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Improving the Sustainability of Rural Electrification Schemes: Capturing Value for Rural Communities in Uganda



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This research investigates what rural villagers perceive as important and develops recommendations for improved electrification project implementation centring on user-perceived values (UPVs). UPVs capture more than the basic definition of value in the sense that they include benefits, concerns, feelings and underlying drivers that vary in importance and act as the main motivators in the lives of project beneficiaries as perceived at a given time.

Low access to energy continues in rural sub-Saharan Africa despite significant investment by the development community. One fundamental reason is that energy infrastructure adoption remains low, as evidenced by the lack of project sustainability. To counter this, the challenge for energy project developers is to achieve sustainable long-term interventions through the creation of value for beneficiaries, rather than the traditional approach of focusing on short-term project outputs. The question of what is valuable to people in rural communities has historically not played into the design and diffusion of energy infrastructure development projects.

This research drew on design and marketing approaches from the commercial sector to investigate the UPVs of rural Ugandans. To better understand the UPVs of rural villagers a new method, consisting of a UPV game and UPV framework, was developed. This method is suitable for capturing, understanding and mapping what rural populations perceive as important. Case study analyses were carried out in seven villages across rural Uganda. The case studies included the UPV game supplemented by non-energy-specific and energy-specific interviews with villagers. Additionally, interviews with experts were conducted to verify the UPV framework and to identify the gap between experts’ opinion and villagers’ perception of what is important.

The research demonstrates the effectiveness of the UPV game in deducing the values of rural villagers. The findings demonstrate a disconnect in the ability to accurately capture and design projects which resonate with and respond to the UPVs of recipients of rural electrification projects. A comparison between the villagers’ statements and experts’ opinion regarding what is most valuable to rural communities reveals striking differences that point to a fundamental misunderstanding of rural community UPVs which are likely to be contributing to widespread electrification project failure.





Guthrie, Peter


energy access, rural electrification, off-grid, needs assessments, user-perceived value, user value, Uganda, Africa, sustainable development, SSA, Sub-Saharan Africa, development communities, needs and wants, project design


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Full PhD funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Qualcomm. Financial support for fieldwork from Sidney Sussex College and the SMUTs Memorial Fund.