APPLYING SYSTEMS THINKING TO DEVELOP A DESIGN SPACE AND BUSINESS STRATEGY EXPLORATION TOOL FOR TECHNOLOGY-BASED VENTURES IN DEVELOPING COMMUNITIES

Open Access
Author:
Mehta, Chanakya
Graduate Program:
Electrical Engineering
Degree:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
November 04, 2011
Committee Members:
  • Sven G Bilen, Thesis Advisor
Keywords:
  • Business Strategy Exploration
  • Design Space Exploration
  • Social Entrepreneurship
  • Humanitarian Engineering
  • E-Spot Canvas
  • Systems Engineering
  • Systems Thinking
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Technology Ventures
  • Developing Communities
Abstract:
In the last five years there has been a significant rise in the number of academic and extra-curricular programs that focus on developing technology-based long-term or infrastructure projects in economically underserved communities around the world. These ventures often fail because of disconnects between the designer, the implementer, and the end-user. There is a growing trend towards curricular and extra-curricular programs and student clubs that focus on appropriate technology-based projects to address the needs of marginalized communities. It is of crucial importance to the success of the venture to identify the optimum distribution of various kinds of equity that may be shared by the communities and partnering organizations. This thesis describes the Equilibrium Spot (E-Spot) Model, a method for identifying the appropriate stakeholders within a venture and defining their roles and responsibilities towards the venture. This model is the basis for the E-Spot Canvas, a design space and business strategy exploration tool. The canvas facilitates collective thinking amongst stakeholders to match project resource requirements with time, money, sweat, and other equities that can be expended by them to sustain their project socially, economically, and environmentally. The E-Spot Canvas serves three roles: 1) an educational tool for studying and practicing systems thinking; 2) an entrepreneurial tool for developing equitable business and implementation strategies; and 3) an ethical reflection tool for understanding motivations and incentives of various stakeholders and making decisions that optimize short-term and long-term benefit and minimize the risk for everyone involved. This thesis concerns the development and validation of the E-Spot Model and Canvas. The E-Spot Canvas is based on the systems-thinking tenets of interdependence, holism, multifinality, equifinality, differentiation, regulation, abstraction, and leverage points. I have delved into systems theory to compile and synthesize definitions of these tenets and have explained the linkages from a conceptual and practical perspective. I have piloted the E-Spot Canvas with about 80 students in various Humanitarian Engineering and Social Entrepreneurship (HESE) classes to obtain feedback and to refine it. Observations from fieldwork on HESE ventures in Kenya, Tanzania, and India have also been integrated into my entire endeavor. Three case studies have been presented in this thesis: a biogas digester, Kochia windmill project and Husk Power Systems (HPS). In addition, I have also examined application of the model to an Intelligent Street Lighting system.