Participatory Learning Networks
The presentation will focus on current systems in social impact projects at scale, and how bringing in participation by beneficiaries and grassroots workers can increase impact, because of greater contextualisation and ownership.
The session itself will be a presentation about my work on this project, which is a part of my MA thesis, with the floor open for questions, opinion and discussions throughout. Here’s a short note that briefly describes the origin of thought on it, and a bit about the scenario in which some initial testing will be happening.
In development projects that are executed at scale, a lot of the planning and design happens in a central location away from the context, such as Delhi or Yale etc, while the same basic idea is expected to be executed across very vastly different contexts and geographies. Usually in these sorts of projects some aspect of monitoring and evaluation happens which controls for differences in context or other very local issues. The project is to try and look at creating systems that shifts the focus a bit, and says that what if you design programmes in a slightly looser manner, giving the ability to your last couple of levels of hierarchy (that are close to the ground) to innovate for their context to increase impact in their local contexts. There’s two ways to do that, one requires a shift in organisational mindset where it’s ok for the grassroots worker to come up with ideas and execute, you give them ownership over the impact being sought, and the other thing is to make them part of the larger system through simple communication tools like WhatsApp so that they can communicate with other grassroots workers in other geographies exchanging information about problems, solutions etc.
We are going to develop and test this hypothesis with Centre of Gravity, a design and communication agency who work on behavior change programmes at scale, who are working on a WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) project for TATA Trust across 3 states/950+ villages over a 2.5 year period. We are currently developing the system so that starting mid-Jan/Feb we are going to try and execute the project at scale, designing the system along the way. There are 2 main aspects to the ‘system’:
1// A participatory learning network. The idea here is to leverage simple communication tools like WhatsApp, Youtube and the like to especially allow the people closest to the context that is (in this project) the social mobilisers and team leaders to share their problems and solutions with each other.
2// A storytelling attitude and skills. We feel that the same people who are participating in the learning network need to inculcate skills around storytelling and communication through media, so that from the ground up, people are talking about successes and failures in an honest and engaging manner. We hope that if we empower the social mobilisers to be able to talk about their experiences in an engaging manner, it would not only make discussion on the learning networks more meaningful but also give the larger project team insight and stories to make the process more iterative and responding to the real picture on the ground.
Akshay is an industrial designer and design researcher, and has worked in the areas of renewable energy, sanitation and hygiene amongst others. One of his most challenging and rewarding projects was working as a project manager for the multi-stakeholder Bill & Melinda Gates Project — Project Sammaan — on sanitation, during his time at Quicksand Design Studio. Over the last two years, he co-founded Amrutdhara, a social enterprise working on technology and systems, to bring better access to quality-assured drinking water to public spaces in urban India. He is currently working on systems for involving grassroots workers in development planning using ICT while consulting with organisations working to create social impact in education, WASH and other sectors.