How PSI and NOVEK are turning vending machines into trusted contraceptive access points.
By Wycliffe Waweru, Deputy Director, Monitoring, PSI
Population Services International, a global health organization committed to helping individuals lead healthier lives and plan the families they desire, has been making it easier for people to access sexual and reproductive health products, services and information for more than 50 years. In 2021, they are testing out a new approach: contraceptive vending machines. Learn how this self-service option is helping young people safely and discreetly access family planning products and is encouraging voluntary uptake for youth.
Accessing contraception at pharmacies or clinics can be an uncomfortable experience, depending on where you live.
That’s why in Nairobi, Population Services International (PSI), alongside PSI independent network member Population Services Kenya and Novek, a Kenya-based Internet of Things startup, are turning to “contraceptive vending machines.”
Because as the team discovered during the project’s Human-Centered Design (HCD) design process, young people aged 18–24 years want easy access to contraception, on their own terms.
What insights led the team to land on a self-service solution? What have our prototype tests shown? Why vending machines? We dig in, below.
HOW WE GOT HERE: PROTOTYPING DURING A PANDEMIC
PSI wanted to deepen its understanding of the needs of target consumers’ needs at the onset of design; after all, to deliver a relevant and resonant solution, their insights had to guide the process.
PSI aimed to gather, and test:
- Consumer priorities: user experience in purchasing contraception, and the desirability, ease-of-use and convenience of any future contraceptive vending machines.
- Design features: the ease of use of each of the features of the machine and what users liked or disliked about these features. We also examined the users’ confidence in operating the machine and any their perceived risks in using a contraceptive vending machine. We also looked at what users liked or didn’t like about how the vending machine looks.
- Appropriateness: if and how the machine resonated with consumers’ expectations and needs.
- Product range: if the proposed contraceptive options in the vending machine aligned with consumers’ needs.
- Confidentiality: if we were responding to consumers’ concerns about the privacy of any personal data the vending machine collected.
Through testing the machine with participants, PSI was able to learn the following about how youth wanted to interact with a “contraceptive vending machine” and what they valued in regards to purchasing these sometimes sensitive products:
- Choice, at their fingertips: Consumers shared that they wanted access to contraception without confronting stigma or judgement from providers. The contraceptive vending machine, they shared, achieved that goal.
- User experience: Users all agreed that the vending machine was simple and easy to understand. Users simply had to select products –each listed with a picture, name and price –and check out directly from a touch screen. Through Lipa na Mpesa—a common platform used in Kenya for daily financial transactions—consumers pay by phone using an account number that appears on the screen. Once payment is received, the product is dispensed.
- Look and feel: Female users told us they wanted light colors like white and pink, while male users wanted a “uni-sex” palette. We settled on yellow and amber – bright and perceived as gender-neutral colors. Users further requested that we provide additional instructions that would reduce potential concerns about purchasing products from the vending machine. Given that vending machines are not very common in Kenya, users expressed being ‘afraid’ of trying the vending machine if looked too complicated to use. The idea of having the user instructions printed was to remove the fear of the machine’s complexity.
- Product range: Users proposed an expanded range of products – from condoms to emergency contraception and HIV self-testing kits. And yet we faced a predicament: if the machine sold only SRH products, then anyone using the machine was letting the world know their sexual activity status. So we pivoted, including snacks, and menstrual hygiene products in the machine, to provide users intended to purchase SRH products with a cover. A male respondent shared that he would buy both condoms and peanuts: pocket the condoms and walk away eating the nuts. Anyone seeing him would think he only bought the nuts, hence disguising. Problem solved.
- Confidentiality: Users endorsed the Lipa na Mpesa – run by the largest mobile phone company in Kenya – as a mobile money platform to pay for the vending machine products with. It’s well known and can be used for free.
We’re iterating – using consumer insights to strengthen how we design and deliver the vending machines. In the next month, we’ll be deploying the machines to seven locations across downtown Nairobi, close to transport hubs and in parts of the city where young people can easily get to (i.e. commercial buildings where someone can walk in without having to ‘check-in’ with security).
And through it, we’ll be asking two key questions:
- Once we move from testing to implementation, what will motivate users to buy contraception?
- And, with an eye to functionality, will the vending machines work as intended… and how will we address the glitches that will inevitably arise?
In iterating and evolving on innovative ideas like vending machines as a method for contraceptive distribution, PSI is able to reach young people where they are and encourage uptake for products like contraception.
To learn more about this project, or PSI’s other work, you can visit their blog.