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In search of the ideal contraceptive

September 25, 2017

What happens when researchers ask hundreds of women their thoughts on family planning methods; analyze these findings to frame a technical workshop; and then bring together a roomful of experts from multiple disciplines, key stakeholders and potential users to design the ideal contraceptive? The result is a plethora of ideas that are creative, provocative and grounded in women’s real-life situations.

contraceptive technology innovationLed by FHI 360 and Quicksand Design, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, this contraception “ideation” project represents a fusion of the principles of human-centered design and traditional behavioral research approaches. Its goal is to mesh the voice of the user, the experience of experts and insights from other areas of practice in pursuit of more optimal choices for women’s contraceptives. World Contraception Day, which is on September 26 every year, is the perfect occasion to share some of the excitement and energy that this uniquely creative design process has generated.

The first of two ideation cycles took place in Kenya in May 2017, with FHI 360 behavioral and biomedical scientists contributing to the research design, data analysis and workshop facilitation. Data collection for a second cycle is nearing completion, and a technical workshop will follow in October in India.

Each cycle consists of intensive field research that is synthesized into several environmental stimuli, such as the creation of user personas, that serve as a basis for the subsequent technical workshop. The Kenya cycle generated more than 100 new contraceptive concepts for exploration. The India cycle should contribute similarly, resulting in a wealth of ideas that will be shared with the broader reproductive health community for further evaluation. Funding for the ideation activities has been provided under FHI 360’s Contraceptive Technology Innovation (CTI) Initiative.

“The ideation project highlights the nuanced differentiators that separate the family planning needs of the ‘stability seekers,’ the ‘anxious mothers,’ and the other personas,” said Laneta Dorflinger, PhD, director of FHI 360’s Contraceptive Technology Innovation department. “It reaffirms the simple fact that there is not one ideal contraceptive. Women worldwide need to have a broad mix of family planning methods at their disposal to meet their changing needs throughout their reproductive lives.”

Developing the ideal contraceptive goes hand in hand with method acceptability: Any new method must be acceptable to users to ensure uptake and continued use. The CTI Exchange recently published an eight-part blog series that explores this topic. And, personal insights from workshop participants will be showcased in a CTI Exchange blog series later this year. That series will also serve as a call to action to the reproductive health community to help transform ideas for ideal contraceptive methods into real technologies.

Photo credit: Quicksand Design