Concepting Craze

If I tell you not to think about a dancing monkey, then what will happen? You are thinking about a dancing monkey now, aren’t you? This is exactly what happens when trying to come up with the greatest idea ever thought of. By focusing too much on the outcome, your mind gets blocked and interesting thoughts might get lost. So, we decided to do multiple brainstorming sessions that would help us to think outside of the box and to just let our minds go. We came up with some crazy ideas during these sessions, some that are usable, but also some that might not really work.


As Sandro already explained in the previous blogpost; we are developing a game. But what kind of game? Looking at our problem statement and the amazing meetings with John, we immediately agreed that whatever game we are going to develop: it should convey our devotion for helping the informal sector and subsequently, enforcing a decentralized approach.


First issue we came up with is the knowledge gap that is common in every layer of society. ‘Segregation, what is that? How should I segregate? And why should I segregate? Would it make any difference?’ Most people do not know what is happening with their garbage after it leaves their house, and how this affects other people’s lives. Other people really do not care about what is happening with their garbage, as long as it is out of their sight. Trying to confront people with the consequences of this ‘blindness’ is one of our main goals when developing this game.


Secondly, we would like people to understand the current infrastructure and their crucial role in this. DWCCs are fairly new and as our research showed, they are not all well functioning, due to a lack of inflow of dry waste. What citizens often fail to grasp is their crucial part in the waste disposal chain. The BBMP can set up these buildings, but if citizens do not decide to take their (segregated) waste there, the whole effort gets lost. During our project we have often heard ‘But if I’m the only one doing it will never make a difference’. But 99 plastic bottles is one less than 100, so even though it looks like you are looking for a needle in a haystack, you actually are making a difference.


The last major point that we think is of great importance, is to create discussion around the subject. Too long has the problem been ignored. But in order to solve the problem, one should first acknowledge the existence of the problem. You cannot fix something that is not there. When creating a game, this should spark discussion between the different players and make them think and understand different perspectives of the problem.


So how do we get these points across in a game? We came up with multiple ideas: ‘Find the trashcan in the city’, ‘segregate as much garbage as you can in 2 minutes’, ‘run an economic feasible DWCC’, ‘play a truck driver and pick up waste and transport it to a DWCC’ or ‘role play a SWM commissioner’. As we do not have time to work out all of these (unfortunately), we made a selection of two ideas that we want to work with. The first one would be a role playing game, as we strongly feel that, this will convey all points noted above. This game would help the players to extent their own perspective of the problem to maybe a scrap dealer, rag picker, SWM commissioner, NGO, contractor, truck driver and do on and so forth. The second idea we had was a game that let’s you play the role of a DWCC manager. You would have to try and run a feasible business, in order to win the game. This kind of game will give the players insights in the problems surrounding the DWCCs and the importance of their existence.


But even though we now have a more clear idea of what kind of game we would like to develop, translating these raw ideas into tangible ideas presents a new challenge. A game is often an abstraction of reality and as the problem is very complex, we will have to decide what aspects of the problem can be sidelined in order for us to convey the main goal of the game. Therefore, next week we will shift our focus to thinking about the game mechanics! 🙂

A Report on the Panel

As discussed earlier, we finally settled on an electronic panel to play the role of an information gathering tool to facilitate informal reporting of harassment cases. We faced many challenges in designing this panel; it had to overcome a multitude of obstacles before it could be relevant and useful for our cause-  technical and beyond. In this post, how we tackled said challenges in order to materialize our working prototype is discussed. The prototype itself receives the spotlight, of course!

Lets start off by looking at what meets the eye at first glance.


Well, it’s not much. And that’s the idea! Partly inspired by an ATM machine, navigation through the report is done using only the ten large buttons on either side of the screen. As a large chunk of our target audience has limited literacy, our device had to be kept nonintimidating and easy to use.
The fact that the report consisted only of objective choices hit two birds with one stone. One, it made interpreting the data and quantifying attributes of the problem easier. Two, it drastically reduced the complexity of reporting itself, allowing us to make usage of the device simple and clear.

Keeping in mind the advice we were given at the interview with Microsoft Research[1], we decided to minimize the layers of abstraction between the input mechanism and the changes it created on the screen. This was done by having large, well spaced physical buttons mapped unambigously to options on the screen right next to them. A touch screen would have been ideal to use in this scenario, but impractical due to another constraint, which brings me nicely to my next point.

The other major constraint we had to grapple with was cost. While it was all well and good to declare touch screens as the ideal input mechanism, we had to bear in mind that to be implemented on a large scale and to be relevant for day-to-day use in general public space, it had to be robust and cheap. This ruled out touch screens (which were relatively high-end and more prone to failure with the wear and tear of heavy use by the public), and made a simple, low-cost, sturdy, easily replaceable button system seem that much more attractive.

