Beahrs ELP Blog

Human Centered Design: Workshop

by Jiawen Fang, China, ELP 2014
Written on July 21, 2014.

The synthesis and reflections of the workshop
I am very interested in creative design for city slums, or some ways out of urban poverty. The workshop on July 17th by really inspired me a lot. The workshop contained two parts. In the first part, faculty from gave us a brief, but important introduction about human centered design, including its definition, principles and processes. In the second part, we were provided a great chance to design a wallet in group work.

What is is a nonprofit design organization that works to empower the poor. They believe that by understanding and working alongside those in the greatest need, they can design solutions that create prosperity. Partnering with nonprofits, social enterprises, and foundations, practices human-centered design to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems.

Part 1: Introduction of Human Centered Design
Having done some design projects before, I found it really helpful and inspiring. Here are the summary of principles and process:

  • Get out there: go where your designs locate or somewhere you are crazy about.
  • Talk to extremes: the needs of the extremes decide how human centered your design is.
  • Understand and observe: be sure to pay equal attention to both reality and aspiration. Gather inspiration from unexpected places. Keep your eyes and your heart open.
  • Work with disciplines: cooperation between different fields.
  • Prototype early and often: problems will never emerge before design put into practice.
  • Consider the system: where people system, technical system and business system overlapped is where design thinking begins. See Fig. 1

jiawen 1

Stories (from the real world) → Insights → Opportunity Areas → Ideation → Idea Solutions (back to the real world)
Concrete → abstract → concrete

Part 2: Design a better wallet!
In the second part, everyone was asked to design a better wallet for their partner, and that’s where we experience the spirit of human centered design. First, we are allowed to sketch a few of our own ideas, then we tried to gain empathy by engaging our “users” through Q&A for basic information and specific stories for digging out the specific needs rooted deeply inside.

My partner, Myo Ko Ko, shared several stories with me about the trouble of leaving his wallet at home in the morning, especially when he changed his clothes. He said that it would be perfect if his wallet can ring as a reminder before he leaves for work. Based on his strong needs for the “wallet reminder,” I came up with the idea of inserting a mini alarm clock which is about the size of a coin in his wallet. This mini clock can remind him to bring his wallet as well as wake him up in the morning.

For me, I shared my stories about the inconvenience of not being allowed to bring my backpack into the museum, dining hall, or in any other special occasions. I have to hold my wallet, cell phone, passport and camera in my hands! Myo then suggested that we design a bag that can be folded into a very small piece and hidden inside a fold in the backpack. When we have to leave our backpack behind, we can pull the small bag out as a spare one.

I felt so excited about these two brilliant ideas, and meanwhile surprised about the importance and charm of the stories. By personal stories, we are able to put ourselves in users’ shoes and design from the perspective of them but with our design talent and intuition.

Connecting to my own project — the charm of story
I have been doing a project of revitalizing a slum surrounded by Peking University, Tsinghua University and Yuanmingyuan Park in Beijing. Our idea is to build a community-based enterprise where people can make creative handicrafts out of recycled materials. The community will be working as a factory including departments of designing, production, marketing and retailing. In this way, people in the community can have both a job for living, but also build a close relationship with their neighborhood. So far, we have finished the conceptual plan of this community (see Fig. 2), but the biggest challenge is that many people do not have the passion to build such a new community. Actually, we have done a survey in the community, but still felt we cannot really understand their real needs and definitely unable to design as a local guy.

The workshop let me realize the charm of storytelling by residents. When they tell a story to us to express their struggles as well as happiness, we actually walk into their life, even into their hearts. It is not only about learning more about their needs for a better design, but also about sharing the same feelings with them so that your design will be human and just like the organic part of their life. There is no need to facilitate or to motivate them deliberately, empathy happens naturally and works well.

Besides, the way and the attitude of listening to their stories is also important. When we design a wallet for our partner, we are equal like friends. However, when we did the survey in the community last year, some of our teammates did their job in a way of a leader of a charity, with empathy, but without equality. That is another reason why we receive so much negative feedback.

