₹ubbish! at Goobe’s

In the year and a half that we have been playing ₹ubbish!, our game on Bangalore’s waste management, a lot of our sessions have been with researchers, field experts, students of sustainability studies, etc. We have had community engagement sessions as well, playing with a varied audience in the Hebbal ward, the Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group in Chennai, amongst others. We are keen to have more sessions on the ground, sessions that reach out to neighbourhoods, communities and the general audiences.

On 23rd July, we played ₹ubbish! At Goobe’s, one of Bangalore’s favourite indie bookstores. If you’ve been there, you’d be familiar with the stairs leading you down to the basement space, the corridor walls lined with bookshelves, and the display of compost pots from Daily Dump. Ravi Menezes, the owner of the store, agreed to host the game session in a heartbeat.

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The game was set up in a cosy corner and we had nine players, some in teams of two. We began with a briefing session, like we always do, where we spoke about the Mavallipura protests, Bangalore’s decentralised waste system, and the idea of a scientific landfill (where the ground water is protected with a layer of concrete and the waste is compressed in layers), source segregation and Dry Waste Collection Centres.

We then started playing, with everyone enthusiastically picking their wards and colours. The players started with buying only part of their waste, but once they saw the landfill filling up with blocks for their wards, they conscientiously started buying all the waste they could.  What ensued was whispers of certain strategies, ebbing and flowing depending on how full the landfill box was.

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Photo Credit – Goobe’s Book Republic

By the seventh round, there was  a consistent pattern of most of them buying all the waste their wards generated, irrespective of how much money they were making. However, the landfill was brimming by the eighth round, and we wound up the game by the ninth or tenth.

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Photo Credit – Goobe’s Book Republic

There was a lot of interesting feedback and insights about the game. We discussed ideas of including the pourakarmikas or waste experts again, adding a personal, human touch to the game. One of the players even spoke of playing the game in housing colonies and apartments, in a championship-style tournament! There was a palpable energy in the air, with all these exciting ideas and there seemed to be a reinforced resolve to segregate waste at the source.

We hope to conduct many more sessions to reach out to Bangalore’s citizens, neighbourhoods and communities. If you’re interested in hosting a session, please contact us by writing to info@fieldsofview.in

 

What is the cost of not feeding India’s malnourished children?

‘Zero Hunger’ is the second sustainable development goal, the first being no poverty. The key to achieving both these goals lies in ‘all people at all times having physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food  that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’, which is how ‘food security’ is defined as. And what holds the key to food security is agriculture, on which around 40 per cent of our population directly depends on for their livelihood. Given that agriculture and food security are such key concerns, how is our Government planning for it, how much are we investing in it, and what does our union budget have to say about that? These were some of the questions tackled by Dr. Madhura Swaminathan, Professor at the Economic Analysis Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore, in her lecture on ‘Food security and agriculture: Implications of current policy and budget’. The lecture was organised by our neighbour in south Bangalore, Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, as part their annual lecture series on budgets.

Even before going into issues of access, the first question that comes up when it comes to food security is do we have enough? Do we have sufficient food to feed a population of little more than a billion people? According to Dr. Madhura, up to the 90s the answer to that question was yes. The graph of food production she showed hovered above the line tracking our population growth. But after the 90s, the situation reversed, which is bad news for both sides — those who grow food and those who eat food.

How badly have the producers of food been affected? For starters, there is little data on income of producers, said Dr. Madhura. To address this paucity of data, a group of scholars including Dr. Madhura conducted detailed surveys of 5000 households in 22 villages as part of the Project on Agrarian Relations in India (PARI). From the income data collected, Dr. Madhura highlighted two observations — one of extreme inequality. In the same village there are farmers who earn around Rs. 29 lakh a year, and others who barely make do. The other was of what she termed as ‘negative income’, where what you earned was less than what you spent. A significant number of farmer households have negative incomes. This leads farmers to abandon farming entirely, which exacerbates the situation we have now where already the food we produce isn’t enough for us all to be food secure.

Why?