Moving on to the reporting itself, the process is basically registering the most relevant option on the screen as an answer to the question on that slide.


The first slide is to select the language for the rest of the report to proceed in, and the second is a welcome screen that establishes context for the benefit of the user. Following this, each successive slide builds information about the user and his/her account of the incident being reported (however, each slide has an option to refuse to answer that question).

There are three layers to aid the user in determining the meaning of each option. First, the regular text layer, which can be quickly scanned and understood by mostly literate audiences. Then, the audio and visual layers come into play.
Semi-abstract pictograms are used to represent what each option means, or at least give users a vague idea of the same. An audio recording of a female voice reading out the options on the screen (one by one) complements this. The audio recording can be repeated if required by pressing the speaker button at the bottom of the panel. This comprehensive three-layered system should ideally form a clear picture in the user’s mind and help him/her register a report regardless of literacy level.

Every option on the screen is unambiguously mapped to a physical button, which upon pressing highlights the selected option and adds the appropriate icon to a strip of (pictograms of) options selected so far through the report at the bottom of the screen. This system helps the user confirm the selection of the option, and keep track of the report so far. At the end of the report, there is an option to leave a recorded message (specifically to suggest improvements that the user recommends/would like to see) in
case the listed options do not adequately capture the user’s opinion. Following this, there is a ‘Thank You’ screen that can be used
to inform the user how to follow up on the report, or keep track of the initiative.

So far we’ve seen the reporting through the eyes of the reporter, now for a view behind the scenes!

DSC_0732    RasPi

The device is powered by a Raspberry Pi, which registers the user’s input from the buttons and reflects changes on the monitor it is connected to. The audio layer is facilitated by speakers, which can be swapped out for / supplemented by headphones for clearer, less publicly audible instructions.

There is lots of scope for expansion and improving the panel device. The software that drives the panel is quite lightweight, and is a consequence of that, can be run on any old smartphone. Literally! An old, out-of-use smartphone can be recycled and used to power the processing for the panel, thus keeping costs low and giving new meaning and life to what is now considered “e-waste”. In the future, if required, the reports can be pushed remotely to a central database, from which a summary report of sorts can be compiled and presented to relevant organizations. The entire process, from the recording of the user’s input and transferring it over the network to a central server, to scanning the data for the required details and compiling it into one meaningful report, can be automated easily due to the objective nature of the records.

So, to wrap up, what we have here is a medium for interaction with a large audience in public spaces, without even depending on the user being literate! In India, which has a 25.96% illiterate population[2], this is a significant factor.
This panel serves our purpose quite well. Placed at a bus stop, it would be accessible to a large audience, physically and otherwise! We hope that this panel will help make every voice heard, help women’s rights organizations in their advocacy for change, and last but not least, break the silence.


[1] Interview with Indrani Medhi and team at Lavelle Road office of Microsoft Research on 29th November 2013
[2] Census of India

Meeting with Hasirudala

Meeting with Hasirudala

Week 3


  • By Pawan Dhananjay

Research is always an incremental process, at every step we have learn something new. However, if there is anything we know for sure, it’s that Banglore’s waste management is a multi-dimensional problem. Most strikingly, the root of this problem lies at the source itself i.e the garbage generation.

We decided to talk to the experts abot this problem. This quest led us to Nalini Sekar from Hasirudala. What we learned from her was a real eye-opener. In 2012, a group of concerned citizens, activists and NGO’s moved the courts demanding a better waste management process for their city. Following this, the Integrated solid waste management act of 2012 was passed.

Since there was no segregation at the source earlier, different types of waste like the dry and wet waste ended up in a huge stinking pile in the landfills, which is hazardous not only for the environment but also the people living nearby. However, this law made it mandatory for all the waste generators to segregate their waste at source itself. The government also promised to provide all the necessary infrastructure for waste management. Under this new law, each ward (a region of the city) would have a Dry waste collection center (DWCC) where all the dry waste would be processed. It also proved to be a major boost toward the integration of the informal sector into the waste management of the city.

The waste generators of the city were now classified into Residential waste generators and Bulk waste generators. The residential waste generators are the ones who generate garbage in domestic spheres. Ms Sekar told us that Hasirudala and other NGOs have already set up frameworks for dealing with this residential waste in which the expertise of the informal sector was well incorporated. The Government has taken a step to legitimize informal workers by providing them with government approved identity cards. These NGOs have trained these waste pickers in management skills. Armed with these skills, many of the waste pickers have now become managers of some DWCCs which has led to a significant improvement in their quality of life. They have turned from waste pickers to “waste entrepreneurs”.

