Jargon Alert: This piece is intended for a very specific audience 🙂
Continuing the momentum from Day#1, SF Hari Ravikumar, in his opening address to the convention, implored the students to ask all kinds of questions instead of being passive participants. The venues for different workshops having been announced, the participants quickly trickled out, leaving the main auditorium to SF Karla Palma and her flock of attendees.
Administering a workshop on popular technologies, Karla started with an in-depth analysis of worldwide conflicts between MNC operations and the local communities that they affect. She propped this up with her own extensive field experience in the mines of Chile to shed light on problems arising from engineers neglecting their intuition and ground realities, blinded by the (often misleading) data their gadgets provide.
“The engineer showed me all his data to show things were fine, but the locals asked me to inspect the snow, made brown by gigantic plumes of dust from the mines, and see for myself” she recalled.
She laid stress on the need to address a problem’s human/moral dimension aside from the scientific/technological one, and the utmost need for the engineering community to be the bridge between community and technology.
Towards the end, a fun activity involved half the participants enacting diverse roles in a bid to represent members of a community bearing the brunt of a landfill set up in their midst, and the other half, being a community of engineers, trying to interact with them and empathising with their grievances. It was chaos, and demonstrated how difficult interaction between two parties can become.
Not far away, an enthusiastic bunch of geeks converged at Junior fellow Yandi Shen and Co-presenter Rajath Dani’s workshop on Big Data- a comprehensive coverage of the means to store, preserve and analyse the magical possibilities emerging from the simple dichotomy of binary code.
Of particular interest was Yandi’s interpretation of an image of the Taj Mahal as a matrix, showing how even the most complex and hauntingly beautiful imagery is actually just a stack of neatly arranged numbers (data) in a pixel matrix. Data Analysis, navigating through the complicated mess of big chunks of data as well as the art of purging useless bits of information were also discussed.
The two also talked about other really cool concepts like Machine learning, smart neural networks and predicting the onset of Alzheimer’s by imitating brain connections using big data.
Their momentum cost them their break time, as some participants flocked to them and continued to engage them during the coffee breaks .
Fellows Victor Valenzuela and Julian Klauke brought adjacent classrooms to life with respective workshops on the NABC model for business value proposition and Sustainability.
Talking to aspiring entrepreneurs in the room, Victor highlighted the necessity of having a short, crisp and impactful Idea Pitch. The participants learnt the importance of design thinking and imbibed the NABC approach, one aspect at a time with ample examples and detail. Showing how NABC fares better than other techniques on most fronts, he split them up in pairs and had each pair choose from a range of social issues, encouraging them to come up with a strategy to address one. Then telling them to “destroy their partner “, he made the team members scrutinize each other’s ideas, helping them refine their pitch in an iterative process.
Students here went back home equipped with a powerful tool that could give them the edge over their rivals in the uber competitive world of start-ups.
Those with Julian delved deep into the concept of sustainability itself. Early on, the attendees were forced to think about the sustainable and unsustainable practices and products around them, setting an introspective mood for the workshop. Julian took the example of the much touted energy efficient lighting and reviewed the positive, the negative, the perverse and the controversial (yes, they too have unintended consequences!) associated with their use.
Similar quirky and well thought out examples examined the not so green aspects and consequences of supposedly green measures. Another important concept covered here was of life-cycle thinking, which requires its practitioners to consider the role of everyone involved with the whole chain of a product’s life cycle as well as every external effect they have. Applying this to the Paper Vs. Plastic conundrum, it was seen that the paper industry isn’t as benign as we sometimes think, and it could be concluded that a well regulated use of plastic bags is ,in fact, the lesser evil in some cases.
Julian used a very unconventional and brilliant approach in his analysis of the impact of our lifestyle choices. Juxtaposing the facts and figures associated with different modes of transport and combining simple per capita parameters ,he also showed that taking a bus is a more viable option than riding bicycles en masse.
Having explored the misconceptions surrounding the concept, he reemphasised that sustainability is more than “green”, and that simple rules about what qualifies as green are sometimes wrong.
Students emerging from DU fellow Alafia Stewart’s workshop on Disability were all smiles, having participated in numerous fun filled activities and challenges (including making an obstacle course with chairs for fellow blindfolded participants). Navigating such obstacles, trying to comprehend an alien tongue (Lars speaking German), trying to decipher audio messages interspersed with static noise with their ears plugged, reading off a blurred screen- they got to experience firsthand the challenges that a disabled individual faces on a daily basis.
These experiences served to bring out the crucial element of empathy in them as they studied communication disorders, problems with inclusion and the self isolation the differently-abled often impose on themselves, and found a renewed motivation to use their engineering faculties to alleviate their struggle.
Fellow Pedro Poblete perfectly captured the overarching focus of Samagra at his workshop on User Centred Design. Talking and teaching with youthful passion (and winning hearts on the side with his effortless charm), he warned the participants of the ramifications of poor design, citing real life examples of design blunders leading to unexpected consequences, case in point being the closely contested US presidential election between Bush and Al Gore in 2000, where bad ballot design allegedly tipped the results in the former’s favour.
In order to avoid these, he said, early focus on representative users as well as iterative design and early user testing are necessary. The second part of the workshop was exclusively dedicated to Iterative development, and focussed on the paper prototyping technique.
The workshop saw the participants split into trios as part of the “thinking out loud” approach to gathering feedback. This required them to browse a designated website, with the ‘user’ describing his/her experience ,and the other two making observations. The final section of the presentation listed out three categories of research techniques i.e. observing, listening and finding inspiration and ended with a group discussion after 3 groups of participants had accumulated some experience with one of the techniques each.
Time flew, and the day was over very soon. At the closing ceremony, Senior fellow Tom Sebastian talked about frugal innovation, the emerging economic heft of the Asian middle class and the blurring boundary between the developed and the developing world. Post the vote of thanks and another round of felicitation, it was Selfie time. Participants, fellows and the facilitators gathered outside the main auditorium into an emotionally charged mass of clicks, hugs and smiles.
It was when people started leaving that it began to hit us how much the weather sucked (damp and cold), and how we’d been oblivious to it all this while. The past few days have offered an unforgettable experience with some fantastic people, and now that the high wave’s receded, we’re like starfish washed ashore.
Blues aside, we take heart in the belief that Samagra offered an interactive learning platform to our fellow young change makers, and hope it will spur a small change that’ll aid in the betterment of the world in some way.
We hope the Samagra team gets together again 🙂
Click here to read about Samagra Day #1