In some villages the use of wood cooking stoves accounts for more than three-quarters of total village energy use. Because of this the design of clean, affordable, and desirable cooking stoves can have a dramatic impact on human health and the local economy. Unfortunately, too often development projects fail. For example, an estimated 30% of water projects in sub-Saharan Africa have failed prematurely in the last 20 years, and only 10% of cooking stove programs started in the 1980s were operational two years after startup. Similar anecdotal evidence suggests a mixed record of success for other energy, infrastructure, health, and sanitation projects in the developing world. In part, these failures occur because of a lack of design questions and design methods to identify consumer need and preference during the problem definition phase of the product design. Because isolated rural villages are generally far from the design engineers’ previous experiences it is even more important to gather in-depth primary data in isolated rural villages. Based on data collected during in-depth field visits to villages in rural West Africa during a village energy study this paper proposes a structured process for collecting the data necessary to design cookstoves that meet local needs, fit within local contexts, and create an aspirational experience that fosters a sustainable solution.

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