Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Compound 13 Lab

Here's a kind of manifesto/outline of the thinking behind the project Ben Parry, Tushar Joag, Vinod Shetty and I have been working on in Mumbai, which we are launching in April.

Compound 13 Lab is an experimental design and development 'anti-lab', situated very close to Mumbai's recycling district, an industrial centre within Dharavi. The project is a partnership between ACORN Foundation India, three UK-based researchers at the University of the West of Scotland, Bath Spa University, Coventry University, and in India, Shiv Nadar University, Delhi. IIT Mumbai, Imaginarium and Makers Asylum are also involved with the initiative. It has been developed as an unplanned outcome of a follow-on project for international impact and engagement, Resources of Hope, by AHRC within the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Since the 1950s, more than 9 billion tons of plastic has been produced worldwide. Many plastic items are used once and thrown away. As most plastics do not naturally degrade, they remain with us, usually buried in landfill or in the ocean. India generates around 3.4 million tons of plastic per year, of which 60 - 80% is recycled. India therefore boasts one of the highest rates of plastic recycling in the world, although in general the working conditions and practices of the informally organised recycling industry are challenging and dangerous for those that work in it.

Every day, the city of Mumbai produces over 10,000 tons of waste. More than 80% is collected, sorted, recycled and reclaimed, with upwards of 300,000 rag-pickers supplying grassroots, small scale recycling enterprises as part of the city's waste management chain. Around 4000 tons of plastic and other recyclables find their way to Dharavi to be processed and treated each day. In Dharavi at least 50,000 people are directly employed in the waste management/recycling industry. Most industries in Dharavi are labour-intensive, producing high levels of pollution, even though they contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of the city.

Led by ACORN Foundation, we are launching an experimental design and innovation lab within Dharavi's 13th Compound (workers' colony and home of Mumbai's central recycling district). The 'anti-lab' will explore the problems of waste, work and survival in the 21st Century. The plan is to put state-of-the-art technology and tools for design, manufacturing, music and digital media into the hands of Dharavi's young people.

Compound 13 Lab, inspired by the makerspace movement, utilises the materials and resources of the recycling industry as the starting point for learning and teaching about ecological design and living solutions. Through a programme of workshops and residencies by artists, scientists, engineers and designers, the lab will share emerging tools and technologies of the circular economy with those who would not normally have access to them. The project proposes a different paradigm of 'smart city' where the technologically advanced city emerges from below rather than being centrally planned and implemented. In particular, members will be able to test and innovate with various technologies, exploring the ways in which plastics can be recycled, remanufactured and remade safely, reliably and creatively.

Through exploring issues of waste management and recycling we want to explore the essential interdependence between the formal/informal, the 'socially included' and 'socially excluded' which are uncovered in representations of the material and imaginary city.

Since no municipal waste management policy or programme of recycling exists, the circular economy and supply chain in cities like Mumbai rely on informal processes and self-organisation, from rag-pickers, sorters, industrial processors to scrap dealers and re-sellers. The thinking, research and practical applications of the lab will approach this complex set of relationships through the 'story of waste', exploring narratives that challenge recieved notions of disposable products and materials, reflecting on the reproduction of labour and the 'biopolitics of disposability'.

The experimental maker- and learning space will help to change public perception of 'waste as a problem' to 'waste as resource' and engage with ecological thinking in one of Mumbai's most contested and challenged neighbourhoods, working collaboratively with residents and young people to develop new paradigms of waste management and sustainable urban living. At the heart of the lab is creative, participatory learning, which directly links innovation and experimentation with design, knowledge exchange and arts-based research. Just as the city is upgrading its infrastructure, we want to upgrade the tools and technologies available to the people of Dharavi so they can equip themselves for the jobs and skills of the future.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Pitching, interviewing & proposal presenting: some things to consider

I was asked to give a quick talk to some MA students yesterday about presentation skills/interviews, etc. I came up with this list. It's added to the blog for future reference and in case anyone else might find it useful!

