Approach and Methodology

The EssentialTech centre at EPFL involves a specific methodology to drive projects through successive phases and assess the progress at different gates, according to key principles. This methodology allows the projects to be led in accordance with the program philosophy and increases the chances of positive and sustainable impact on poverty reduction.

Through an extended network of specialists from various disciplines and regions, the center provides access to the required expertise and support in order to address the different issues that are specific to each project’s step.

Projects are managed by the EssentialTech team based at the EssentialLab.

The approach and methodology applied by EssentialTech is explained in details in the Massive Open Online Course “Technology Innovation for Sustainable Development” (Free and self paced).

A summarized description of the methodology and tools is given below.

Concept Phase

This phase is where the concept is developed. It involves selecting the pilot country and engaging local partners. The first objective is to assess the need and take stock of existing solutions and alternatives. In this phase it is also crucial to clearly define the Theory of Change. The Impact canvas is used as a tool to do that. The final task is then to create detailed specifications for the technology as well as the complete value chain around it.

Feasibility Phase

The goal of the feasibility phase is to develop both the technology and a sustainable business model which can meet the needs of the beneficiaries and achieve the impact as defined in the previous phase. In this phase two things must be demonstrated:

  1. That the technology is really feasible within the specifications defined in the concept phase
  2. That the business model is achievable and sustainable. For this, the Sustainable Business Model Tool is used.

Implementation Phase

At the end of the feasibility, phase there are only two possibilities: either the technology and business plan are transferred to an existing company, which is interested in deploying and scaling the technology, or a start-up company is created which will industrialize the technology. In any case, the intellectual property is made available to the industrial partner under the condition that the technology will effectively reach the intended beneficiaries.


Impact Canvas

This tool is very important to define the theory of change for the project. To better understand the content of the various columns an illustration is used. The pictograms describe the example obesity with adolescents in a particular region. The theory of change is that if the adolescents are provided with footballs (output) and get them some training, they can be motivated to play football on a regular basis (outcome), which in the end will reduce obesity (impact).

This mode of thinking helps assess the change that is intended and how it will ultimately generate impact.

Product Value Chain

The second tool is the Product Value Chain. It helps identify the chain of events and actions that must be taking place for the technology to be sustainable available and providing the desired benefit to the user. The value chain given below is a generic version. For each specific project it is broken down into smaller segments which are specific to the “product”. This tool is useful to define specifications, to map stakeholders and analyse total cost of ownership.

Business Model Canvas

This tool is inspired from the original model created by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. It has been modified to represent the social and environmental dimensions. The social impact objective of the model is the starting point. As with the two other tools, this canvas is used as a team and must be regularly updated. Its goal is to generate a complete and sustainable business model for a company which has an objective to solve a social issue in low and middle-income countries.

(you are free to use the tools we request that you always mention the copyright) 

Check out our MOOC !

How to develop a technology to fight against poverty? How to mobilize the forces of entrepreneurship and innovation for sustainable development in low- and middle-income countries? The EssentialTech program is specialized in this field and has developed a simple and solid methodological approach to maximize the chances of success. The objective is to enable the development of essential technologies, adapted to the context of the countries of the South, and also models to ensure their lasting impact. The approach is based on the creation and analysis of business models specifically designed for the environments of these countries. It increases the chances for the initiative to successfully generate impact at a large scale. The MOOC is based on practical examples, interviews and footage shot in the Global South.