Pulse Stories: Beyond “Sticky Floors”


Overcoming behavioural barriers to utilising digital tools for women necessity business owners

From our joint policy research with UN Women that looked at the gendered impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on micro and small businesses in Indonesia, we learned that women business owners have fewer coping strategies compared to men. To keep their businesses afloat, more women are using a range of digital tools — from digital platforms and online marketplaces, to instant messaging apps and social media — to market their products and services. Whilst this trend offers promising opportunities to help women business owners cope during the pandemic, digitalization does not benefit all of them equally. Besides structural barriers such as infrastructure and network coverage, several of the barriers that prevent them from utilising digital tools are behavioural. This is the case for many women “necessity business owners” who make up the majority of Indonesian women entrepreneurs and are typically running a business out of necessity from their homes while juggling domestic responsibilities.

Based on the findings from the policy research mentioned above, one of the key policy recommendations was to further enhance women’s access to technology. Intent on advancing this recommendation, we revisited the qualitative data which we had collected and embarked on a deep dive using a human-centered design lens. Throughout this process, we aimed to identify design opportunities that might help women necessity business owners overcome behavioural barriers that are inhibiting them from unlocking the potential of digitalization. Our research was therefore guided by the question: How Might We support women necessity business owners to overcome behavioural barriers to utilising digital tools for their businesses?

We discovered that these women business owners face specific behavioural barriers to adopting and using digital tools, which vary depending on where they are in their digital capabilities journey. These behavioural barriers are what we refer to as the “sticky floors” that are holding them back from growing more comfortable and skillful in using digital tools for their businesses. We then sketched several behavioural archetypes to make sense of the differences in their characteristics and challenges, which directly shaped the design opportunities we came up with.

Given that these challenges are behavioural, we experimented with behavioural economics principles to complement our design process. In particular, we were inspired by Bridgeables’ designing for behaviour change framework which we decided to adapt for our own ideation process. After developing a set of archetypes and mapping their unique behavioural challenges, we carefully selected a specific behavioural economics principle that we thought had the best potential to be leveraged for each archetype. The principles were employed to craft the design challenge statements (also known as the How Might We Statements) for each respective archetype.

Take a peek at our archetypes and how we leveraged behavioural economics in our design process!

The Tech Anxious

The Tech Anxious is aware of the potential benefits of using digital tools, but has never had an experience using them for her business. She is concerned that adopting digital tools might exacerbate the issues her business is facing in the pandemic. This fear is compounded by stories of “negative” experiences from people around her, which makes her hesitant to start using digital tools.

Considering this tendency which is influenced by her social networks, we chose to leverage the social proof behavioural economics principle: How Might We amplify positive stories or experiences from her social networks about the utilization of digital tools?

The Tech Novice

The Tech Novice knows what options are available and understands what’s required to use digital tools. However, she is cautious about which tools to adopt and needs to have enough clarity about how they work to help her decide. This process sometimes demotivates and discourages her from giving new digital tools a try, even though her business might have the potential to expand if she is willing to explore.

With her habit of neglecting potential benefits being critical, we decided to mitigate her opportunity cost neglect tendency: How Might We highlight success scenarios to help her consider achievements that might be possible for her business by using digital tools?

The Tech Apprentice

The Tech Apprentice loves to explore and is not afraid to experiment with digital tools. She has had prior success in using technology, and a tech facilitator has assisted her with both business matters and how to use the technology — especially for troubleshooting issues. As a result, she tends to rely on the help of her tech facilitator and if the tech facilitator is not available, she’s less willing to explore how digital tools might be harnessed for her business.

With this tendency in mind, we experimented with gamification that could gradually build her confidence to troubleshoot issues on her own: How Might We gamify troubleshooting to build her self-reliance?

Using all of these challenge statements to fuel our creative drive, in March 2021 we organised an internal design ideation session with members of Pulse Lab Jakarta’s team. Curious about the design ideas that emerged for these archetypes? They’re all detailed in the full report below!

To access the full report, click here

We hope this report will shed light on some of the “invisible” challenges that are inhibiting women necessity business owners from unlocking the full potential of digitalization beyond structural ones. Behavioural barriers — which we refer to as the sticky floors — are among the challenges that are often overlooked in the discourse on digitalization, yet they can provide insights on salient factors that are keeping women necessity business owners from reaping the benefits of digitalization. This research is also part of our experimentation with behavioural economics, which we found useful in generating ideas to help these women necessity business owners to overcome the invisible barriers. We hope that our insights and the design opportunities we presented might entice you to explore this issue further and would also like to extend this report as an invitation to apply this concept based on your own context!

Happy reading!

Authors: Lia Purnamasari (Design Researcher), Rizqi Ashfina (Research Assistant) and Maesy Angelina (Social Systems Lead)

Research Support: Kiana Puti Aisha (Research Assistant) and Aaron Situmorang (Research Coordinator)

Editor: Dwayne Carruthers (Communication Manager)

Illustration: Lia Purnamasari (Design Researcher)

Over the years, our Pulse Stories have morphed from an elevated report of field visits and workshops to a full-fledged qualitative research report. We would like to rebrand this series as something in between: a more conversational qualitative research report with a lighter touch. If you’re interested in reading our past Pulse Stories, they are all accessible on our website through this link.

Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Government of Australia



UN Global Pulse Asia Pacific
United Nations Global Pulse Asia Pacific

UN Global Pulse Asia Pacific is a regional hub that aims to drive data innovation and sustainable development to ensure that no one is left behind.