I think story telling is key to overcoming the challenges, and we are sure to go back to that slum to share stories with local residents.

jiawen 2

Join me in reducing our ecological footprints!

by Huyen Do Thi Thanh, Vietnam, ELP 2014
Written on July 21, 2014.

You might have known of many simple ways to help our planet and to reduce our ecological footprint, but have you ever actually practiced them? Have you ever asked yourself if you could do better than that? Below is my experience on taking simple actions to reduce my ecological footprint on our Earth.

Story 1. Avoid flushing on airplanes. The toilet on modern airplane uses a powerful vacuum to suck the content into a tank. “The energy used in one flush is enough for an economical car to run at least 10 kilometers.” This July, I took a long flight from Vietnam to USA to attend the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program at the University of California, Berkeley. Although I used the restroom right before boarding, I still couldn’t avoid flushing on the airplane. However, I was successful in most of my domestic flights.

Story 2. Use public transportation. Last Sunday, I decided to take a bus tour from West Oakland to Yosemite National Park, instead of a private tour with a car. It’s not only more economical but also reduces my biological footprint. Of course it’s not as flexible as using a private car but I am happy that I am doing some right thing for our Earth. Why don’t you try public transportation to go to work, especially in the US?!

Story 3. Reuse water bottles. On my first day in US this July, the ELP’s board gave each of us one metal bottle and one metal cup. In the beginning, I was a bit hesitant to use the bottle because I have to clean it at the end of each day or before refilling. It took me six or seven days before I could really get used to cleaning the water bottle every day and skip using plastic water bottles. Now, I am totally comfortable carrying my metal bottle anywhere I go. Isn’t it worth trying?!

Story 4. Use shopping bags. In Berkeley, you have to pay ten cents for each paper bag when shopping. And it’s quite easy to practice this as I can save some money. But in Vietnam, it’s not that easy. You are offered to use as many plastic bags as you need for free, at any shop or market. It took me several months to get use to bringing my own shopping bags when shopping. I finally made it.

Story 6. Say no to endangered wildlife products. I visited a leather factory in Thailand last March. The factory produces a huge collection of wallets, belts, handbags, backpacks, hats, clothes and other outfits from cow, sheep and even endangered wildlife skins such as elephants, crocodiles, pythons and snakes. I was so interested in a wallet. It’s not too expensive and I can afford it, but then I learned that the wallet is made from elephant skin. The factory owner said that it’s legal because it’s made from skin of a naturally dead elephant. How can I believe that? Also, as I am working on wildlife education for Wildlife At Risk (WAR), how can I use a wallet that is made from elephant skins, even though it’s legal? I just picked another sexy wallet that has nothing to do with wildlife.

Changing a behavior is not easy at all. But if care, you can make it. I believe that you also have your own stories. Why not share it here to show how you have reduced your ecological footprint and live more friendly to our Earth?!

DSC_5886-hatlongbay-leftcredit_Huyen (Custom)

Palaeoecology and Resilience: the future of ecosystem management

by Claudia Havranek, United Kingdom, ELP 2014
Written on August 7, 2014.

In an environment working alongside people for 35 different countries, all with different expertise, you become aware of different ways of looking at a problem. It’s safe to say in an environmental program, everyone is looking at the same problem: how to better our changing environment. The approaches and specialties of each person however vary greatly, and it was after a networking event, after we had been shooed out of the Blum Center and the lights had been switched off, palaeoecology was discussed.

Palaeoecology, where data is taken from fossils to reconstruct previous ecosystems may be the key to many current ecological problems. From the palaeodata, the idea of resilience has taken form in ecology: from a concept to actual data, and it may provide a missing link in ecological management strategies.

