Workshop on planning methods for Sri Lankan govt officials

We were invited to conduct the FoV workshop in Sri Lanka from 5th to 12th November for Sub-National Planning officials in the regions of Anuradhapura, Badulla and Hambantota. This was part of training for Results Based Management for Planning organized by the Department of National Planning of the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs with the support of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Sri Lanka.

You can read more about it here.

Joint Road Forward – a new project

It is well known that in the immediate future, cities will continue to see growth across any of the given parameters: size, demographics, pollution, economy, etc. With this future scenario and with the advent of more data collection, we wanted to look at tools and methods that would be more inclusive of people during the urban planning stage.

It is in this context that we recently started a new project to look at the issue of mobility in cities. The project is a collaboration with International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore , TU Delft, The Netherlands and KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, focused on mobility in Indian and European cities. For this study we have selected Bangalore and the Randstad region in The Netherlands.

In this project we wanted to take a broader view of mobility and study how it is connected with the overall city in terms of livelihoods, commerce, livability and well-being. We plan to review the capability of current planning methods to incorporate the broader definition of mobility, and, to design new tools and methodologies to improve upon them.  

We are in the initial stages of our work which began a few months ago with a discussion on transport planning. We started studying the data from transport surveys. Transport is a key activity for livelihood (irrespective of location) in a city and often is an inevitable part of our expenditure when our work and home are located further away. This allows us to look at current approaches to transport planning.

Here I have to mention the that we stand on the shoulder of giants, i.e., transport planning already has a number of approaches to model travel in a city. One can look at speed (read: travel time), cost, comfort (or quality of service), etc. while designing transport infrastructure for a city. We are currently in the process of reviewing current planning methodologies.

We find that transport surveys indicated that there are groups of people who get excluded during transportation planning. Studying all the commuters allows us to create an inclusive map of travel demand across Bangalore. We will soon publish some of our methods and initial data. We have published an article on an approach to modelling people and their transport needs at APCOSEC’16 scheduled to be held in Bangalore in November 2016. A pre-publication copy and our presentation which are being prepared will be available on our website soon.

Day – 2 Global Goals Jam

Day -2

Day 2 was about prototyping. There were exciting brainstorming sessions and discussions to design interventions for the  problem statements identified by each of the teams. The teams produced different prototypes that modeled their intervention, which included a booklet, videos, and visualizations.

    

The design interventions the teams came up included:

  1. An institutional framework to provide micro-entrepreneurs with timely credit after a natural disaster
  2. An activity module for students that would spark discussions on gender perceptions
  3. A handout ‘Leave to Stay’ on easy-to-implement policies to make an organization gender inclusive
  4. A reframing of the craftspersons and artisans so that they are seen as a champion of sustainability — and how the Indian craftspersons and artisans can provide an alternative way of conceptualizing sustainability in India.
  5. A competition — ‘Attack the Pack’ to spark research and innovation in designing ecologically safe and economically viable packing materials and waste management processes for FMCG companies

 

The two-day high energy jam then ended with the participants demonstrating their prototypes, and thought-provoking discussions on what support these interventions needed to move from a prototype stage to a fully developed product stage.

Day 1 of the Global Goals Jam at FoV

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a United Nations initiative and they came into effect from January 2016. The 17 SDGs form a set of Global Goals with 169 specific targets to be achieved before 2030. These 17 Goals build on the successes of the previous 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focusing on inclusion, collaboration and cooperation.

 

Global Goals Jam is a world wide jam being held across 15 cities across the globe where creative teams of designers, developers and jammers from the local community would come together and brainstorm over a two-day sprint to deliver innovative solution prototypes focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

For the India jam, we had 18 participants from different backgrounds, including arts, social sciences, technology, development and design.

 

1.       Pallavi Sharma Photography, design, art
2.      Mohit Varyani Development studies student APU
3.      Vaishali Rao Energy, livelihoods, social entrepreneurship
4.      Anisha Nazareth IT, Sustainable sities and communities
5.      Agam Arora Design
6.      Sucharita Eashwar Enabling women’s entrepreneurship
7.      Miguel Computer Science
8.      Arzu Mistry Artist, educator
9.      Subir Rana Sociology, Anthropology, Ethnography
10.  Madonna Thomas Architect, Urban design, public transport systems
11.  Olga Alexandrova Sustainability, agriculture
12.  Tejas Shah IIIT H
13.  Morgan Campbell Urban Planning, public policy, Gender, transport
14.  Brindaalakshmi K Marketing and communications
15.  Jayasimha K IT
16.  Tushant Jha Cognitive science
17.  Sabira Lakhani Waste management, circular economics
18.  Aakarsh Sustainable cities

 

The Jam began in the morning at 10:30am with a short briefing and introduction to the UN SDGs and the Global goals. The participants were grouped into 5 teams and they focused on SDG 1, SDG 5, SDG 11. They were also introduced to the Fields of View methodology to design for complex problems. The Fields of View methodology involves a guided process involving two phases — the problem articulation phase and the design phase.

