Better Living Challenge

Needs Analysis Research

Discovering user needs


BLC 2 commenced with a needs analysis research period from January to August 2016. We conducted field research in informal settlements and commissioned studies which looked at models of informal settlement upgrading, social innovation collaboration models, and value-chain mapping and access to credit in the informal housing sector. Our approach was that of a design-led research methodology to ensure that we deliver a Better Living Challenge that is based on actual need.


Design thinking approach

  • Discover: The research team considered the issue in a fresh way, noticed new things and gathered insights by working with end-users.
  • Define: The team made sense of all the possibilities identified in the discover phase. What matters most? What should we act on first? What is feasible? The goal here was to develop a clear creative brief framing the challenges.
  • Develop: A period of development where solutions or concepts are created, prototyped, tested and iterated. This process of trial and error helps designers to improve and refine their ideas.
  • Deliver: The delivery stage, where the resulting project (a product, service or environment, for example) is finalised, produced and launched.


Research approach


The aim of the action research approach was to generate knowledge through a snowballing effect of data collection, reflection and iteration.


Three approaches guided the research:


  • Use BLC 1 as a baseline for a critical/situational analysis to improve the challenge framing process and implementation model;
  • Integrate the design thinking methodology and social innovation principles into fine-tuning the framing process and model; and
  • Conducting a literature review analysis of models relevant to the BLC’s aims and objectives.




Informants were consulted during the data collection and analysis steps, making them active participants during the needs analysis phase.


Key stakeholders included civil society organisations, community-based organisations, targeted industries, informal and formal traders, financial service providers, design institutions and research organisations. They became the focus of initial engagement, to identify priority areas of intervention, and to understand relevant politics. It also helped to guide local engagement activities.


Data collection


The data collection included primary research (field work) and secondary research (desktop research). Data collection methods used included stakeholder mapping, informal dialogue interviews, formal stakeholder interviews, stakeholder workshops, and audio-visual recordings.


Research outcomes


Social innovation and collaboration models

Following an assessment of the BLC 1 initiative, a need was identified to research move the Better Living Challenge model from a competition-event to co-operative capacitation. This change in emphasis could only be done by developing a model for multi-stakeholder collaboration, enabled by design and social innovation methodologies which address complex and wicked problems within the context of informal settlements.


Value-chain mapping and access to credit

The value-chain eco-system research included statistical analysis, desktop research and targeted interviews with housing finance experts. The stakeholder ecosystem and value chain around informal housing microfinance is very complex. An eco-system map was developed by Kaiser to map out the interactions between a range of stakeholders in the informal housing sector.


Models of upgrading

This was research was conducted to further explore and understand: 1) the different ideas and conceptual approaches that exist; 2) built typologies and examples; and 3) the different methods employed in different projects. The three research streams include 205 case studies from over 25 countries themed according to eleven models. These include 50 unbuilt and 155 built projects.