The frugal innovation process is a problem-oriented, creative approach to problem solving which starts from user needs and works from the bottom up to develop contextually appropriate solutions. It tends to be frugal both in ends and means, i.e. relying on the recombination of existing knowledge and technologies from previous efforts rather than substantial, dedicated R&D investments. Frugal innovation processes often (though not always) involves some element of openness – for example, collaboration between innovators and potential customers/users, or between multinational firms and local partners.
Frugal innovation is often promoted from a normative perspective for its potential to promote desirable socio-economic outcomes. These include improving access to products and services, particularly for low-income consumers, and improving resource efficiency and thus, implicitly, social and ecological sustainability. In some cases, frugal innovations are ‘catalytic inventions’ that become relevant beyond their original context of application and cause positive socio-economic transformations.
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