Friday, July 25, 2008

Information from the Field: Presentations by Groups

Information from the Field: Meeting Experts in the Field


The Punjab group occupied the NID Gandhinagar Auditorium as their presentation space and transformed it into a truckers paradise with a mandi ( a market) and a dhaba (a roadside eatery usually on the highway) on the side of a highway with the front of a truck at one end and the back of another at the other wall, both connected by a line of trucks marked on the ground, each representing a particular aspect of the theme, Food and Punjab economy. The group had earlier done their brainstorming to articulate what they know about the subject as a group and they had built a model and transformed it into a metaphor that could capture the essence of what they had discovered that they know. Based on this model they developed a research strategy to search for ‘experts in the field” who were accessible near Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar or those who could be reached in the brief time available by phone or through the web so that they could fill in gaps in their understanding of the context as well as obtain insights that they could use in the next phase of their design journey which would deal with the identification of design opportunities in their chosen space. The larger than life image of the truck front was anthropomorphized with the turban of a Sardarji, the Sikh driver who would represent Punjabi persona for the rest of India. The back of the receding truck at the other end of the room had panels that helped categorise the key issues that the groups had discovered and prioritized after their meetings with the experts, people from local dhaba, Gurudwaras and from Punjabi households near their school.

While the team efforts at visualization was highly appreciated by the per group reviews the presentation had the feel of a White Paper used by Planners. Here the critique focused on the depth of macro- issues that the group had brought to clear focus but what was missed was the texture and feel of the micro aspects dealing with food from Punjab, the taste the content and the opportunities that these represented for design action in the future.


The Kerala group persisted with their Boat House image for their second presentation and on the wall of the house-boat they had a structure mapping the various relationships that they had discovered during their engagement in the field with numerous Malayalees living and working in Gandhinagar. These people from Kerala had an association of about 1500 people mostly working in the Government of Gujarat and some who acted as service providers retailers and provisioners for the community from Kerala to meet their special needs. The structure was far improved version of the one they had presented in the first phase but still lacked the particular details that were so critical for design understanding. The group did attempt to make a list of design opportunities but the cloud and birds in the sky in one corner of their model was not enough to capture the richness that lived in their minds but was however not visible to the others outside the group. The group did develop a good deal of discussion with their presentation and it was becoming evident that the whole class was getting clued in on the finer aspects of design discourse since there were lesser questions for clarification and more incisive comments on the subject and content of the presentation from the class participants.

The impressive image was indeed huge in scale and the bananas and coconuts used in the diagram did capture the feel of Kerala from a distance but the finer aspects still eluded the group in their representation although the descriptions made by individual members did show a much deeper understanding in their minds but this did not show up on the image. This was pointed out to them as a missed opportunity in the attempt to show and tell. Words alone may not be as expressive as those supported by image scenarios that could deal with the form along with the structure while the story unfolds as the presentation progresses.


The Northeast group also took the first tentative steps of building a terrace cultivation model in the first presentation to a more expressive model of the terraces using a three dimensional construct to represent the fields on the hilly landscape and with a backdrop of hills to represent the potential and the findings from their foray into the field to meet experts. The group had visited several local institutes in search of people from the Northeast and through this they did connect with some new and interesting insights about food and the local economy. However the approach did not help the group visualize the finer aspects of their findings since the model did not have any images dealing with the words that they had used as sign boards that were stuck onto each layer of the terraced fields in their model. Like the Kerala group they too had succeeded in making a well categorized structure of their findings with each zone in their model dealing with one major category but the visualization opportunity was however missed. Further as the team members made their presentation each of them would read out from a list in hand and they did not use the model as a prop for their show and tell which made the presentation less memorable for the audience since although we had a huge model in front of us the group did not use it to make their presenation. However such failure was useful for the teachers to make the critique which is good learning for all the class.

The group did emphasise the huge cultural diversity of the region and the diversity of food types and the range of tribes of the region, which represented a great opportunity for exotic offerings from the region as a whole. This group had an area that was less known about and with fewer experts to be found at short notice and they however had to do a lot of imagination to fill in the gaps in information from the field.


The Gujarat group was the most fortunate on the one hand since they were immersed in the region that they had to study but they were also disadvantaged by the short time that they had to do their research. The presentation of the group used two powerful images, one of a dancing Garba Girl in her traditional dress of Gagra and Choli with a Dupatta and the other with a map of the region that was overlapped with some of the key industries and infrastructure that contributed to the food economy of the region. This model was particularly expressive and the team was able to use the images to good effect in making their presentation memorable. The various parts of the dancing girl were used to categorise their findings about the food habits of the Gujarati and also about the various food types that the region had to offer. They explained their findings with a great deal of conviction about the organization of the food types and then went on to map out the areas of opportunity for the Gujarat region in the whole spectrum of Food related economy that includes the dairy industry, the fishery industry and the vegetarian snack food industry which uses the specific advantages of the Gujarat geography, culture and location as well as the entrepreneurship of their people.

The Gujarat team presentation was particularly rich since they were able to transform the class understanding of the use of personas in the capture of insights from the field. They met up with several well chosen individuals who were modeled in the form of personas and the story of these individuals helped capture the abstract information in the form of real and tangible insights that were informed by a particular context in which each of them were situated. So Induben, Amit Patel, Nilesh, Bhavana and Tasneen each offered a rare but coherent insight that the team was able to bring back to support the arguments that the team had to offer during their show and tell session in the class. The Amul Girl featured in their model just as the SEZ that is now the talk of the town in Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad and the Gujarati thali and the Farsans or fast food of Gujarat all had their place in the map that the group had on offer, a rich and visually stimulating insight indeed.

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