The participants went through both the phases today with great success. The first phase, i.e. the problem articulation phase, involves participants working through different activities that lets them generate a common problem statement.

 

The problem articulation phase is then followed by the design phase, where the participants work together to imagine futures and figure out how to design for these transformations.

 

 

Day 2 will follow with prototyping and presentation of the same by the respective teams.

₹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.

Image credit – Goobe’s republic

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.

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.

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?

FoV at the Design and the City conference!

Bharath will be in Amsterdam on the 19th and 20th of April, to hold the Fields of View workshop for problem formulation and designing for inter-disciplinary spaces. The session will be held at the Lab of Labs programme for the Design and the City conference!

 

Design & The City is an exciting, innovative conference, held from April 19 until 22 in Amsterdam. As part of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (Hogeschool van Amsterdam) during the Dutch EU chairmanship, Design & The City challenges the international community to shape the city of the future, by participating in Lab of Labs, workshops and an intriguing conference day with renown speakers.
Design & The City explores citizen-centered design approaches for the smart city. Central theme is the role of design(ers) to create opportunities and practices for citizens, (social) entrepreneurs and policy makers towards more liveable, sustainable and sociable urban futures. How can citizens meaningfully be engaged in the process of city making? What new social processes and business models do we need for the future of city making? And in what way changes the role of the professional in the process of city making, and which new design methodologies, approaches and roles they have taken on towards the creation of a sociable smart city. Read more about it here.

 

 

Lab of Labs – Tuesday April 19th and Wednesday April 20th

Explore methodologies for design research in the two-days Lab of Labs programme! Five leading labs from throughout the world will share their design approaches and methodologies with the participants and work with them towards the design of a conceptual prototype. Taking place on April 19 and 20, around 50 professionals, designers and students will be able to join in for this event.
Participating Labs are Kitchen Budapest, Fields of View, Ideal lab, Waag Society and the Design Informatics group of Edinburgh College of Art.
Registration for the labs has now opened (until March 19), check this website for a full description of the charrettes.
The Lab of Labs will close off with a public presentation of the outcomes and a discussion on methodologies for design research on Wednesday night April 20th. This presentation is open to the public. Tickets are free and will become available on March 20th. Book them here.

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.

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.

 

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.

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.

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!’

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Prof. Solly Benjamin – Cities or Smart Cities?

For the fourth podcast of our Smart Cities podcast series, we have Prof. Benjamin Solly, associate professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology – Madras (IIT-M).

Prof. Solly begins by talking about the notions of a city, before delving into “smart cities”. He says that in its most essential core, “a city is a lifeform, built around multitudes of people, and has density as one of its characteristics. But the density also means that the people who constitute this ‘coming together’ can do so in very different logics of economics, the way they get access to land, transport, and shelter. The city is also a social and a cultural space where identities themselves get reformed.”

In such a context, Prof Solly adds, the notion of a smart city gets contested. What we instead need to ask, is what cities are and how do we understand them. Giving the example of Chandigarh, and the notions of top-down planning of Corbusier and even Nehru, Prof Solly talks about how historically cities have been threatening to top down planning methods. In this context, the concept of “smart cities” comes out “of fear – a fear of urbanisation, a crisis of planning, and a lack of control”. The assumption that planners and policy makers have is that cities are uncontrollable processes, which have to be disciplined – and the visionary alternate for them thus, is the smart city.

Speaking of citizen participation and the data collection, Prof Solly asks whether the assumption that there is no participation now is accurate, or it is just that the State is of the opinion that people participate but do so in unruly ways to shape governance on their terms. He gives the example citizen participation around the regularisation of revenue layout in Bangalore, and the complex negotiations around these. The crisis of participation, he adds, is the “expert rule” of “progressive academics such as myself”, or the “consultant researchers”, both of who are still disconnected “conceptually and materially” from how people are actually engaging with the city and its administration using politics to create these spaces. Thus, he offers a critique of both the rhetoric around smart cities, and of people criticising it: “The critique of smart cities, in its core logic, does not look very different from those people who are promoting it!”

You can listen to entire podcast below:

 

Fields of View turns 4!

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The door is ajar, slightly. It is a moment of anticipation, that tiny space of time before something happens. In between lists, trips, emails, and meetings, something stills. Pauses. The possibility of someone to come. The promise of conversations.

We turned four-years-old last week.

Over the past four years, we have built a foundation, a foundation based on a culture of curiosity and camaraderie. We hope to build on this foundation and there’s a strong undercurrent of excitement underlining this moment of anticipation – of ideas becoming real and conversations turning into collaborations.

For the third consecutive year, we have been featured in the Global Go To Think Tank Index Report by the University of Pennsylvania that ranks public policy research organisations worldwide in the ‘Best New Idea or Paradigm developed by a Think Tank’ category. (http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1009&context=think_tanks)

We wish to thank all of you, without whom the journey so far would not have been possible.

Warm regards,
The FoV team.

P.S. We have a new website : http://www.fieldsofview.in/