1.  Read the funding call/brief and look at the criteria – VERY IMPORTANT. Show you understand the purpose and intent of the call. There is no harm getting in touch with the funder/commissioner in advance to ask questions or clarify points – it shows that you are taking the work seriously and are preparing (but – don’t ask stupid questions where the answers are already in the brief/call).

2. Do your homework – who is on the panel, what are they interested in, what is their work about, what do you think they will be interested in discussing?  And how is the organisation/institution that you are applying to organised? Make sure you have some idea about who you are likely to be talking to.

3. But – equally, don’t make too many assumptions and be careful about stereotyping/making suppositions!

4. Some situations can be deceptively informal (equally, there may be much more going on in formal interview than is immediately apparent).  

5. 'Give a bad candidate a rope long enough and s/he will hang herself’. Whilst not attractive, what might this metaphor say about an interviewing process?

6. Seek advice from someone who has been through a similar process before. What can they tell you about the type of event/expectations of the funder/commissioner/employer/conference audience?

7. “Professionalism”. What does that mean? (*hint – not necessarily Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice). Credibility, capability, competence. 

8. Keep to time. How long do you have to talk? Under no circumstances go over your allotted time. It’s really annoying.

9. Introduce yourselves clearly but don’t take too long – focus on the project/work/roles, not personalities/biographies. The panel can always ask questions and/or look at your CV later.

10. Slides. How many? How long for each? Interesting images? The curse of powerpoint….

11.  IF using powerpoint, keep your typography/layout clean, simple, easy to navigate. And don't just read out the slides. 

12. IF using powerpoint, make sure you’ve emailed a copy of the presentation in advance (which means that you can’t change it on the train). And bring a backup copy on a USB drive. Another really annoying (and occasionally revealing) thing is watching someone fiddle around loading up a presentation for five minutes after it’s due to start.

13. Can you summarise your idea in 30 seconds or less? Try to create a snappy title/'elevator pitch’ that will clearly encapsulate your proposition and make people want to know more.

14. REHEARSE. Plan who will say what, when. Be clear about how you will deal with questions if presenting as a group. Who is responsible for what?  You are a team – behave like one (think about what the characteristics of a good team are…).

15.  Avoid gimmicks and tricks. Humour is fine up to a point, but treat the opportunity with the seriousness it deserves.

16. Even if you don’t get the commission, the pitch is still an opportunity. Networks/relationship building – being ‘in the room’ matters. You build a reputation and get to know people that way.

17.  The fact that you are there at all means that your work is under consideration/has value. Don’t forget that amidst all the flash people/show offs.

18.  Never underestimate the quiet people. Equally, the noisiest/most visible people may also not be entirely what they seem. In fact, nothing is ever entirely as it seems, under any circumstances. Perhaps the best approach is to stay aware, observant and reflective.

19. Be careful about giving away your best ideas for free. Who do you trust, and why do you trust them? But – don’t hide your light under a bushel – if you have a contribution to make, make it!

20. “90% of success is turning up on time” (Woody Allen). Have you ever tried interviewing someone who has arrived late (or nearly late)? It rarely goes well. One of the most important characteristics in any job is reliability. Erratic geniuses do well in films but can be a pain in the neck to work with in real life. Reliability matters. The panel will want to find out that you can do what you say you can, and will want to be assured that you can execute the project on time/on budget. 

21. If you don't know the answer, say so. If you don’t understand the question, say so. But at least attempt to answer, and show that you are reflective and flexible enough to think through an issue on the spot.

22. Your digital/online profile matters. It is highly likely that the people interviewing you will be using the internet to find out more about your work/who you are.

23.  How to cope with nerves? Well, it helps if you are well organised and know your material – and you know that you are well organised/prepared and know your material.

24. Sleep/rest matters. It would be a very good idea not to be up until 3 in the morning over the previous night. 

25.   …..? What would you add to this list??