Why is agriculture not making profits for these small (less than 2 hectare holding size) and marginal (less than one hectare holding size) farmers? First is that the input costs (seeds, fertilisers, machinery, etc) have shot up, something that is particularly hard on the small and marginal farmers. Second, the Minimum Support Price set by the Government isn’t enough to compensate for the investments that have gone in.

What then is the Government doing?

Not nearly enough, said Dr. Madhura. Though newspaper headlines hailed an almost 94 per cent increase in Government spending on agriculture, she said the increase was the result of some deft statistical jugglery with ‘interest subvention’. When the Government gives banks money so that they can then lend to farmers (or any sector) at a reduced rate of interest, it is termed as ‘interest subvention’. The money allocated thus for interest subvention goes to the banks, and not to farmers directly. The amount Government allocates for interest subvention for agriculture was earlier not added to the agricultural budget, but this year it was. And the sum of Rs. 15,000 crore allocated to interest subvention accounts for the gigantic leap into agricultural acchedin. What happens if you remove that figure? What you the get is an increase of around Rs. 7000 crore, which would not have garnered the kind of headlines that the budget did. (For a detailed analysis of why the allocation ‘math for the agricultural sector in the budget doesn’t add up’, go here.)

If we take away the interest subvention, does the figures still indicate an increased spending in agriculture?

If you look at spending in agriculture as a percentage of GDP, in 2012-13, it was 0.3 and in 2016-17 it is again 0.3. Therefore, it isn’t a big difference from what has happened earlier.

But the interest subvention has been increased from Rs. 13,000 crore to Rs. 15,000 crore. Isn’t that a good thing?

Apparently not, said Dr. Madhura. As mentioned earlier, the money given for interest subvention goes to the banks and not the farmers. One study shows that most credit goes to urban and metropolitan banks rather than rural banks and is disbursed to either large farmers or even large corporates. For instance, if a soft drink company wants to put up an irrigation system, it would be eligible for a loan. Therefore, the small and marginal farmers, who are in dire need of timely and affordable credit, are not the main beneficiaries. (For more on how ‘rural’ is agricultural credit, go here. The op-ed piece draws from studies by the same authors Dr. Madhura referred to.)

In this scenario, what happens to people who need food? We are worse off than all our neighbours when it comes to malnutrition figures, and so there is no question that there are a large number of desperate people who need immediate attention.

What are we doing for nearly 30 per cent of India’s children who are underweight? (For more on the ‘overlooked malnutrition crisis in India’, go here.)

Not much, according to Dr. Madhura. There has been a gradual policy shift toward targeted schemes, where the Government ‘targets’ who needs attention, rather than go toward universal food security. Now targeting has two kinds of errors – errors of inclusion and exclusion. If those who don’t need subsidised food get it, it is an error of inclusion. If those who need it don’t get it, it is an error of exclusion. The focus has been on errors of inclusion, because you can estimate financially what that error costs you. On the other hand, the error of exclusion is tricky.

For example, what is the cost of not feeding India’s malnourished children?

What happens when people who need the food don’t get it? Malnutrition, disease, inter-generational issues — all these are intangibles, and therefore difficult to put a cost on. Numbers can prove to be tyrannical. Easily quantifiable, something that can be plotted in graphs and charts is tangible, and something that evades that kind of easy quantification becomes an almost ephemeral entity. If there is no calculable cost to not giving children food they need, then it becomes intangible, a non-headline grabbing entity that fades into and falls off the margins.

Before asking the question of what is the cost of not feeding India’s malnourished children, the, more crucial question becomes, should we know the answer to that to make us do something about it?

An aria in Babel or what happened at DotXDab

What happens when artists meet coders meet journalists meet scientists meet …? Different people, diverse disciplines, multiple voices, and many ways of seeing. Will there be a Tower of Babel tangle of tongues? Or will we witness an emergence, a gradual becoming, an unrehearsed harmony?

We were curious, and decided to hold Dot Cross Dab, a one-day design jam on April 2, 2016, where we invited artists, coders, journalists, scientists, … — you get the picture. Twelve brave souls joined us, who were split into groups of three.

