Designing with Women: The EcoZoom Approach to Product Design

EcoZoom Amanda here with an exciting update! The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves recently released the Scaling Adoption of Clean Cooking Solutions through Women's Empowerment Resource Guide.  EcoZoom was featured in the guide as a case study for incorporating women into the product design process. It was a great chance for us to highlight some of the ways we've been able to work with women to design great products.

EcoZoom Product Design Case Study

EcoZoom is a social enterprise and certified B Corp working to make improved cookstoves accessible and affordable in developing countries. EcoZoom has the exclusive rights to internationally distribute stoves engineered by Aprovecho Research Center, a leading nonprofit organization in the design, engineering and testing of improved stoves. The EcoZoom cookstove is based on the ‘rocket’ concept and has an internal ‘chimney’ which directs air through the burning fuel and encourages the missing of gases and flames above it. In most cases, the cookstove is manufactured in a Chinese factory and then transported to the identified market as a finished product. They are also piloting approaches with local assembly in order to reduce import tariffs and create local livelihoods.  EcoZoom combines laboratory research with field-testing to create market appropriate stove models that meet consumer needs. The base product can be easily modified to fit women users’ preferences in design and use, which increases acceptance and uptake. EcoZoom consults local women to customize the stove to their needs and preferences Product Design Process EcoZoom uses a 5-step approach to product design to ensure its cookstoves are market relevant. -        Step 1: Market Need. Assess the current cooking situation including examining fuel used, food cooked, pots used, money and time spent on fuel, health impacts, currently available cooking options, etc. -        Step 2: Lab Design & Testing. Create a fully functional prototype that is proven to be fuel and emissions efficient. -        Step 3: Field Test. Take the cookstove into the field and see how women react, examining what works well and what doesn’t. See if the field results match the lab results. -        Step 4: Modify. Work with cooks to modify the product to fit their needs, making sure not to compromise fuel or emissions efficiency. -        Step 5: Manufacture. Create the engineering drawings; for iterations add an updated drawing with a part specific change request form. Obtain any additional tooling or machines and then manufacture to meet the demand. Within the 5-step approach women play central roles in product design and modification. Some of the methods EcoZoom employs to engage women, moving from general design understandings in step 1 to specific iterations in step 4 include: -        Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) led by EcoZoom’s partners to explore market needs and design concepts. -        Controlled Cooking Tests  (CCTs) for field testing functionality and efficiency. -        In-Home Cookstove Trials held for field testing functionality and efficiency with typical cooking tasks over time and creating modifications.
  • In-Home Cookstove Trials often involve between five and ten women cooks who use the cookstove prototype in their home for one to two months. The EcoZoom team (or partner organization) makes frequent visits to the homes to monitor use and check in with the women cooks.
-        Small-Scale Pilots implemented for field testing and making modifications.
  • Small Scale Pilots generally include between 100 and 500 cookstove prototypes that are given to women cooks to use in their homes over an identified period of time. The small-scale pilots are similar to the in-home cookstove trials but there is less attention paid to each individual household. The pilots are used to gather data utilizing a large base of cooks and look for trends before making modifications.
-        One-On-One Conversations held with the women cooks to modify and create improvements to the cookstove. To ensure accurate information is obtained in the one-on-one conversations, EcoZoom utilizes the following techniques:
  • Explain that both positive and negative feedback is encouraged and that there is no right or wrong answer.
  • Ask the same questions to different groups of women, look for consistent answers across groups.
  • Establish trust up front so women feel comfortable telling the truth.
  • Phrase questions carefully and ask the same questions in different ways.
  • Continually listen and do not dominate the conversation.
  • Engage with a third party that is already trusted in the community to ask the questions and lead discussion.
This process involving input from women was used to create its new newest cookstoves, the Zoom Plancha and the Zoom Jet. The Zoom Plancha The Zoom Plancha was first introduced in Mexico during a 10,000 stove pilot project conducted with the Mexican government. The Zoom Plancha prototype was created through putting together EcoZoom’s efficiency and health requirements with the requirements from the Request For Proposals (RFP) of the Mexican government – which included a cookstove that was safe, efficient, and able to cook two dishes and tortillas at the same time. Guided by the involvement of women participating in In-Home Trials over a two-month period, the Zoom Plancha underwent several iterations to become La Mera Mera. Key improvements made from women’s feedback include the design of a tool to easily remove tops from the plancha to provide women with direct access to the flame, and the name, La Mera Mera. This name has significant cultural meaning in the market. La Mera Mera is the all knowing woman, the matriarch of the house. Women connected with the stove immediately, felt empowered by it, and wanted to tell their friends about having the La Mera Mera of stoves in their home. The reported uptake of La Mera Mera has varied between 65 and 97 percent. The project has increased from the initial 10,000 stove pilot to 22,134 stoves mostly due to demand for additional stoves from the cooks themselves. The Zoom Jet EcoZoom piloted prototype Zoom Jet stoves in Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria, Zambia, Rwanda and Haiti with eight partners. Over a 12-month period EcoZoom gathered feedback from partners and worked with cooks to redesign the cookstove. The process involved 22 Focus Group Discussions, 14 Controlled Cooking Tests, 2 In-Home Trials and over 230 women participants. Through the piloting EcoZoom heard a lot of consistent feedback across the countries and groups of women that was both positive and negative. Positive Feedback Examples: -        Like the attractive, modern appearance of the stove. It looks expensive. -        Looks like it is of high quality and made of expensive materials. -        Cooks fast and uses only a little charcoal. -        Strong enough to support large cooking pots. Negative Feedback Examples: -        Handles are too weak to support the weight of the stove. -        Weakness and shape of the handles does not enable shaking of the stove while cooking. -        It is difficult to remove ashes from the stove while cooking. After analyzing all the feedback from cooks and other market data, EcoZoom decided to make Kenya the lead market for this product. Then they worked with cooks in Nairobi who participated in the pilot to make modifications to improve the prototype. This process involved visiting cooks in their homes, cooking with them on the prototype, hearing about the problem first hand, drawing improvements on the spot and creating samples to test. Key improvements made from women’s feedback include a solid state handles with silicon grips that enable easy shaking while cooking and ensure handles are always cool to the touch, as well as a removable ash tray that is inserted after the stove is light. The ashtray allows for removing of ashes while cooking without have to take the pot off the stove. Other Interesting Design Modifications EcoZoom also works with its customers to make product modifications based off their experience in the market or project needs. Some examples include: -        In Nigeria, EcoZoom private labeled its Zoom Dura wood cookstoves for the customer. The distribution partner thought his brand would be more recognizable and trusted, which would lead to higher user uptake. The Nigeria stove was named the Fast Fire, as consumers were attracted to the cookstove efficiency. -        Also in Nigeria, EcoZoom imported the cookstoves partially assembled for its customer to lower import duties and taxes as well as create livelihoods. -        In Rwanda, EcoZoom modified its Zoom Dura to have a larger cooktop to accommodate the bigger pots used in the rural areas there. Engaging Men As EcoZoom works in different countries and regions, they work to understand the different gender roles and severity of those roles before working with the community. Cultural and societal norms often require men’s participation and buy-in in order for women to be able to participate in the product design process outlined above. They have found that it is important to find all members of the community specific roles in the product development map, so that everyone freely gives their feedback and input.

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