1.0 Introduction

Too often, time and efforts are spent on working on a solution only to find out later that the solution was mismatched to the need. We have been taught to focus on the solutions rather than identifying the need.  Rushing to solve the problem has been ingrained in us. Needs definition is the starting point to innovation. To solve a problem, it is crucial to do a needs identification exercise. This is where design thinking plays an important role, as needs finding is rooted in design thinking. Design thinking encourages you to understand the problem before you solve it. One of the key principles of Bio-design methodology is to go big and then narrow it down. Do lots of observations come up with lots of concepts and lots of different families of solutions. Don’t settle on one thing, ask questions and learn from all data sources. It is the rigor and mindset that gets you to the right definition of the need.

Design thinking involves a 5 step process to come up with meaningful solutions to solve a particular problem for a particular group of people. The key elements of the Bio-design methodology which is rooted in design thinking are to identify, invest and implement. These include needs identification, needs screening, concept identification, concept screening and final implementation.

1.1 Steps in Biodesign Methodology

The steps of Biodesign methodology are explained as follows:

Needs finding – find as many needs as possible, articulate them, formulate a needs statement – that focuses on 3 dimensions i.e the problem that needs to be solved, the population it intends to address and the final measurable outcome that is desired from the process. This is the most important part of the process.

Needs screening – with the list of needs that you have identified in step 1, it is time to screen these needs using filters to select top 2-3 needs that you can work with. Define the criteria and filter the needs  based on this criteria. For the top 2 to 3 needs identified, make a list of the must haves and nice to haves criteria.

Concept generation – as in the case of the needs finding exercise, do a similar exercise for the generation of concepts. Come up with many ideas, screen them based on a number of factors and select the ones that will work best with the unmet need

Once the concept is formulated, the next steps involve strategy development and  implementation of the solution. At any stage, if something of value comes to notice, which requires a reassessment of the needs definition, then modify the needs statement.

1.2 Role of Empathy

Understanding and being sensitive to stakeholders/users/customers is important for the needs definition exercise to succeed. Empathy is an action of being sensitive to the stakeholders. It is the basis of design thinking. It involves a  deep understanding of the problems and realities of people. Understand what people say, think, do and feel. This is a key exercise in evaluating how users collectively think – deep understanding of their problems, respecting them and understanding what they are feeling and communicating it through the solutions. Get into people’s minds or organisation’s mind and dig deeper to look for their needs.

1.3 Techniques for needs identification

How does one go about identifying the needs? Following are three complementary techniques:

Background research – conduct research by reading articles, watching youtube videos, going through reports on the subject matter. Do an extensive search on information that is available to support the needs identification process. This will give a lot of insights on the needs identification.

Observation – this is a key technique in the process of identification. Be truly curious about the stakeholders wants and needs, don’t judge, question everything and don’t take anything for granted. This technique provides you with a lot more information and provides a very unique layer to the research.

Interviews – conduct interviews of the population you plan to address the needs of. Make a thought experiment to take them to the place where you can get the answers you need. Ask why, encourage stories, don’t prompt answers to the questions you ask.

Apart from the above steps towards the needs identification process, you want to understand your stakeholders, you want to understand the relationship between them and the customers. For this identify the most important stakeholders for your unmet need and map them according to priority.

As the process of need identification continues, you will come up with a range of statements and you will need to prioritise them. For this you may want to come up with factors to consider making a decision, these factors could include the urgency of the problem, the market size, the revenue possibility etc. Assign a weight to each of these factors, combine values to produce a score that will help rank the needs. Based on the rankings, select a smaller set of needs to be investigated further. Perform additional research on this group of selected needs and repeat the process of assigning factors and ranks till only a few top-priority needs remain. After scoping  each need statement, it is important to gather more information from the stakeholders about the unmet need. Iterate how many statements as possible to come up with the final need statement.