Resilience is not a new idea to ecology. Holling first introduced the concept of resilience in ecology in 1973, however several definitions have since been published. There are two distinct definitions: ecological resilience and engineering resilience. Ecological resilience is the resistance of a system to perturbation without changing structure or function. Engineering resilience is the recovery of a system to equilibrium following perturbation. Together, these definitions allow the resilience of an ecosystem to be used in interpretation of ecosystem responses to changing conditions, and switches between alternative stable states.

The concept of resilience provides a well-theorized area of study, which has (and will continue to be) furthered through palaeoecology. There is some data, in fact, to suggest that ecosystem management should focus on resilience, and recognize alternative stable states in ecosystems over a centennial and millennial time frame, through the use of palaeodata.

One problem in the study of resilience of ecosystems to environmental change is a lack of long-term data sets. Most conservation strategies currently rely on neo-ecological data sets spanning up to 50 years, however palaeodata may extend beyond this, to identify the longer scale processes shaping ecosystems. Palaeoecology involves studying past ecosystems and environmental conditions, through the use of proxies (e.g. fossil pollen time-series). Previous environments may be reconstructed, using multi-proxy and multi-core data to identify correlations over time between ecosystem changes and potential drivers of change.

Through palaeodata, the processes behind ecosystem resilience may be better understood. As such, palaeodata has been used to break the assumption of biotic equilibrium responses in ecosystems, as well as improving understanding of early warning signals, which occur before critical shifts in the state of an ecosystem. Palaeodata reveals that ecosystems move between alternative stable states, surpassing critical thresholds, and ecosystems may show hysteresis.

This theory of resilience, backed up by palaeodata, has several key implications for conservation. Firstly, the identification of early warning signals may be used to predict catastrophic shifts, and result in the implementation of appropriate management strategies. Secondly, restoration projects can be guided by the level of ecosystem change needed for a reversion to a previous state, especially in ecosystems exhibiting hysteresis, where restoration may be challenging. Thirdly, conservation efforts may focus on improving resilience, through identifying traits of resilience, rather than specific states.

The Erhai lake-catchment system in southwest China provides an example of how palaeodata may be used to inform current management techniques. Proxy data over 3000 years show that restoration to an undisturbed pre-1400 YBP state is unachievable within human timescales, due to the exhibition of hysteresis. Risk of further degradation however is low, as the system is highly resilient.

Palaeoecology and the concept of resilience present a method and a concept that are currently vastly underutilized in ecosystem management. Understanding the theory of ecosystem responses to perturbation, and how this may be a result of the resilience of a system, has and will continue to be furthered through palaeodata. Palaeoecology can reveal long-term processes and history important to current ecosystems, and so should be utilized more in the future, alongside neo-ecology, to inform conservation decisions.

Brain Booster

by Dr. Gbolagade Lameed, Nigeria, ELP 2014
Written on July 19, 2014.

Coming to UC Berkeley for Beahrs ELP is the greatest fantasy that I have ever experienced in my life and this sends me to another tutelage of academic mind arrest. Each class or session becomes a challenge because each participant has to live up to a standard academically to understand and practice in the class. The challenge of becoming a reliable leader is now a reality to me because onto whom much is given, much is expected.

To become a stunt leader in environmental management, the lecture delivered on Environmental Policy was a major catalyst that gave me more insight into the need to balance geometric human desire and population explosion with arithmetic growth of natural resources. If the whole world is truly seeking peace and harmony, then we must live our life not in disparity with the God-given natural resources by seeking a balance between the use and growth, without which human survival is in jeopardy. The lecture on Resource Policy by J. Keith Gilless was also a mind booster and further gave me more insight on the World Forest Economy and importance of Gross Domestic Product for both developed and developing countries alike. The world leadership problems and challenges facing the present and past leaders were diagnosed in the lectures on Collaborative Leadership for Sustainable Change by Susan Carpenter. This problem cannot be understood perfectly without both the electorate and elect understanding the personality of whom they are to put in the position of power. This also goes for individuals in different facets of endeavors. Without having a deep understanding of personal temperament and capability to manage positions or professions, then such will always commit mistakes or be found imperfect, not capable and unfulfilled. Another lesson learned is from the lecture by, which made me be creative and think deeper to bring something out of nothing when one is faced with the needs and challenges of life. The motivational talk of Dr. Sirolli was thought provoking and further referred me to the commoners or ideology of the “bottom up approach.” There are more inbuilt experiences that I have gained and just a few sentences cannot tell it all, but adaptation of the knowledge and implementation in my primary place of assignment to fulfill the highest goal of being a GOOD LEADER will be a legacy to achieve.

