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Clean Water in Kenya

Design Swarm at The Seattle Interactive Conference 2016
Solving Clean Water Technology Distribution Problems in Kenya
Seattle Interactive Conference Design Swarm 2016

I was invited to join a Design Swarm team at the 2016 Seattle Interactive Conference. The SIC Design Swarm is a hybrid, creative thinking, strategic and agile hackathon. Design Swarms consist of teams whose members quite often have never met before. Design Swarms harness the ingenious madness inherant in solving problems with incomplete information and impossibly short timelines.

The Design Challenge

This years swarm, a partnership with Mountain Safety Research (MSR), World Vision and Operation Blessing International, focused on solving access to water purification technology developed by MSR in low resrource communites, specifically: Kenya.

Our Team, Team Osmosis, worked with stakeholders and subject matter experts under the guidance of Surya Vanka. We ultimately developed a cultural hack utilizing human-centered, self-discovery based education, designed to be introduced from within Kenyan culture as ooposed to being forced into Kenyan culture from the outside. We were invited back for a second day. With some mentoring, four of our team members iterated on our design, and went on to win the People's Choice Award on Day 2 of the conference.

My Role

Although this was a democratized exercise in design, early on I helped establish a design thinking mentality and encouraged us to utilize a human-centered design approach to developing a solution. I participated in subject-matter-expert question and answer sessions, helped build an understanding of the communities we were designing for through literature reviews and asking questions. I worked on ideation, participated in the decision making process to narrow down our scope and focus, brainstormed, sketched, raised awareness to watch out for bias, and collaboratively finalized our design.

Our Team
Casey Hamilton
Lorien Kranen
Joel Magalnick
Kent Sullivan
Nicolas Smith
Mark Stamnes
The Problem
Distributing Clean Water Technololgy in Kenya

Mountain Science Research developed a small lunchbox sized water purification system that uses 12 volt batteries, salt and water to manufacture chlorine. Chlorine can then be used to purify water. One kit makes enough chlorine to purify 200 liters of water in five minutes, and enough chlorine to purify water for 200 people in one day.

Now that the technology is readily available, there are myriad problems to distribution. Among the many problems are a lack of understanding of what clean water is in Kenya, distributing the kits to watering sites, technology adoption, maintainance, and financing for starters.

The Swarm

Surya Vanka led seven teams, all confined to a fairly small space through a seven stage design process that involved:

  • Learning our group’s strengths
  • Brainstorming the problem
  • Creating personas to put faces to the problem
  • Ideating towards multiple solutions
  • Narrowing possible solutions
  • Establishing how a final solution would work
  • Building the story of how we would bring our solution to fruition

Learning our group's strengths was like a wellmannered forming-storming-norming session that inparted a feeling of confidence. We learned to work together efficiently, with encouragement and realistic optimism.

Once we started brainstorming the problem, our ideas coalesced around two schools of thought: educating the younger generations through a human-centered, empowering and self-discovering curriculum, and using existing infrastructure to setup distribution and supply lines for the chlorine maker.

After occasionally emotional deliberation, we chose to focus on developing an education based solution. For the record, there were a lot of really good ideas left on the drawing board. We decided that the biggest challenge going forward would be introducing the idea that even clear water can hurt people, plants and livestock. To build our solution, we assumed that water suppliers began to have access to the water purification technology, but adoption was slow and use was not yet widespread.

We understand that Western education is not always readily accepted or wanted. In repsonse, we decided to work on developing education materials that would provide the tools for a self-directed journey of discovery about the benefits of clean water. We hope this process will help to impart a genuine desire to pursue chlorinated water sources and become an embedded part of Kenyan culture.

The Following Content was written by Joel Magalnik. I was unable to attend Day 2.

NGOs or religious groups distribute sets of educational cards about water use to teachers, who use them as a jumping-off point to engage what we called a youth-generated curriculum. The students can use these cards to create games that tell stories of how contaminated water affects their families and communities, then come up with solutions to make sure they use clean water for drinking and sanitation. They then have a community celebration that brings this knowledge to families so it can trickle up and be adopted more widely. At the same time, however, these kids would pass this knowledge down to create a culture of clean water.

After all seven groups presented, the five judges deliberated, and while word is they liked our idea, it didn’t feel fully baked enough. But on day two we came back. Over the course of just a couple more hours, and with a smaller group (some groups didn’t even return for the second day), we refined the idea, tightened the story, and came up with this:

And on day two, where conference staff drew in attendees to award the people’s choice, Team Osmosis won! We walk away with a nice award, but MSR Global Health now has seven actionable ideas they can take to communities across the world. If a room of fifty has a hand in saving even a few lives, that’s huge.

1.Meet Mary."Mary" lives in a small village in Kenya, one of three children. She's ten years old and attends school with the other children in our community.

2. CLEAR IS NOT CLEAN. Mary and her family, like so many of the families in rural communities like hers, have never been educated about the necessity of having clean water to drink and for bathing. Traditionally they have worked on the assumption that clear water equals clean water. Mary's siblings have suffered but survived water-borne illnesses that have been all but eradicated in developed countries, and don't always make the correlation between contaminated water and disease. Photo by HBarrison

3. Untitled Slide Most families and communities in villages like Mary's use jugs and containers like these. They often travel long distances, almost daily, to collect water from rivers or aquifers, then use the water as they've received it, and can sometimes recontaminate it if they dip into it without washing. Photo by Oxfam East Africa.

4. THEY HAVE THE MSR chlorine maker MSR, known for its camping equipment, has created a global health program and developed the community chlorine maker, which allows villages to quickly create chlorine then distribute it to families to kill the bacteria in their water at home. However, many communities have the device but don't see the benefit. We seek to change that.

5. PLAY. LEARN. SHARE. By creating what we're calling a youth-generated curriculum, students will learn about clean water and spread that knowledge to their communities. Photo by Dietmar Temps.

6. WHAT'S CLEAR NGOs and religious groups will distribute cards to teachers that talk about why people need to pay close attention to the cleanliness of their water. The teachers then have their students use the cards to explain their own experiences with contaminated water, and come up with solutions to keep their water supplies clean.

7. WE LEARN TOGETHER The learning comes through games and play, and they can use whatever materials they have on hand to make these stories come alive. Photo by Dietmar Temps.

8. WE SHARE WITH OUR COMMUNITY A community celebration brings families and village elders together so they learn about the necessity of clean water and can put the lessons into practice.

9. CLEAN BECOMES CULTURE. But ultimately it's the children in these villages who are the wellspring of knowledge, and can pass this information onto their future generations. Starting with them, Clean becomes the culture.

Please note: I was unable to return for day two, however, our team was able to refine our solution and after a second presentation, won the Seattle Interactive Conferences Design Swarm People's Choice Award