Researchers are calling on practitioners to use more robust mixed-method approaches in program and product evaluations in the global development sector. Using qualitative and quantitative research methods from both experimental engineering and applied anthropology fields can provide more holistic and accurate information regarding potential impact and application of a product or program in its actual usage context.
This paper presents a mixed-method approach for the evaluation of a new water treatment technology, the InStove Water Purifier. A combination of technical and ethnographic methods are used to estimate the product’s efficacy in a high-school dormitory in Mbale, a city in Eastern Uganda. Methods include participant observation, focal follow, time allocation and data collection of system parameters including fuel usage, flowrate, and temperature. Additionally, a holistic approach to water treatment implementation is applied by experimentally evaluating water storage treatment methods to prevent recontamination of water before its point-of-use.
This study highlights the importance of method triangulation and, more specifically, the value of ethnographic methods to evaluate engineering solutions. While two methods concluded statistically insignificant results (time allocation and fuel usage) due to limited sample size and duration of the study, this work emphasizes the value that comes from working closely with end-users in an uncontrolled experimental environment.
Informal interviewing during participant observation combined with time allocation and fuel usage data show a high potential for user acceptance due to the Purifier’s time and fuel savings (42% and 67% savings; respectively), increased water capacity, and reduction of emissions. Potential barriers to user adoption of the Purifier, identified in this study, include the trust required by users, lack of water outlet temperature control, and a size change of fuel wood. These findings have been reported to InStove, the manufacturer of the product, to begin design modifications to improve its potential impact to users.
Ultimately, this paper aims to encourage engineering practitioners to become more comfortable performing ethnographic methods and integrating qualitative data to more accurately evaluate their projects in the field and provide design changes that increase user adoption and sustained impact.