“WATER IS LIFE” – Value It

by Ammara Naqvi, Pakistan, ELP 2014
Written on July 19, 2014.

ammara 1Hi I’m Ammara Naqvi from Pakistan. I have had the privilege to be here at the ELP. I have been here at UC Berkley for the past two weeks and time is flying so fast. We are learning invaluable information and having exciting experiences of sharing knowledge and views with my global counterparts from 35 countries, understanding and developing a well-knit fabric for preservation and global sustainability.

I am from Pakistan and many things that people in the developed world take for granted are not the case for me. For example, we were told on day 1 as part of the orientation that tap water is drinkable and tastes good as it is sourced from the Sierra Nevada snowmelt. And it does taste great and it’s free. Back home we suffer from many waterborne issues that affects our health, so it’s not as simple as turning on the tap and drinking.

I’m learning so much from being here, even simple methods to conserve water. What impresses me the most is the simplicity of the ideas but how they have found their way into everyday use. I suspect most people do not see these as innovative since they are common practice. Examples I have seen around the university include:

  1. Automated sensor regulated water taps, toilet flushing and shower systems in the washrooms are quite effective in saving water.
  2. To preserve soil moisture, mulch and dry leaves are used in the landscape area as you can see in pictures. All of the plantation areas in and around the university premises are covered with mulch. I like this idea as one of the best methods of growing healthy plants and conserving water is to use mulch in the landscape. Mulch is a protective ground covering that saves water, reduces evaporation, prevents erosion, controls weeds, and in the case of organic mulches, enriches the soil. I would like to share this idea with the agriculturists of my country who often have water issues for irrigation in soaring hot summers.
  3. To capture the rainwater, a 12,000-gallon tank is installed in Boalt Law School. This is to capture storm runoff from impervious surfaces (i.e. rooftops and plaza) for the purpose of irrigating the landscape. The rainwater is collected and distributed to the various planters and landscape areas via an irrigation controller and pump.

We have been on a number of field trips including a tour of the Full Belly Farm, Capay Valley Vineyard, Pezzini Farms and Salinas Valley whose management inspired me, particularly the techniques and strategies they are using in agriculture with minimum use of water resources, yet still maximizing production.

I believe there is a water crisis in many countries if not across the world, and it is a major issue that needs further recognition and management. Access to safe and clean drinking water is a major challenge in Pakistan. The sector analysis of water availability and consumption in Pakistan shows that per capita water availability has been decreasing over time due to the combined impact of population growth, falling water flows, systems losses and erosion in storage capacity. Our irrigation system uses about 93% of the water currently available, and the rest is used for supplies to urban and rural populations and industry.

Water is the most essential component of life and is vital for survival. It is truly one of nature’s precious gifts to mankind. Only if we implement good water conservation habits now can we save our precious resource for ourselves and for generations to come.

As we all know “Water is Life” and “Without water, there is no life, & no beauty in the world, all green covered landscapes, deep blue oceans & rainbows across the sky are due to water.”

Water sprinkling in the Leaf Lettuce field

Water sprinkling in the Leaf Lettuce field

Mulching to preserve the soil moisture

Mulching to preserve the soil moisture

Mulching to preserve the soil moisture

Mulching to preserve the soil moisture

Mulching to preserve the soil moisture

Mulching to preserve the soil moisture

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