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What We Learned Playing With Monopoly Money in Uganda

How can intangible products like financial services be prototyped? Last year, our researchers met Joyce, a local shopkeeper, in Luwero, Uganda and played a game with monopoly money to simulate how she allocates her family’s earnings into different spending categories such as food, medical bills, school fees, rent, transportation, and communications. Joyce spent on a few categories and then tucked some money into her bra. When asked why, she said that she needed to save a bit of the money, “just in case something happens.”

The game was one part of work that CGAP, a financial inclusion resource center housed at the World Bank, led over the past 18 months. Along with banks, mobile network operators, and design firms in three countries, CGAP is working to create innovative branchless banking financial services that better meet the needs of low-income customers at the base of the economic pyramid. One of the lessons learned from this work was how to prototype intangible products. Beyond the product features, the entire customer journey needs to be considered, with a focus on any touchpoints with the service provider, be they physical (a store, a mobile phone, an ATM) or human (agents, frontline staff, customer service representatives).

The game we played with Joyce was a great prototype. It not only helped the Grameen Foundation Applab team understand Joyce’s financial decisions and trade-offs, but also gave them insight into how important saving was to her. The prototype was designed to test a question (how do people spend in normal times, and in emergency situations?), but was flexible enough that it invited her to provide her own feedback. Ultimately, a good prototype is fast, cheap, and answers specific questions.

1. Fast

The lighter the prototype, the easier it is to change and iterate. In designing a mobile money application in Uganda, the team used paper printouts, and brought empty screens to respond to user feedback on the spot, changing the flow, swapping out sentences, and inviting users to write what they think is a better phrasing.

2. Cheap

The less expensive the prototype, the more ideas you can test for the same budget, and the easier it is to discard those that don’t work. For example, to prototype the experience at a bank branch, you could use a plain room with existing props and folding chairs before investing in any new furniture or materials. To prototype a banking agent training course, you can role play or act out potential client interactions.

3. Answers a question

A good prototype should test and validate (or invalidate) an assumption. In Mexico, a team from mocked up an ATM, not only to test the overall flow (Can the user navigate from the homepage to where they need to go?), but also details like how the date should be displayed (Month or days first? “December” or “12”?). Having these initial questions makes testing the prototype more purposeful and will help you answer your most burning questions.

And that is the basic formula for prototyping a service. A few final takeaways:

  • What pieces of the customer experiences are you trying to change and what is new to the customer? And assuming nothing about the user, how can you make sure they understand and enjoy the service experience?
  • Design the cheapest, roughest prototype necessary to answer the question.
  • Test fast and plan for iteration.
  • Document learnings, discards ideas that don’t work, and focus on improving what works.
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To learn more about the Applied Product Innovation approach and CGAP’s findings from Uganda, Mexico, and Brazil, please check out ourfull presentation on lessons learned.

Photos courtesy of Grameen Foundation Applab and

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