The bulk waste generators on the other hand are more of a “free for all market”. They include commercial centres who produce more than 10kg of waste/day or apartments consisting of more that 50 residential units. The government has instructed them to process their own waste in a proper manner. Hasirudala has been taking care of the waste management for some bulk waste generators but this is clearly not enough. As these big commercial centers are more likely to generate huge amounts of waste and they process it with little government intrusion, we saw a lot of scope for ‘healthy’ waste management plans which can incorporate the informal waste pickers on a much larger scale. What better way to understand their working and waste management processes than to go visit them. Once we decided to focus on these bulk waste generators, we decided to go on field visits to further our understanding of their waste management scenario. Our problem statement now, looks something like this:

How do we improve solid waste management processes of ‘bulk waste generators’, in light of newly introduced laws, in a way that we reinforce a bottom-up approach that sees the informal sector as legitimate?

On Immersive and Realistic Environments for Gaming-simulations

While designing gaming-simulations, it is necessary for a player to feel game-elements represents reality. Game elements, even when simplified or abstracted for the sake of a game, have to represent reality in order to achieve meaningful play. This involves establishing two types of validity:


  1. The validity of an action/element within the game world.

  2. The relationship of an action/element with the real world

For example, in a traditional first person shooter game, killing monsters/players/characters should award points if that is the rule set by the game. If a game is inconsistent in achieving this, the player will loose confidence on the game’s validity. Similarly, if the game involves a hammer with functions similar to the real world, it has to be modelled to have the properties of a common hammer and it has to have the ability to ‘hammer’ other objects. The game-hammer establishes an acceptable relationship to the real world hammer though its physical properties in the game, weight, visual, etc. and its usability.


A change in the design of game-elements can alter the player’s perception of the game and hence we risk loosing the player’s confidence in a game. Typically, players proceed to experiment within the gaming world in order to establish confidence in its validity. Once established, the training systems can take over and the player can be exposed to an experiential learning environment.     Consider the following scenarios which require an immersive environment for training and learning:

  1. For the sake of training in hazardous environments. A player in the role of a security personnel, during her operations in a simulated disaster situation has to react and respond to the events in the environment.

    In such cases, a realistic experience allows grater level of interaction with the simulated environment.
  2. For equipment maintenance in a hazardous environment, realism of the environment (immersion) induces the sense of caution and intensity in the player and allows her to experience the type of stress that can be expected in such working conditions. Walkthrough of Oil Rig



Here are some examples of entertainment games where one game design technique stands out in achieving a good level of immersion:

  1. Limbo: The lighting and sound used to create a dark storyline
  2. Sound design in Amnesia to create a sense of fear
  3. Camera angles and a full model of Renaissance Italy to create ” The Leap of Faith” Assassins Creed” to allow players experience falling off buildings.
  4. Enabling people to play in completely non-linear game-play with a near realistic simulation of open-world city (Chicago) in Watchdogs.

In serious games, player learning is paramount without having to sacrifice play. Designing games with realistic visuals and player experiences in serious games have to be combined with learning systems. Such games are then tested for their ability to deliver the experiential learning to its players. While the commercial games focus on entertainment while pursuing immersion, serious gaming approaches will consider addition criteria such as, domain relevance, training, calibration and additional testing for the same.


We are very excited about a new tool we have been able to acquire called the Occulus Rift. This is a virtual reality head-gear that can be connected to any standard computer and is capable of presenting an existing 3D environment to a player in stereoscopic format. Unlike 3D movies or stereoscopic “mode” on monitors, using the Occulus Rift in games, we can have the player within a completely interactive 3D environment.

1394234_10152134870947688_9202051621195815648_n oculusrift_large2




This allows us to explore a new method of immersion for use in training simulations such as hazardous environment training, disaster management training, etc. By combining this technology with additional sensor based devices such as the Kinect or Wii for motion detection we will be able to enhance player interaction and feedback in the virtual environment. This provides a far more implicit, ubiquitous and realistic means of validation. We have been testing various possibilities for the device at FoV. We have ported a prototype of a training system we developed for the Institute for Plasma Research, Gandhinagar. 


We are also very eager to test the this new device for disaster training simulations. Here is a gameplay video using Oculus Rift with the modified safety training game.

This post is co-authored by Harsha Krishna and Bharath M Pallavalli.

