phase of work uncovered fed into a concepting and strategic planning phase. The early design concepts and ideas drawn from the insights explore new ways to deliver the weather forecasts, taking into account the needs and behaviours of people with diverse digital fluencies, connection and limited expectation on the accuracy of weather forecasts. Frameworks of the main understandings, behaviours and desires were delivered and that helped to synthesise the extensive research and suggest new possible segmentation tools for the target markets.

Ignitia has done work in the field before, but this time they wanted to understand how a human-centred design approach could give them new insights and understanding on how to include the nuances that would otherwise get lost. How could a design approach from the outset create a foundation to ask the right questions and holistically inform a new service?

As well as getting setting good foundations for the following phases, in this project we also wanted to teach Ignitia, as much of the human-centred design process as we could. Making sure that methods and tools were documented in a way which allowed Ignitia to repeat the process at a later date, with less support from Ocean.

Ocean’s systematic approach of insights forming provides a clear way to form valuable insights from the snippets of information that you gather along the way.

Marc Kruger

Project Lead, Ignitia

We wanted Ignitia to understand enough to be informed by the insights, becoming able to make strategically important decisions from the questions that were raised during the fieldwork and following design concepts, not just part with a nice looking prototype. The insights and learnings needed to fulfil two desired outcomes; a. to help the company understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ they were targeting a new segment of users with new technology b. inform potential design features

Fieldwork requires an intricate amount of planning to optimise precious and sometimes precarious in-field time. Background tasks such as mapping the existing business and stakeholders were carried out remotely from our base in Stockholm before-hand. Despite the challenges of distance meetings, intensified by intermittent internet and power connection from the Ghana side, this allowed us to create a clear understanding of the landscape and to trust our focus when we were on the ground.

In country, we undertook in-depth immersion with two potential markets for Ignitia’s new offering, urban users and rural farmers. We also discussed the roles of additional stakeholders in the business chain and as spillover to the project created frameworks for Ignitia to continue gathering insights with these actors. The intention was to undertake various forms of interviews (in-depth, ad-hoc and phone interviews) along with training local surveyors to conduct parallel surveys. In the process, additional useful actors identified through in-depth interviews were incorporated to complement the insight gathering.

On the ground new nuances are expected to raise their head, people don’t show up to interviews or it takes significantly longer to align with the local community. This field-study was no different, participants were guarded about the subject or difficult to reach, but with enough in-country tweaking, the team managed to find an approach to connect, gain trust and glean previously un-understood insight. There was some previously well-founded hesitation from Ignitia that interviews alone would not provide accurate information, it’s a concern we hear from clients who have not worked with us before.

To take Ignitia’s concerns from previous experiences into account, and our own concern about cultural bias we wanted to validate our qualitative gathering. Additional data gathered by local teams has proven to be a great way to minimise cultural bias when the project team are flying in for a short period. In this case, the solution was to hire and train a local support team to conduct adjacent surveys. Recognising and reducing bias like this is fundamental to create insights with significance and in this case, provide a wider context to the understandings.

What I thought would just be an interview, Ocean showed me that it’s actually an art form. With so much attention to detail to get the finest insights out that usually wouldn't be exposed in a standard interview.

Marc Kruger

Project Lead, Ignitia

With the help of local hires, the team was able to gain the trust of farmers and urban people to allow home interviews, farm visits, small community workshops and gain valuable additional perspectives from the wider farming community. Having a hand from the Regional Agricultural Officer, for example, opened many unseen frustrations and experiences from previous trial projects and technologies offered to farmers. These kinds of understandings would have taken the team much longer to accurately synthesise from farmers alone.

In this project, the cross-section of immersive techniques worked well to deliver validated new insight even if it required some extra time for the analysis of extra data such as survey results. We aim to not gather data that we don’t have the time to synthesise as this creates a heavy burden of unknowable possibilities on the project team trying to understand the information. In this case we were thankful that Ignitia were on the same page and got stuck in to crunch the data with us. Synthesis was ongoing throughout the project, coming to a natural climax toward the end of the 2-week field study and then continued with the team back in Stockholm to draw up prioritized direction, frameworks and concepts.

Meeting with farmers on their home ground really put them at ease and allowed them to share so much more than what we usually wouldn't have been shown.

Marc Kruger

Project Lead, Ignitia

The outcome of this project was both recorded as a field study review and lived by the Ignitia team. The field study review included insights, documentation, behavioural groups and segmentation and service opportunities for the identified behavioural groups. We also delivered an acknowledgement of potential limitations and biases of the study. This document is accompanied by frameworks that communicate the key insights for ongoing strategic development and tangible, test ready concepts for services to support ongoing product development. The lived outcomes were embedded within the organisation through hands-on learning and participation from Ignitia employees, supported by templates for future use.