The process of understanding something complicated begins with more questions than answers. When it comes to consumer insight work, the more we learn, the better our questions get and our best questions tend to be the ones we ask later in our discovery process. Great research responds to new learning. It snowballs, evolves and gets better over time. Yet the dogmas of traditional consumer insight work tend to ignore the power of questions we don’t yet know to ask.

On a project aimed at rethinking a mobile payment platform in India, our clients wanted help understanding why their current solution wasn’t working for their target female user and how they could pivot that solution into something that works.

We planned an intense week of research across about a dozen rural villages in Uttar Pradesh. After day 1, we realized something important: most of these users were illiterate, they did not have phones, and they did not manage home finances.

That night, we redesigned our fieldwork completely to understand what it would take to make mobile financial services work in this region. We broadened our focus from female users to include men since they were the ones with the phones, the home finance responsibility and literacy required to transact via mobile in these communities. We also tapped into local telco agents and street shops selling top up credit. These people knew more about the users than we could ever learn in a week.

Day 2 taught us that the idea of a mobile payment solution was attractive because paying bills was inefficient and took time away from earning a living. We also learned that telco agents had no interest in mobile finance because it required them to keep enough cash on hand for people to cash out and offered an insignificant payoff compared to the other things they sold.

Our week in field snowballed into our final day where we focused exclusively on telco agents in order to understand what we would need to offer them in order to make this commercially viable from their perspective.

A great research methodology responds to consumer insights you hadn’t expected to find

If we had stuck with our discussion guide, we would have come back with a fairly limited insight. Iterating on our methodology in real time meant we came back with consumer insights and principles teams can use to craft actual solutions.

Responsive Research Design puts structure around flexibility the iterative nature of great research. It allows projects to evolve in real time with protocols in place that ensure changes are made methodically by a team that knows what they’re doing.

Here are six things that Propellerfish teams do to help insight projects respond to new learning and get smarter over time.

01. Debrief early and often

Where possible, teams debrief in a standard format at the end of each day, if not after each interview. On global projects, we land a refined picture of the project after we complete fieldwork in each market. This emphasis on landing insights and solutions regularly means missing knowledge and new questions are raised before it is too late to address them.

02. Jump to incomplete solutions

We periodically challenge our teams to land what they’d do if they had to solve the challenge with only the data they captured on day 1. Sitting with an incomplete solution (perhaps a bit uncomfortably) helps teams understand which areas need further exploration so they can solve problems more confidently later in a project.

03. Build in time for less structured exploration

Avoid the temptation to over-schedule your time in market. Wandering streets with a translator can get you surprisingly far when it comes to addressing questions you hadn’t anticipated needing answers to before your consumer insight project started.

04. Engage the people who know your people early

Experts who know a lot about your user are people to speak to upfront. They can help you skip the basics and get more out of your time in field. If a pivot needs to be made to your methodology, you can make that happen early.

05. Hire locals

Global teams are great at piecing together a picture that cuts across markets, but it’s hard to get beneath the surface of a culture that isn’t your own. Hire someone local to keep you in check. These people don’t need to be researchers. We’ve hired our own respondents, friends, and translators to stick with us throughout our fieldwork to ensure we process consumer insight and tweak our methodology through a local lens .

06. Put experienced boots on the ground

It takes experience to know when and how to pivot a research methodology in field. We make sure every team has a leader capable of leading teams towards better research as research is unfolding.

Because insight projects are a learning process, our methodology around those projects should that respond to new learning. Responsive project design allows teams to evolve a project as they learn within structures that encourage the right evolution at the right time.

To learn more about our approach to consumer insight work, read our article on how innovation teams need a different approach to insights.

Propellerfish is an innovation consulting firm with offices in London and Singapore. Our teams lead insight projects rooted in a core belief that closeness is the key to better insights.

Alex Marquez

Written by Alex Marquez

Founder at Propellerfish


Most generational research focuses on the experiences and values of middle class teenagers in the US and UK when most of any generation lives elsewhere.

At Propellerfish, we’ve been helping more and more businesses think about a future where “Generation Z” makes up a disproportionate of their users. Clients want to know what this means for their products, their business models and their workforce around the world. But what has struck us is how problematic generational research is and how much of the dialogue around Gen Z has been shaped by early insights gained from teenagers in the US and UK when most of the Gen Z population does not live in the US or Europe.

We decided to engage some members of Gen Z around the world to help write their story in their words from a more balanced global perspective. We engaged some amazing young people in China, Mexico, India, Pakistan, The UK, the Palestinian Territories, Kenya, Nigeria, Belarus, Russia, The US, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Venezuela, Argentina and Italy. We also engaged some young refugees from the Rohyinga seeking peace in Malaysia to Venezuelans seeking stability in Los Angeles. Our young people were engaged in this project for a period of time on their terms via their platforms. We also spent time with many of them in person, with their friends and out in their usual routines.

On the one hand, many of the general themes about Generation Z cross borders. Young people today are being shaped by technological, geopolitical, and economic factors that transcend countries and cultures. A fifteen year old with instagram in Nigeria and a 16 year old in Singapore are (for better or for worse) both probably following a Kardashian on Instagram. Shalini Shankar’s excellent point in Beeline about childhood is becoming professionalized in the US is very much a global phenomenon with kids talking to us about their experiments with mini careers at a young age all over the world. On the other hand, many of the typical Gen Z headlines feel like surface level observations by (frankly) older people (e.g., the idea that Gen Z’s life happens entirely online has been somewhat exaggerated).

Below are some themes from an ongoing conversation with young people around the world which is still ongoing. You can click the button below to send us any questions you’d like us to explore with our network of young people in future articles and we’ll do what we can to oblige as many of those as we can.

“Aside from designing a solution that works in very real world terms, Propellerfish left behind a legacy of positive impact on the team in terms of profound thinking and deep personal commitment to our success.”

GIGI GATTI, Regional Director Asia @ Grameen Foundation



A new service with digital and physical touch-points, based on available resources and technologies, able to link local farmers to a wider range of opportunities.

Our solution was solid, but solutions are only useful in practice. In early 2015, we returned to Davao to prototype our solution with a team of local agents over five days. First, we took the team local agents through formal FarmerLink training. We then sent them out into the field to trial the solution with farmers and experiment with different forms of engagement. We then sat down together to download our learnings and iterate on the model to simplify the overall farmer experience. In one week, we turned a solution that made sense in theory into one that worked in practice.

The program is currently being piloted in Davao and has received a grant for up to $1 Million in funding from USAID, the Rockefeller Foundation and SIDA as part of the Global Resiliency Partnership.


The problem with generation research is that it sucks.


Have a project you’re interested in discussing with us? Drop us a line below, we’d love to talk.



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Alex Marquez

Written by Alex Marquez

Founder at Propellerfish