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The first group had Ayontika Paul, a writer; Antony William, who teaches at the National Institute of Design, Bangalore; and Tanmayee Narendra, a student of computer science at IIIT-Bangalore. The second group had Padmini Ray Murray, who teaches at Srishti School of Art, Design, and Technology; Shramana Dey, an environmental scientist; and Angshuman Das, a student from IIIT-B. Shakti Banerjee, who teaches at the National Institute of Design; Anisha Nazareth, a student from IIIT-B; and Akash Hans, an artist who works in advertising, were in the third group. And the final group had Karthik Krishnaswamy, a sports journalist; Adishesh Iyengar, who runs a start-up; and Soumitro, a student at the NID, Bangalore.

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Ways of seeing

The teams were given a choice — either they could design on their own, or they could have a firsthand experience of the FoV methodology, which we use in-house for interdisciplinary design. All the teams chose to go with the FoV methodology.

The theme of the first edition of DotXDab was ‘Equity in the City’. At the outset, every one individually mulled over different lenses with which you could view the theme. Caste, class, gender, education, access, appearance — these were just some of the different lenses folks came up with.

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The lenses went up on the wall on post-it notes, and slowly a clustering began to emerge.

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Collectively, the participants debated over different lenses, and each group found an affinity to a certain lens, with which they worked with through the course of the day.

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WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

Now that the lenses were chosen, the teams split up to discuss about what was the problem they wanted to focus on, and think through different dimensions of the problem. The problem formulation session had two parts — the first where the team thought over the problem they wanted to design for, and the second part where they listed different actors who affected the problem, and who were affected by it.

The first team chose to focus on how external appearance affects the way you ‘see’ different people.

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The second team focused on how language creates barriers rather than bridges.

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The third team wanted to recreate that lost sense of community by bringing people together for fun,

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and the fourth wanted to think about the problem of loitering at night.

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FRAMING THE FUTURE

Post-lunch, the teams focused on designing an artifact that would address the problem they chose, and presented it to others at the end of the day.

 

Is what you see what you get?

The first team came up with a song (and sang it too, with chorus and all) that spoke about how what you see is not always what you get.

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The Language Cafe

The second team came up with a ‘Language cafe’, where Kannada can meet Bhojpuri over coffee and kodubale, and in doing so understand each other a bit better. The ‘Language Cafe’ is an end-to-end concept, complete with a curriculum, a flag, hashtags, and a detailed schematic for an app.

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Talk to me

The third team came up with a message board — something you can perhaps soon spot in elevators or corridors of apartment complexes. With empty pockets of spaces, the board invites you to fill in messages for your neighbours to see — ‘Cricket match at Apartment #304’ or ‘Congratulations to Seema from #402 on completing tenth standard!’

 

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Stories of the night

The fourth team who wanted to encourage people to loiter at night, first came up with the idea of creating a map that could travel on different streets, where you could add on your own story of what happened that night.

Building on that idea, the team came up with a ‘Story machine’, a machine that prints you someone else’s story of the night if you tell it one of your own.

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The team invited someone from the other groups to tell a story, as they had a quick prototype to convert speech into text that could be printed out.

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From a broad theme of ‘Equity in the City’ there emerged four different ideas of how to make the city a bit better. And lest we forget, the idea of what that ‘better’ meant was debated, discussed, and decided over many cups of buttermilk, nippatu from Nippatu Nagaraj, and organic millet cookies from Orgtree.

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We leave you with the song – to be spoken out to the beat of 1-2-123. Last two lines tobereadwithoutstoppingforbreath. And the chorus goes

‘What you see is what you get.

What you see, you soon forget’

– sung twice between each stanza.

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What articles did people read on Bangalore’s lakes foaming?

As part of Fields of View’s Research in Play series, we had invited citizens to become researchers for a week and pursue the question – ‘why are Bengaluru’s lakes foaming?’

