Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Dott Festival | Day 8

The final day of the Dott Debates was a double-whammy with 6 hours in total of presentations and discussions. All, but one, were chaired by John and I thought he did a great job in opening, connecting and closing presentations, people and discussions.

Low Carb Lane

After a few hours meeting and greeting as part of the Dott Crew on the Festival site, I joined the Debate titled, Low Carb Lane, named after the Dott 07 project that happened in Ashington with service innovation and design firm, Live | Work.

Alex from Live | Work condensed almost 2 years of work and layers of complexity in the Low Carb Lane project in just 15 minutes. The brief for Low Carb Lane was to reduce the carbon footprint of a home in Castle Terrace, Ashington.

When one thinks of making a home more environmentally sound, a whole host of products come to mind such as water tanks, double-glazed windows, half-flush toilets… but what Live | Work discovered when they spoke to the broad group of stakeholders in the project was that people in Ashington weren’t going to have much interest for costly, bolt-on solutions when they had more pressing issues such as vandalism and arson to deal with.

Vandalism and arson were of course symptoms of a much deeper problem, which was lack of finance. This was a vicious circle where the tenants couldn’t pay their rent, which led to the unlikelihood of landlords investing money into the home, which then gave tenants little incentive to take care of the home and make efforts to pay the rent and the cycle goes on… It was a ‘catch 22.’ Throw in other issues, such as the fact that while the Ashington community were not rich with money, they were rich with pride and often refused charity and handouts, and you have a very wicked problem.

In Alex’s short 15 minutes he drew out the key needs in working towards solutions (which I have collated here to be):

- it’s not only about carbon emissions but also about community spirit
- it’s about providing incentives for all stakeholders
- it’s about empowering the residents
- using the landlords as the starting point and finally
- removing financial barriers

So what was the solution? A service called Saverbox and Nesco’s smart metering system.

It begins with an energy usage audit and then signing up to Saverbox which links financial incentives to reduced energy usage in a household. To provide a tangible touchpoint of this service, Nesco’s smart metering system is then installed. The metering system brings to life a household’s energy usage with visibility of financial incentives.

Joanne, Director of Business Development of the NEA (National Energy Action) then presented some startling facts on fuel poverty which is ‘the inability to afford to adequately heat the home’ (Boardman). Fuel poverty is liked to a whole host of issues such as poor health, inability to take care of the home, inability to pay bills and causes of damage to the home, such as condensation. The value of Live | Work’s Saverbox idea is to act as the catalyst to help eradicate fuel poverty.

Ian Mansfield of nPower, added to Joanne’s contextual overview and supported ideas such as Saverbox, in achieving the UK government’s reduction of carbon emission targets.

In the Debates session we discussed a whole host of issues such as retro-fit vs. replacing homes, opportunities for partnerships with the Saverbox idea, the role of design in the project… but I think the biggest take-away I gathered from the discussion was the complexity of energy. Alex summed this up when he said,

‘… every aspect of energy is complicated… there are so many obstacles and hurdles in the way and it’s not just people being difficult.’

Eco Design Challenge

The final Dott Debate around the issue of education, was rich with ideas, discussion and lots of networking happening afterwards. It kicked off with presentations by the Eco Design Challenge team, Nick and Rachel. Nick gave us an overview of the programme which involved 86 schools and thousands of Year 8 students in the North East designing solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of their school.

A toolkit was provided online for the schools to kick off the program which involved the students diagnosing their school’s carbon emissions. Again, information graphics helped bring to life the energy usage in schools, for example this is what a school with a high carbon footprint would receive after their diagnosis.

The Eco Design Challenge Team provided workshops for the teachers and linked up volunteer designers with schools to help them make tangible their ideas. Rachel gave us some insights into her experience with this.

The Eco Design Challenge approach overall was what they called a ‘light touch’ and here’s a slide to convey what they meant:

The programme was a great way in engaging the next generation designers and leaders with creating ecologically sustainable solutions. The Challenge was also a competition and as mentioned in a previous post, the winning schools got funding from NESTA which will help further realise their ideas.

Our New School

Julia of Engine presented the project of Our New School, which involved the local Walker Technology High School and ideas for how they will use their Building Schools for the Future (BSF) grant from the UK Government for improving their school.

Engine begun with viewing the school as a social system first. Spending time at the school, living the lives of the students, teachers and parents was part of a rich discovery process which enabled them to gather key insights for idea generation.

The outcomes of the project were:

A 7-year student learning journey, mapped as a process to show complexities and how these would be supported along the way

A briefing document, with the content co-designed by the school community, for the architects

A game to scale the project and enable other schools to do the same

Steve Gater, Principal of Walker, also gave a presentation beginning with ‘our new school is about people.’ He spoke about his school and some things he’d like to see in the future such as a school which is:

- ‘inviting, stimulating and inspiring’
- considers physical and virtual spaces for the community
- embraces technology
- redefines learning journeys of the students guided by the knowledge that the students ‘are the benefices’

The final presentation captured the bigger context of both projects. Hannah from the BSF Leadership Program spoke about the key issues of insufficient time and energy available. She had stated upfront that both the projects had ‘people with passion and drive [and] if we could replicated those we’d be sorted.’ Hannah also pointed out the need to put children ‘in the centre’ for the BSF programme which will provide £65 billion to schools all over the UK.

The Eco Design Challenge and Our New Schools projects are such great demonstrators of what design and designers could do to help the creativity of people in the school community. The energy and passion is definitely there. Ideas for scaling the projects, as seen here, show that time to do it is within reach. The government’s funding completes the picture for it all to happen. My question is, what are we all waiting for?

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