Between 8-12 December, 2021, the DoLAB team collaborated with our friends from the Panchkhal community for a hands-on and intense learning and innovating challenge. In this blog, Ankita – currently an intern at DoLAB shares her experiences taking on the “Kanchi” role in the workshop – getting all the backstage stuff done to make sure the workshop runs smoothly – along with the experiences of our participants.
The first of the five foggy winter mornings of Panchkhal was slowly turning into a sunny day and I wondered if the mindset of the participants of DoCamp @Panchkhal Workshop would be the same by the end of the fifth day.
8 students arrived from King’s College, Kathmandu, 5 students from Jeevanbigyan Multiple Campus, Panchkhal, 5 students from Sarwamangala, Panchkhal and 3 entrepreneurs from Panchkhal. 5 mixed groups were formed that would be working together for the next 5 days to find a problem local to Panchkhal and come up with a prototype of their solution. The five days’ workshop would train them in the Design Thinking process to help them understand the problem from the perspective of various stakeholders and build a prototype that would be human centered, contextual, efficient and applicable to the user.
Rubber mats on the floor, a punching bag hanging in the middle of the hall, no chairs or tables and no shoes allowed on the mats. The setting of this design thinking workshop was very different from the previous ones but the atmosphere inside the hall was still the same. Confused and awkward participants were waiting to find out who they would be working with and what they would be doing exactly for the next 5 days. For many, “design thinking” was a new term, some were attending the first workshop of their life, few were not accustomed to communicating in complete English or in complete Nepali language and almost all did not really know what to expect. Especially, the participants from Panchkhal were reserved, anxious and in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.
Pooja Khadka, a participant from Panchkhal, when reflecting about her experience said, “I didn’t speak on the first two days because I thought I didn’t know anything that would be helpful to my other team members”. Most participants from Panchkhal shared the same inhibitions as Pooja while a few participants from King’s College seemed to be taking the lead from the very first day itself.
After the crash course on design thinking process and separation of participants into 5 teams, the workshop had its 5 projects by the end of the first day. The problem areas that the participants chose to work on were mostly within the agriculture sector ranging from fish farming, poultry farming to agro-cold storage along with others such as the lack of systematic information distribution to farmers and the high price of products with no differentiation available in the Panchkhal market.
The second day was about understanding and redefining the problem by going to the field, observing, speaking to the people affected by the issue and spending time with them. This was the time when the participants from Panchkhal used their network, knowledge of the community/geography and a contextual understanding of the existing issue to help their team immerse in the problem discovery and defining phase.
The energy in the hall was at its peak on the third day with sticky notes overflowing on chart papers and all team members huddled together brainstorming and discussing their respective findings from the field. The Lab Masters (Prateek Raj Neupane and Raunak Chaudhari) found themselves having to speak louder to grab the attention of the participants. Even the participants from Panchkhal who were initially shy, were heard cracking jokes, presenting their disagreements and inviting the facilitators to ask their questions.
Then came the most exciting and frustrating stage of the workshop, prototyping. After several rounds of discussions, ideation, interviews and synthesis of obtained data, the groups immersed themselves in building a prototype of their proposed solution. Chart papers, straws, clay dough, paper cups, strings, glu, scissors, cardboards, markers and pens were strewn all around the hall. The participants were bringing their solutions to life but the process of collecting feedback from the stakeholders and reiterating their idea / design with the constraint of time was literally causing them headaches and backaches. “We are having some disagreements in the team but the more we discuss, the clearer and better our ideas are becoming”, Hari Khatri, a participant from King’s College, working on building a prototype of an agro-cold store, was lying on the floor holding his head after an intense group discussion.
Overcoming their disagreements and confusions, by the final day, all the groups were prepared to present their solutions and prototypes. The five prototypes seen at the end of workshop were an agro – cold store with a detailed financial plan, an information system that disseminates all important notices and announcements to farmers efficiently through various medium, an improved poultry farm design to decrease death rate of the chicken, an online shopping platform with local delivery facility and a fish farm that uses the biofloc technology.
The 5 days workshop in its true sense was a community immersion program for the participants. The participants found real problems troubling different groups in the community of Panchkhal, understood the problem from their perspective, proposed a solution addressing their specific problems, collected feedback from the community on the solution and finally presented their solution prototype to representatives of the Panchkhal Municipality. On the final day, Pooja stood in front of everyone on behalf of the students of Panchkhal and requested the representatives of the Panchkhal municipality to continue organizing programs like DoCamp so students may have chances to practically implement their classroom knowledge in the community. Tisa Manadhar, another participant from King’s College, reflected that the workshop helped her develop her listening and presentation skills and taught her the importance of empathy towards fellow team members and the community.