We had three researchers — Angshuman Das from IIIT-B, Soundarajan R from APU, and Karthik Natarajan, an independent designer and architect join us.

First, the team undertook desk research and went through different news and journal articles on Bangalore’s lakes. Following is a guest post analysing how many people read what articles based on Facebook and Twitter data.

Authors of the post below: Angshuman Das, IIIT-B, Soundarajan, APU

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Graph 1: Including the citylabs article.

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Graph 2: Excluding the Citylabs article.

Top 3 articles read as per above data:

*http://www.citylab.com/weather/2015/10/an-indian-city-is-getting-inundated-by-creeping-toxic-foam/409468/

In this article, problems faced by the pedestrians and cars due to heavy foaming like traffic jams, foul smell, skin problems were presented. It mentioned that cleaning of the lakes would be a very difficult task as there was a lot of pollution in that area. The article also blamed the corrupted Government officials for not taking sufficient measures to prevent frothing. Documentary photographer Mr. Ghosh presented some clear photographs of froth formed in the Bellandur Lake.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Dirty-foam-bubbles-out-of-Varthur-Lake/articleshow/47091168.cms

In this article, views of the local residents regarding the frothing of Varthur and Bellandur Lake were present. A member of citizen action group, Whitefield spoke about the unbearable stench in that region due to foaming. Some residents consider encroachments in and around lakes as the main cause for pollution of the Lake. Most of the residents also blamed the BWSSB for releasing untreated sewage in the Lakes .It also briefly mentioned about poor quality of Lake water (presence of high quantity of ammonia and phosphate, low dissolved oxygen).

       3. http://www.ndtv.com/bangalore-news/toxic-foam-overflows-from-bengalurus-varthur-lake-759273

In this article, views of angry local residents living near Varthur Lake were present. Residents spoke about the filthy quality of Lake water, presence of urine and faecal matter ,high levels of toxicity in the Lake water. Professor TV Ramachandra from IISc Bangalore is worried about the increasing pollution in the Lake, presence of untreated sewage, carcinogenic nitrates which are causing the froth. While most of the residents blamed the Govt. officials for being negligent, the state’s Pollution Control chairperson Dr.Acharya replied that more sewage plants would be constructed across the city to prevent disposal of untreated sewage into the Lakes. 

For more information regarding the reasons for frothing of lakes, constituents of Bellandur Lake water and case study of Bellandur Lake over a period of 10 years, you can refer to these research papers:

http://www.ijirset.com/upload/2014/march/67_Assessment.pdf

http://wgbis.ces.iisc.ernet.in/energy/water/paper/bellandur_wastewater.pdf

http://www.moef.nic.in/sites/default/files/nlcp/P%20-%20World%20Case%20Studies/P-50.pdf

Secrets of Bengaluru’s lakes

Kantereeva stadium was once upon a time, which is not so recent past, Sampangi lake. The Cantonment and the Pete had a tug of war as to how the lake had to be used. A part of it was allotted for recreation. And a part of it was important for some people’s livelihoods. The same tug of war continues today – lakes continue to be seen as either a space for recreation and aesthetic expression, rather than a space that has a more fluid identity — an identity that the people who were once its stewards, and now marginalized, struggle for.

Here are some photographs of the talk by Hita Unnikrishnan, a doctoral scholar at ATREE, Bangalore, where she delved into the history of Bengaluru’s lakes combined with her field studies, and showed us the myriad ways people have relationships with lakes — from using the lakeside for livelihood (fishing, collection of greens, fodder collection, etc.) and other more uncommon uses (burial ground for monkeys, ceremonies, and rituals).

The talk was part of our Research in Play series.

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₹ubbish! goes to Hebbal

So far we have played ₹ubbish! board game with participants from Hasirudala, ELCITA, city planners and researchers. This time we wanted to take this game and play at a ward level, which could give us some valuable feedback.

We chose to play our first game at Hebbal ward, I invited a few students to play this game. Two students from NMIT, two students from M.S.Ramiah, and 1 from Florence High School. The idea was to have a mixed audience from same locality.

