An estimated 2.7 billion people globally still rely on traditional biomass – wood, charcoal, animal waste and agricultural residues – as their primary energy source, particularly for cooking. These fuels are typically burned inefficiently, either over a three-stone fire or in simple stoves, and in poorly ventilated spaces. Exposure to the resulting smoke greatly increases the risk of acute respiratory infections, leading to an estimated 1.6 million deaths per year.

Traditional biomass fuel use also has significant impacts on livelihoods and on the environment, in terms of both deforestation and regional and
global climate impacts. When used in inefficient cookstoves biomass produces high levels of black carbon or soot, a major
short-lived climate forcer estimated to be the second-largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.

Efforts to replace traditional cookstoves with more efficient stoves have been ongoing for decades, but getting communities to use these stoves, especially in the long term, has proven difficult. One problem that has become evident is that programmes have too often neglected to understand the market for their stoves – the needs, preferences and constraints of stove users in their unique contexts.

This insight has led SEI to develop methodologies that can help fill this crucial knowledge gap. One major SEI project, Household Energy Economic Analysis (HHEA), conducted in 2008-2010, developed a stated-preference survey tool for understanding decision-making
around household energy in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Mozambique.

Now, building on this effort, SEI has begun to utilise more qualitative methodologies to capture this information, first in Zambia and now in northern India. These methodologies build upon what the industrial design field calls ‘generative’ research, a suite of ethnographic approaches focused on drawing both overt and tacit knowledge from ‘users’ (in this case, households) in order to understand their needs and desires.

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