Aalto LAB Mexico & design probes

What? Aalto LAB Mexico is a project of design for sustainability.

Who? We, the labbers, comprise one bi-continental group, consisting of the small Finnish and Mexican sub teams. In a couple of weeks we’ll go to the Mexican Maya community called ’20 de Noviembre’ to work with them and start investigating the possibilities for co-creating sustainable design.

Where? The community is located near Calakmul in the state of Campeche in the Mexican peninsula of Yucatan. It’s in a nature reservation zone where livelihood actions are restricted by the government in order to keep the environment prosperous.

When? First we’ll stay for 2 weeks, from October 31th 2012 to November 13th 2012, to do fieldwork and find out what kind of projects could be set up in the future. Our team was recruited in August 2012 and we have been meeting weekly since the first of September 2012.

This is the framework. Just to make sure everyone is on the right path, our project aims at longterm sustainability arisen from the needs of the Maya community. That is why we can’t actually plan the details before actually understanding the community. But what we can do is to inform ourselves about Maya culture and local sustainability issues and think about various fieldwork scenarios. We’re currently considering the options how to best form  understanding of the local way of life once on the field.

Sustainable (and unsustainable) actions in a community arise from mutually confirmed values and a social system of penalizing and recognizing vices and virtues according to the norms. Hence sustainability is about culture rather than mere actions. Understanding the current situation that is to say, the value set and world view, of the locals is crucial, because otherwise all “development actions” remain just a shallow set of weak efforts, or metaphorically a sparrow without wings. Though, we want the bird to be able to fly, don’t we.

The Maya have a strong tradition of incorporating technology into their cosmology and social norm system, and, that is the key of our project, as well.

Hence, truly understanding the locals is the start of all sustainability projects. But how to understand the locals? Yesterday Tuuli Mattelmäki, a true master of design probes, came to our meeting to give us a presentation about her dearest topic, what I would also call as emphatic research design.

Tuuli gave us priceless understanding of self-documenting tools and the virtue of this unconventional research method. The idea of design probes is to allow the community members to document their values, ideas and lives by themselves. Our responsibility is to prepare a self-documentation kit for each participant and saturate the data by methods carried out by ourselves (such as interviews and observation). The kind of self-documentation kits Tuuli was talking about can consist of anything: cameras, notebooks, collages, workbooks… anything. They are supposed to be stimulating for the community members and informing for the researches and designers.

Deeply inspired by the concept of design probes, we’ll next figure out:

-What we want to ask on the field
-How to collect the data that contains the answers.

Another hot topic is getting ready for the field by thinking what is crucial once we go to the community. Next ideas came up yesterday by the Finnish team:

Anni: listen, smile and respect, respect
Anna: let the Calakmul lead the way, stating the obvious, clear roles
Susu: remember why we’re here, listen and hear, observe with eyes and ears
Tommi: be aware you’re the visitor, dare, observe
Me: needs vs. wants, find out deepest values and aspirations, iterative and facilitating
Tuuli: curiosity, motivation of us and the others, frustration is normal

So here we go right now: inspired and, though, puzzled, trying to navigate in the jungle of true and false preconceptions, apt methods and all kinds of scenarios. ‘Making sense’ is what we do right now.
/by Sofia

1 thought on “Aalto LAB Mexico & design probes

  1. How exciting Anni! Good luck these coming weeks 🙂 xx Roxanne

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