As you can see in the picture, the game started with people going after well known wards like Koramangala and Malleshwaram thinking it would generate more waste, but in reality areas like Chikpet, Yeshwanthpur generate more waste. Amount of waste generated is based on real data, which was collected by ₹ubbish! game designers at FoV. The game went on till 14 rounds, the players could only manage to build in 9 out of 18 wards. The game went on for about 40 mins.

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Interestingly, the two final semester mechanical students from NMIT, who had opted for solid waste management as their elective were aware of the present situation in Bangalore. In the first 4 rounds they spent most of the money on expensive wards thus making it hard for them to generate money.

At round 8, the landfill started to rise and the game dynamics changed. Players tried their best to adapt to the situation as quickly as possible, but it was too late.

Participants enjoyed the game and it was an exciting end to our first game session at ward level. Some of the participants were not aware about most of the garbage problems and also said it was good to know about landfills and about other garbage related issues.

We look forward to playing the game in more wards, to see what the feedback we get.

[Talk][Research in Play] A short history of how Design sees us.

Sruthi Krishnan will be presenting her talk at FoV on 31st July, 2015. The following is a synopsis for the talk.

In 2006, Time magazine chose ‘You’ as the person of the year. ‘Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world,’ Time assured us. Are we all users? Do we share a one-dimensional relationship of utility with technology and the material world around us? Or is the relationship more complex?

The field whose sole focus is the relationship between us and the material world around us is Design. Be it artifacts, symbols, services, or environments, we humans have designed the world around us. And Design, the study of the what, how, why, and who of designing has struggled with the tug of war between a ‘one size fits all’ perspective of the world where we are all users on the one hand and different dimensions of diversity on the other.

In the discussion on Friday, we will first undertake a short history of how Design sees us and how it has (and not) grappled with the question of diversity over the years. Using this history as a background, the discussion will introduce how other disciplines such as cognitive science and linguistics too are grappling the same questions and how Design can provide a new way of seeing, where we can embrace diversity.

Fields of View at Anthill Hacks 2015

Anthill Hacks was one of the first open events I attended where we were free to propose and conduct sessions to a diverse set of audiences, with very few rules. The location of the event was extremely inviting too. We were going to play our games and hack on the picturesque and peaceful hills of Devarayanadurga. (This was also the first time I was going to drive on a highway – the fancy Bangalore – Tumkur connector.)

Kshiraja and I managed to reach the location by 10:30 in the morning while driving through peaceful state forests. It was a sunny but cool morning and the conference hall of the event overlooked the hills.

Anthill Hacks Event Location
Anthill Hacks Event Location
Conference room overlooking the hills
Conference room overlooking the hills

Dinesh (from Servelots) was our host and was there to greet us. He explained the events planned for the day and the overall objectives for the events.

The village we were at, and the surrounding villages are in a fairly remote location with very little digital communication to the outside world except for an occasional signal from a BSNL tower. Dinesh and his team have been studying methods and history of community content generation and dissemination as part of their research, including oral transfer of information, folk art and music, etc. He stated that these art forms and traditions served a similar purpose as the Internet in spreading information and local community and cultural development.

At the event Dinesh explained next to an exhibit of a colourful print from West Bengal, the tradition employed for content delivery in the form of prints and folk songs. He explained that it was common in small communities in West Bengal for local artists and folk singers to be employed to create prints and come up with songs to best convey everyday events, news and information to individual families. These songs would differ depending on information and intended audience and was ideal for the differently literate audience. Not everyone could read and write. We then discussed at what point we arrive at a definition of “literate” in a country where we had traditions for oral transfer of knowledge from one generation to another.

Dinesh’s team is involved in leveraging technology for mass communication and community development while promoting the use of open-source and freely accessible communication. His team is building a mesh network in the location to connect the remote village at the foot of the hill with other villages in the area and to the Internet itself using a gateway. Due to the remoteness of the villages and a small customer base, not all telecom companies provide coverage in the area.  It is interesting that Dinesh and his team are promoting open-source decentralised methods for connecting the last mile when there is a bitter argument going on nationally about Net-Neutrality in India.

