Friday, July 17, 2009

Problem Framing and Designing for the Other 90%

There was no rest for the participants, fresh from their first village visit, as as they dove straight into the design process the following morning. The week consisted of sessions for the participants to equip themselves with the tools necessary to frame their design challenges into smaller, more manageable problems. Once this has been achieved, it is our hope that the teams can then go on and solve these problems, over the course of the five week summit.

After this initial morning session giving an introduction into how to frame their problem, and a quick tour of the campus library, it was time for the annual IDDS photo. We quickly arranged ourselves into an impressive ‘IDDS 2009’ formation on the campus lawn and were put through our spatially related paces by Crossman, directing operations from the fifth floor of the library terrace. All set to go, we almost forgot that the man himself had to be in the picture! After this jolly interlude, it was time for a quick bite to eat, before hearing from Paul Polak, the key note speaker for the afternoon.

Prasanta, of Small Scale Energy Storage, gives his point of view

Meg peruses some of the library's extensive reading materials

The group together outside the library

Paul was the founder of International Development Enterprises (IDE) and is also the author of “Out of Poverty”, a book each participant received in their welcome packet to IDDS. He has been involved in the summit since it’s inception in 2007 and his input is always helpful in providing a clear cut example of a sustainable business model for Designing for the Other 90%. He spoke on his experience with introducing treadle pumps to India, and the ways in which IDE employed the user based design model to make the product affordable and applicable in the local context. His mantra, that one needs to ‘talk to at least 50 villagers’ before even thinking about designing a physical product, seems to hold even more resonance this year, given that our participants have just returned from doing just that this weekend.

In the afternoon the teams split into their individual groups to attempt to begin to apply what they had learned to their specific design challenge. The talk on problem framing was particularly relevant for some teams, such as Small Scale Energy Storage, as they really need to do a lot of work in narrowing down the focus of their quite open ended design challenge. Working towards completing the problem framing presentations which they would present to the group on Wednesday evening, the teams started to narrow down their projects, with the hope of identifying one particular challenge that was more pressing than the others.

The first batch of participant presentations was to follow, and the first to step up to the plate were Brian Wilson, Prasanta Biswal and Rajnish Jain. Brian gave a hugely interesting talk on the low cost stove that his company, Envirofit, have been working on before Prasanta gave us some insights into the work he does at SELCO. Rajnish had the tough task of following these two but his start up enterprise in the Himalayas, AVANI, provided more than worthy subject matter. The grassroots development organization, established by he and his wife over twenty years ago, focuses on developing and implementing a wide range of appropriate technologies into the local rural communities. Technologies like solar and biomass energy, water harvesting and recycling, cultivation and processing of silk have now been taken on by the youth in these communities as a source of future livelihood.

Radikha, of the Kid Friendly Latrine team, talks design with Paul Polak

The hostel parking lot then played host to the annual IDDS Charcoal Demonstration, performed by our very own self confessed pyromaniac, Amy Smith. The process for this demonstration began weeks ago with Amy, Ela and Laura collecting used corn cobs from the side of the road, and to see these waste items eventually transformed into usable charcoal briquettes seemed a perfect example of just how much sense appropriate technology makes. The biomass process involves using heat to carbonize dried corn cobs and bamboo and Amy was hopeful the results would leave ample charcoal with which to fuel our barbeque on Wednesday evening. All the while, Brian Wilson had been demonstrating the Envirofit cook stove across the yard, which resulted in quite the spectacle outside the Tek Credit Union Hostel!

Amy and Kofi fan the flames

The flames lick the underside of our homemade biogas digester

Brian Wilson's Envirofit Stove

The following day culminated in the Problem Framing presentations, given by each of the teams on their progress so far, and the problems they believe they are facing. After a healthy dose of lectures from Ben and Harald about the virtues of Brainstorming, Idea Generation and the merits behind these approaches the teams were introduced to the concept of Gallery Sketches, presenting their problems through sketches, to help facilitate feedback on their design. In our morning session there was even the chance to indulge in a wacky group brainstorming exercise, attempting to determine how goats could improve the transport of their good to market! It certainly elicited quite a diverse range of responses from the participants but the concept that it was attempting to teach was the importance of respecting all ideas that are thrown out into the mix.

