The third summer school on Inclusive Innovations for engineering students was organised by SRISTI and the Honey Bee Network from June 5- June 25, 2015. The theme of the summer school was meeting the unmet needs of disadvantaged women and children. 20 students from across the country participated in the summer school. Close to 150 entries were received and shortlisting was done based on two assignments, which the students submitted after reviewing literature, doing field work and identifying a social problem which they have observed around them and proposing solutions for these. Students came from various backgrounds including Design, Mechanical Engg., Civil Engg., Management, Automobile Engg., Electronic and Communication, ICT.
A unique experiment was done this time of attaching the engineering students with children for the process of immersion. The engineering students were supposed to be observers during the first two days of children workshop on June 5th and 6th. The idea was that children are more open and observant and notice small things, which are generally missed by adults. During the previous two children workshops organised by the Honey Bee Network it has been observed that children come up with some extraordinary solutions to the problems they observe around them. Also children are more empathetic and try and relate to the problems of children and come up with brilliant ideas. Many of the engineering students worked on the problems and ideas sensed by children during the two days, the details of which are given in specific cases in this report.
The coursework designed for the summer school students had a mix of both classroom and field work learning. The idea was to get the students immersed in the process of learning from people and unlearn the idea of ‘know all’. This was a difficult process as students generally have the notion of solving all the problems through their understanding of concepts and technology. Thus, this summer school focused on the process of understanding and defining the problem thoroughly and how to approach its solution in a systematic manner rather than bringing out solutions in the first step. For this, we had sessions from various mentors and faculty from eminent institutions like MIT Boston; Swinburne University of Technology, Australia; FPAR, Brazil; IIT, Delhi, NID Ahmedabad, etc. Mentors also gave critical feedback to the students at various stages of their project and urged them to think about different ideas to solve a problem rather than sticking to one idea or solution which they have placed in their minds.
The process followed was iterative and getting user feedback at different stages of design process was emphasised. Students went to the community at various stages to understand the need, process, design, materials, markets, problems faced and the ideas to solve these problems. A great importance was laid on understanding the entire process of the value chain, for example in the case of potters community and broom making community, students listed down all the steps, right from procurement of raw material to delivery of finished products. This helped them to separate out dimensions at each step, identify the problems faced by the community and prioritise their intervention accordingly. For instance, the team working on the mobile street vendors identified the problems of steering and braking, running the cart in different climatic conditions, folding and storing of carts during idle time. But with multiple field visits, feedback from community and inputs from mentors, they identified the part of the problem that has to be solved first and hence worked on the foldable carts and made a prototype after multiple iterations. Prototypes made by the students were taken to the community for use and getting feedback.
For making prototypes, the students were sent to work with grassroots innovators in their workshops so that they learn the idea of frugal innovations and also get motivated from the stories and struggles of these innovators. Since the innovators have years of experience in experimenting with their ideas and prototypes, we thought it would be a good experiment of linking them to get solutions through co-creation. The feedback given by some of the innovators in the final design and throughout the process of prototyping was helpful for the students in modifying their final prototypes.
Since many of the engineering colleges in India have summer and winter breaks between two semesters, this time can be utilised for such kinds of schools where students get the opportunity to work on social problems around them and also get firsthand experience of design and co-creation. This will also make them more empathetic and inclusive in their approach, when they go out in the world tomorrow to create products and services for the people. This experiment demonstrated that the energy and potential of the young students can be harnessed to solve many of the problems which get unnoticed by the large companies as the market to cater to these is limited and in many cases non-existent.
The steps, process and pedagogy have been briefly discussed in the first section and in the second section they have been explained in details with some of the case studies of problems taken up by students during the summer school.