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Water Works: My experience as a student facilitator with Crystal Zeng

Posted on 16 March 2021

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On February 25 2021, I participated in the ‘Water Works: People & Materiality in Place’ a co-design workshop held by The Glass-House Community Led Design and The Glasgow School of Art Innovation School as part of the WE-design event series.

At the beginning of the event, held (as typical of the last year) on Zoom, Sophia de Sousa, CEO of The Glass-House, gave a brief introduction to the organisation and the themes of the workshop. Then, Lizete Druka, the Specialism Leader for environmental design, and Dr Jonathan Baldwin, the Programme Leader of the MDes Design Innovation, gave a detailed explanation of the students’ current project. A collaboration with Arup, the project focuses on the question: ‘How might we explore water as an essential life source and stakeholder in Design Innovation?’.

Water is a resource that human beings rely on for survival. More than 60% of the human body is composed of water. The ecological balance depends on the stability of the water system. This workshop called on emerging innovators to collaborate and provide opinions as stakeholders.

In one of the workshop’s break-out rooms, I worked with my colleague FengRui Dong, who was that room’s facilitator, interacting with participants by sharing a pre-designed Miro board over Zoom. Considering the accessibility of human activities to water resources and the impact of biodiversity, our group focused on stimulating people’s attention to the impact of biodiversity loss and thinking about the actions we can take at a community level.

We first discussed the aims and objectives of this event, and the participants quickly decided that bringing a community together was the primary goal. Then, although participants provided many alternatives in the target group discussion, they eventually chose young people, government bodies, and local councils as their main stakeholders. The participants believed that young people will play a positive role in future policy guidance, so young people should have more opportunities to participate in community activities and encourage the public to pay attention to the loss of biodiversity in the water system.

In the next activity, the discussion turned to ‘what shall we do?’. The participants thought that community events and education were measures worthy of attention. By defining communities from different dimensions, the group decided to offer the community a number of geographical and online based events. In the next planning stage, participants developed amazing ideas through Miro via the medium of collage. They felt that online media, such as a YouTube channel, and a tie-up with the BBC Local Radio network could be used as a way to spread stories of local water culture, while raising awareness of the preciousness of water resources. Sharing community stories alongside science resources can enhance the public’s understanding of biodiversity in the local water system. After finishing the breakout room group discussion, I reported the discussion process and summary to the main group.

The workshop allowed us to break free of the communication restrictions brought about by the national lockdown. Innovators gathered to explore the significance of essential life resources to human society. Participants were inspired to develop exciting and practical project ideas through discussion and collaboration.

At the same time, as a reporter, this workshop has brought me a positive experience of community engagement within design practices. I realise that working remotely is not an obstacle to collaboration and innovation. Well-structured online collaboration events will bring more opportunities to the field of innovative design in the future.

Crystal Zeng is a Research Masters student at The Glasgow School of Art Innovation School, specialising in Circular Economy and Sustainability.