The presentations themselves took place on the 4th floor in the evening and served two main purposes for all of those involved. It firstly helped teams to clarify in their own heads where their project was heading, and what they needed to take as their next steps and also helped to facilitate an environment for constructive feedback from the other teams and the mentors. The ever mischievous Ben Linder informed us that he was testing out a ‘love letter’ template which he felt would be the perfect vehicle for the participants to express their concerns or proffer their suggestions to the individual teams. Of course it was up to the participants themselves whether or not they wanted to remain discrete or not…

While definitely giving everyone a better idea of where the individual projects were at, these presentations also highlighted just how much work these teams will have to do before the end of the conference if they are to turn these pretty fluid problem frames into prototypes. I think at this point it is important the highlight the crucial role that the IDDS mentors play in helping the teams bring their projects from one extreme to the other. The wealth of experience on the mentor team is pretty astounding and so for the teams to have that as a resource to draw on will surely prove invaluable over the course of the next few weeks.

Jessica presents the local chlorine production problem frame

The group soak up another presentation

Amy and Meg find humour in some of the team sketches

The groundnut shelling team present their case to the group
Amber presents the Kid Friendly Latrine idea to the group

After their first experience of presenting in front of a large audience, the participants had the chance to let off some steam at the BBQ that evening. A range of beef, pork and veggie food was accompanied by an American led game of Frisbee and an Indian led (Sumit in particular to be fair) game of cricket! With such an action packed schedule, it was nice to see the participants with a few hours to themselves, getting to know one another outside of the work atmosphere.

Jess and the Tanzanians showcase their own original form of light

Sean getting acquainted with some water-melon

Jose and Gwyn, deep in conversation

Sharing a joke at the BBQ

The next day two days continued in the vein of lecture and team meeting alternation and the participants were up-skilled in the design tools provided them by our design guru’s at this conference, Ben and Harald, as well as Amy herself. Working through idea generation, concept selection, system design, sketch models and leading up to a feasibility experiment session the IDDS participants immersed themselves in the sustainable design approach, all the while focusing on the problem they had attempted to frame a couple of days earlier. Throughout the history of IDDS Amy has repeatedly said that IDDS is more than simply a technology workshop and this week has been central to teaching the creative process behind what we do here.

Harald gets us up to speed with some concept selection

We finished up the week with another batch of fascinating participant presentations, from a wide variety of different fields. Jodie and Lisa, two 4th year Mechanical Engineering students at MIT started the ball rolling with an introduction into their new start up company, Global Cycle Solutions. The company came out of a D-lab project the pair were involved in with a bicycle workshop in Tanzania and showed just another example of the potential spin offs that courses aimed at designing for the ‘other 90%’ have on both students and their work lives. The enterprise focuses on empowering rural villagers through bicycle attachments that create income-generating opportunities.

Fabio Fajardo, a professor from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, was next in line. He spoke about the new course for developing low cost technologies that he had begun teaching in his University over the last two semesters and the range of projects they have already been involved in would give hope to any department hoping to set up a similar program from scratch in their University. The eternal IDDS flag bearer, Bernard Kiwia, then gave us a photo and technology laden presentation about the work he has been doing with Global Alliance since the close of IDDS 2008. As always with Bernard, there were a few gasps of disbelief/murmurs of approval as he showcased his inventions (the mirror made out of a bike wheel in particular seemed a favorite with the masses).

Harald wrapped up proceedings with a bi-lingual ( Spanish/English for the benefit of our Spanish speaking participants) explanation of the process by which he and Ben first built the solar lantern, which has now become a regular feature on the IDDS ‘Build it’ roster. As always, hearing the work that participants are doing behind the IDDS scenes in their own county’s highlights just how many amazing projects there are going on in the world that we simply don’t know about. Hopefully the participants can return to their home countries at the end of this five week conference and become ambassadors for these new ideas, ventures and technologies, sparking the revolution in design that quite simply, needs to happen.

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