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importance of stakeholder involvement. The
inner circle of the diagram shows the stages
through which a technology matures; the
outer circle represents the stakeholders
best positioned to advance the technology
through each stage.
The LFC successfully came to market
because the outer stakeholder circle was
fully represented in the project; each group
had the opportunity to express requirements, constraints, and insight for driving
the technology towards implementation in
the real world. This design process, including identifying customer and stakeholder
needs, is similar to commonly accepted
product design practices [ 16], as well as
methods aimed specifically at creating developing world technologies [ 7], with a few
Representatives from the various stakeholder groups in the outer ring of Figure 4
were engaged concurrently during the development of the LFC. This approach enabled
our team to understand the most important
constraints and requirements associated
with an improved rural area mobility aid.
End users expressed a desire to travel long
distances on rough terrain and navigate tight,
indoor confines. Manufacturers such as
Pinnacle, as well as APDK and Transitions,
added design elements to improve production
and identified that custom parts are difficult
to repair or replace in the field—which we
solved with the use of bicycle components.
Wheelchair distributors, represented by
APDK, Transitions, and BMVSS, set the price
point of approximately $200, which makes the
LFC competitively priced and the same cost to
donors as other wheelchairs on the market. If
these requirements were revealed in a linear
fashion, as the technology moved from prototype to product, many more iterations may
have been required to achieve the necessary
performance, manufacture, repairability and
cost specifications for the LFC.
Also unique in Figure 4 are the positions
of academics and technology transfer firms.
With the support of the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, the Singapore
University of Technology and Design, and
the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi,
our team had the resources to innovate,
To bridge the gap between academia and
industry, it was necessary to form a start-up,
Global Research Innovation and Technology
(GRIT), and engage the help of the Boston-
based product development firm Continuum.
These stakeholders were able to perform
functions critical to bringing a product to
market, such as design for manufacturing,
quality control, and packaging. Our team also
received frequent and valuable mentorship
from Whirlwind Wheelchair International,
an organization that has been designing and
distributing developing-world wheelchairs
for more than 30 years.
The LFC shows that the development and
implementation cycle starts and ends with
end users—the people best positioned to articulate a need and validate a solution. Navigating differences in culture, demographics
and geography can be tricky, but it is critical
for those of us creating technologies for
developing countries and emerging markets
to utilize stakeholder-driven innovation. We
need to recognize end users—as well as all
the other stakeholders of a technology—as
part of our team in order to create a product
that truly works on the ground. •
The most important lesson
is that development starts
and ends with the people
who rely on the product.