System Design for Sustainability is a PG level course at the Department of Design at IIT Guwahati. The course is open for final year UG and PhD students as well.
The current preamble of the course states: This course will be offered as an elective course to students of Design at UG / PG level to introduce them to the area of Design for Sustainability.
The current course content is as follows: An introduction to the theory and practice of System Design for Sustainability. Product Service System (PSS) design for Sustainability. Evolution of sustainability within design; Life Cycle Design : methods, tools, strategies, guidelines; System (PSS) design for eco efficiency: criteria, guidelines; System design for socio-ethical sustainability (emerging context): criteria, guidelines; System design in emerging contexts; Evolutionary transition path; methods and tools for system design (system map, interaction story board etc.), Methods and tools for system design for sustainability.
Course Plan During the last academic year, January – April 2015, we (Prof. Ravi Mokashi and myself) conducted this course. The course follows a credit structure of 2 lecture and 2 practical hours per week. We planned to have a field trip to a rural area in the vicinity and learn with a hands-on approach. The village selected was Bordowa in Nagaon district of Assam. Bordowa satra is the birthplace of Sankardeva (1449–1568), a great artist, dramatist and the founder of Vaishnavism in Assam. This village is a local tourist spot and attracts lakhs of tourists during the weeklong celebrations of Holi. A field trip mode was planned as our students did not have much experience of working with communities during their 4 years of Bachelors or 2 years of Masters program. Also most of them had experience designing products and services for individual level consumption and no exposure to community based consumption models existed. They had been exposed to various design methods, where-in they designed for someone. They were not exposed to designing with the community with a participatory approach wherein s/he is just one of the experts or at times just a facilitator. A rural location was selected for the field trip as most students did not have a rural background and nor had they explored design for rural way of consumption and satisfaction. During the field trip, thus, the students experienced, learnt, researched and analysed different aspects of life at Bordowa and nearby villages of the block. They could learn and experience the philosophy of Sankardeva, its impact on people’s way of living to this day and how it lays seeds of social cohesion and sustainability. Ones back from field, they analysed the situation further using the PSS tools taught to them during the theory hours. Thereafter system oriented sustainable concepts were drawn using the PSS tools. In order to have a dedicated time for the field trip, the course was organised in weekly modules wherein the entire week is dedicated to this course only (different from the IIT system where an hours per week system is followed). So the first week of the course in January had lectures introducing the necessary theory (content mentioned in section 2.2), guest lectures from an NGO working in villages in Assam and professors from HSS Department of IITG who are natives of the village. The students did an internet search to gather information on 10 contextually relevant sub-systems identified for the village study: Habitat, Agriculture, Small Scale Industries and rural based economic activities other than Agriculture, Tourism, Fisheries, Health, Education, Water, Sanitation and Transport. A group of students went for a pilot field study and brought overview level information on the above mentioned sub-systems. Next 2 weeks of the course was conducted as a single block in February. In the 1st week we went to the village for the field trip and in the 2nd analysis and conceptualisation was completed. A mixed group of co-instructors went for the field trip to help bring in a broader perspective while students are experiencing, learning and researching the situation. One of the co-instructor had experience in green architecture and had designed LEED certified office buildings. He is currently pursuing his PhD at IITG. Another co-instructor had experience in environmental engineering and economics and had worked in the sales team of iTunes. A third co-instructor was a civil service aspirant and had working knowledge on various Central and State run schemes for rural areas. A fourth co-instructor was a professor from a local college of Nagaon district and his specialisation was Sociology. The priests, museum curator and the trustees of the satra were also involved in providing information and getting us introduced to the local community. A NGO working in the sector of computer literacy in an adjacent village helped us get introduced to the Muslim community living in that village.
How the students benefited from the course? The course introduced the students to the amazing and inspirational way of conducting life in rural areas. Many of their pre-conceived and quite often negative notions of living in village and associated drudgeries were thwarted. The contextual and frugal innovations by farmers and local artists amused them. The consumption and satisfaction system practised by the villagers was at times new and totally alien to what the students had been exposed to before this. As a result, at times it was also very difficult to understand it. Constant debates amongst themselves and discussions with the local experts helped in widening the students understanding of consumption and satisfaction. They started appreciating grassroots innovations, living with low resources and the importance of systems thinking. They also started appreciating traditional practices.
Things which went not very well One of the drawback identified in the conduct of the course was that students experienced and learnt from the grassroots but while doing analysis and conceptualisation, the connect could not be established. We could not verify our analysis with the community. We did present our analysis to the local co-instructors and got their feedback on the same. We could not present our concepts to the community nor could we design it with them. Paucity of time and the width of the exploration came in the way of going for depth of exploration. We plan to go for depth in our next year’s course execution.
To begin with, some of the concepts generated by the students were too generic in nature and did not carry in them the Bordowa flavour. It was little difficult for the students to start thinking in systems (inspite of the fact that they had already done a course on System Design) and anticipate its implications on sustainability at the same time. A lot of one to one group discussions were done to orient their concepts towards systemic thinking and sustainability. Since most of our informants belonged to the Vaishnav community and some degree of religious alienation existed between the Hindus and Muslims of the area, the students got biased information. Some students also were skeptical of visiting the Muslim community area due to the bias introduced by the first group of informants. But the scenario changed ones a meeting was organised with the NGO working in computer literacy with Muslim women. Due to paucity of time though, this part of the village could not be explored much. While planning the course we did not anticipate this problem due to religious alienation. Another bias was introduced amongst the students when the priests, trustees and museum curator kept on trying to connect everything with mythological or religious stories. The students found it difficult to look beyond mythology and religion and see the bigger picture of: Why and how these stories and believes are built to create a particular sustainable way of living?; How can we leverage this part of “Bordowaness” in today’s context? This brought in lot of confusion and at times rejection of the connections as valid design cues. Through discussions we could, to some extent, resolve the conflict and create the sustainability connections.
About the eco-efficient PSS tools that we used While trying to analyse Bordowa using the eco-efficient PSS tools, we realised that we can’t very well map and analyse grassroots innovations, social structures and systems of a village and other socio-cultural aspects of rural life using the eco-efficient PSS models. Thus a scope for further research in that domain exists. Also the eco-efficient PSS tools for design with a participatory approach with the community can be an interesting direction of future exploration.