Visit to Nellorepuram

A couple of weeks ago (24th May, 2014), I got my first opportunity to participate in conducting a survey on water & sanitation facilities in one of the peripheral slums of Bangalore. Though I have been working on studying urban poverty for a year, the curiosity to learn the process of conducting surveys (qualitative & quantitative) excited me. We visited Nellorepuram, which is located near the International Technology Park Bangalore (ITPB), one of the busiest IT corridors in Bangalore. We reached the near by bus stop at 10:30 AM and walked almost 3 km to reach the slum. On entering the slum, I got a general understanding of the water facilities in the slum. Looking around, I could see water containers, drums and pots at the entrance of almost every house.




We began our first interview with an old woman who was busy with her daily activities. We requested for her time and explained about the survey. We were informed about the challenges the household has been facing with the frequency of water supply, expenditure on water, distance to water source, and quality of water . We were also informed about the sanitation facilities available in the slum and the challenges with the same.


In between the conversations, the respondent took small breaks to continue with her work. I felt it was kind of her to spare some time with us despite being occupied with her work.


The respondent informed that the public water (Kaveri water) was supplied only once in last six months and that they depend a lot on private water tanker and water tanker supplied by the area corporator. Every alternate day, the household spends Rs. 30 per container of water (20 litre) for drinking purposes. As the drainage system in the slum is not connected to the houses, the household uses pit for the sanitation purposes. They get the pit cleaned twice a year, by spending an amount of approximately Rs. 5000 – Rs. 6000 per year. After a rough calculation on expenditure on water & sanitation, it was shocking to think of how a family with pension as their primary source of income could even meet other needs, after spending a significant percentage of their income on basic utilities like water & sanitation.



We thanked the respondent for sharing the details and continued with our second interview with the next 10th household. Similar problems related to water & sanitation were reported by the second household. This household reported that it is highly expensive to stay in Bangalore and that they would prefer to move back to their home town in Andhra Pradesh, hoping that the new government would help the poor. Until after completing the second interview, I was under the perception that it is very easy to conduct surveys! The next respondent (this time a qualitative interview), told us about the variations in slum demographics, the availability of water, sources of water, and the mechanisms of fetching water in past 20 years. As we continued our discussion, the respondent informed that she is not comfortable discussing this further and requested us to close the interview. We made a few attempts to complete the interview but could not succeed in convincing the respondent.


We had a similar experience in our fourth interview, where in the middle of the interview, the mother of the respondent informed us that the interview will not be useful for them. She informed us that there were no measures taken despite informing the concerned authorities about the problems with water. She also informed that the water connection provided by BBMP rarely worked and they have to spend a lot towards drinking water and water for daily activities (cooking, washing, bathing etc.). This was the longest of the interviews we had conducted during the first half do the day.


We took a lunch break and continued with our next interview. This household appeared to be doing economically better when compared to the earlier households. They had a sump to store the water. While we were conducting the interview, a passer-by informed us that the major problem faced by households in Nellorepuram was water and sanitation. He showed us the community water tank that was not working and a garbage dump in the locality.



All the households we interviewed reported that they buy water separately for drinking and other daily activities, and they use a pit for sanitation. On an average, every household spent approximately Rs. 100 per week towards drinking, and Rs. 200 – Rs. 420 per week towards daily activities . They reported that the public water tanker comes either once in a week or once in two weeks.


When asked about the aspirations towards the end of each interview, most of the respondents said they wished for good water and sanitation facilities in the slum. Some of the respondents said they had aspirations of providing their children with good education and jobs.

In the last two interviews we conducted, a few other households nearby were interested in sharing the details and asked us to come the next day for conducting the survey.



From the interviews we conducted, it seemed that the respondents were not ready to trust us in the beginning of an interview. Towards the end, when we moved to the section on household income and expenditure, the respondents asked the reason behind collecting data with respect to household income and expenditure. While a few respondents seemed to have no issues with sharing the data on income and expenditure, a few others were not comfortable to discuss in detail.



For every such incomplete response towards household income and expenditure, I felt disappointed that we could not get complete data from some households. However, was my disappointment justified? During the follow-up discussions at work, I informed my colleague (a social scientist) that the respondents didn’t share complete details on household income & expenditure, and went further to say that the respondents were lying on income & expenditure data. In response, I was asked to think about the following :


  • What will my response be if a stranger asks me for my salary and expenditure details?
  • What right do I have as a surveyor/researcher to expect data of others?
  • Who is doing whom a favour by sharing the data?


These were a realisation to me, and helped me understand the importance of respect the respondents deserve for their contribution. From the day we conducted the survey, I was intrigued by how the households in the periphery of the city could meet all their needs when they end up spending 10%-20% of their income towards water & sanitation.