Apart from the mesh network, he explained the use of community radio. He said that the challenge for community radio operators was the ability to respond to the overwhelming amount of participation. One of the tasks for the team is to develop possible apps to handle this process and open up community radio at the location.

Community Radio Setup
Dinesh explains the community radio setup

What is further interesting is how he intends to use all of this art and technology to demonstrate community action. He led us to a location where he had laid out various maps of the region on the floor. The current Open Street Map (OSM) of the area shows very little information except for the major roads. He contrasted that with an extremely old map of the area that was prepared to map the sources of tax collection. He now intends to use a group of a hundred school children, scheduled to arrive very soon, to map out the surroundings to make the area visible on an open platform.

Local Maps
Local Maps
Old Tax Map
Old Tax Map

On to our game sessions. Kshiraja and I proceeded to have some locally prepared poha and managed to get an audience to play a session of our “Rubbish! Kaasu Kasa” game based on the garbage situation in Bangalore. The audience included a mix of artists, open technology hackers, engineers, musicians, sculptors and researchers from around India. We had an interesting session of the game where the participants were involved in heated strategic discussions to do something about Bangalore’s garbage problem.

After the game session we were able to spend some time with Renu Mukunda, a veteran researcher in the area of Urban Poverty. We compared notes and discussed at length about each others’ research and notes.  We had a quick, simple and a delicious lunch of palav (not pulav!), before it was time to play again.

Kshiraja and I managed to rally another group of players to play a session of our City Game. This was definitely one of the most interesting sessions we have had. First and foremost we were playing a game session on the face of a gentle slope of a hill, under an open sky, overlooking all the hills and villages in the area. Second, we had an interesting mix of audience from researchers, artists to kids. And finally this was one of the first sessions that I had to do the briefing and de-briefing sessions in three languages, English, Kannada and Hindi. (Although I wish I could speak Bangla and Tamil in order to have communicated better with the audience).

City Game on a hill
City Game on a hill
City Game on a hill 2
City Game on a hill

It was an interesting city with fish markers, art institutes, schools and low income housing. It was agreed that it is somewhat a small city to live in. Dinesh was enthusiastically building garbage dumps, breweries and canteens all over the city.

We managed to complete the game just before the evening showers hit. It was time to get back to my thesis and Monday Morning Meeting in Bangalore. We thanked Dinesh and promised that we would return to the beautiful venue again very soon.

And finally, the frustration of Bangalore traffic hit us as it took more time for us to get home from the border of Bangalore than it took for us to travel to Bangalore from a different city! But at least we got to get away from the city and play at a beautiful session at the event.

Event report – PDF Liberation hackathon on 21st March 2015

Working with data that is collected by public bodies is crucial to conducting public policy research. Open data and data that are easily accessible and re-useable are a fast growing and important part of this economy. Most public data is published as PDFs, which is not the most convenient format if one wants to use the data for any further analyses.

As a step in this direction, we began with the idea of ‘liberating’ these PDFs and ‘free’ the data extracted from them. To do so, CITAPP, along with Fields of View and Datameet organised a day-long PDF Liberation Hackathon on the 21st of March 2015. This hackathon aimed to introduce why open data is important, followed by a session on extracting data from PDFs.

The event was attended by 42 students from IIITB, from the MTech, MS/PhD and iMtech programs. The participants divided themselves into ten teams and chose a PDF document to work with. The idea was to have participants convert tables of data out of PDFs into more accessible formats, including CSV and Speadsheets. The PDFs which the participants worked on can be found here.

The day started off with an introduction at 10.30 AM by Nisha from Datameet, followed by a presentation of the PDFs, and a presentation on the tools the participants could use. The hackathon began right after lunch, and extended until 5.30 PM, with seven of the ten teams submitting ‘freed’ data from PDFs.

The extracted data is uploaded onto a public Google Driver folder, and can be found here.

(This post is cross-posted from the event report published on CITAPP’s website here).