City game with Urban Design Collective

On April 20 2014, we played the city game with participants from Urban Design Collective, Chennai. It is a non-profit organization that works as a collaborative platform for professionals from the fields of architecture, urban design/ planning to promote liveable and sustainable cities through community engagement.

We began by informing the players about the game, game rules and asked them to build the city in turns by placing blocks that were abstract representation of various elements of a city. Some of the modifications we introduced in the game play were:


  • Role play: We asked the players to choose the undisclosed roles in a random fashion. The roles used were governors/administrators, builders and inhabitants.

  • Endorsement cards: Players were given 20 endorsement cards at the beginning of the game. After each round, players could endorse the actions of other players by giving away one or more endorsement cards they possessed. However, players can’t be part of the city building process if they run out of the endorsement cards.

Along with the core objective of eliciting players’ preferences, and their perception of a city in a bottom up manner, we wanted to observe and document the preferences and decisions of players that got attention of other players. In order to meet this objective, we introduced the endorsement cards.

Artefacts representing green bodies and lakes were spread across the area to build the city.


After round 1, players discussed if they should lay the roads first and then place the facilities in the city or vice versa. At the end of 4th round in the game, we observed that the players seemed to ignore their roles. The city had bus terminals, restaurants, play grounds, housing, sewage treatment, university, zoo, airport, urban farm, planetarium, public library, solar farm, cycle trek, high-way, petrol-pumps, recycling centre, theatre, food processing & cold storage, railway, assembly and a stock exchange.


It was interesting to observe the importance given to connectivity and green layouts in the city that was built. Most of the roads laid were followed by green stretches along them. Through out the game session, we observed active discussions and debates, which we could observe in few of the game sessions we had conducted so far. The discussions were focused on location of the blocks, connectivity to them from other parts, and greenery in the city.


Facilities such as sewage treatment plant, water front, green belt, solar farm, and public library received endorsements from all the players. Players described the city as a small city with global aspirations and identified that it has no slums.

During the debrief, we discussed with the players about the usefulness of such games in encouraging participation, and eliciting an individuals’ views, biasses and requirements.


Here is a snapshot of the city at various stages of the game –


City Game session at the excITe program at IIIT-B

We played a session of the City Game with school kids participating in the excITe program at IIIT-B on 28th April. We played the game for nine rounds, and captured the city which was built at the end of each round. Here is an animation of the evolution of their city!


Animation of the City Game session with excITe participants


City Game session with kids from Tara Trust at IIIT, Bangalore

City Game session – TARA Trust from Fields of View on Vimeo.


We played the city game with 13 children from Tara trust who were at IIIT-B for 17 days for a summer camp. These kids were from under privileged areas of Goa and Bangalore. Amar Chadgar (Photographer and Observer), Akhil Sukumaran (Observer), Vardhan Varma (Note-taker) and Bhagyalakshmi (Note-taker), Juhi from Tara Trust and I (game-master) were also a part of the game session.


The game was an interesting experience for us because just that morning we had a game session with kids from Sri Kumaran Children’s Home. We were excited to see the differences in the these two cities. We began the game with a round of introductions and said that we would do a trial round. A mixture of Kannada, English and some broken Hindi were the main languages used to communicate. After the trial round, we just continued the game to the 2nd round.


They sat around in a circle and put in a lot of factories, big bazaars, mountains, drinking water (separate for humans and animals),  Majestics [sic] (3 of them), Infosys, speed breaker, road, Chinnaswamy stadium, community TV, animals, solar company, Agra Taj Mahal, Mysore palace, Mysore zoo, an IIT,  Indian ocean river [sic] to name a few that were interesting! In between they started placing aspirations such as ‘I want a beautiful city’ and ‘save water’, but we asked them to replace these with actual places.


After 13 rounds of the game, when asked if they wanted to live in this city, all of them said they would like to live here. It was a crowded, clustered space with almost everything one could think of. We then asked them what is missing in this place that they need to live. A few pointed out there was no poultry, farm or milk – where would they eat? Then one of them said we could source all of these through the malls they had. One of them pointed out fire stations were missing. They also said there was no place they could buy gold or a place to cut their hair, or even a place to buy spectacles!


This game was a special one for us, as these children built a city of their experience. Some of these building came up as a result of their experience at the summer camp and a few were from back home. They said since this place had a lot of factories, the city could hold up-to 2 crore people.


As a facilitator, this to me was an ideal use of the game where we actually saw their perceptions brought out so clearly through the game. The city that they built looked like a perfect mixture of Goa and Bangalore. Here is how Go-Bangalore, which is what the kids called it happened –