African liveability Creativity

Design Storming 2013: Complex development challenges are best solved together


As part of Open Design Cape Town – an annual celebration of design and design thinking that launched in the city from 21-31 August 2013 – the Cape Town Partnership, Cape Town Design Network and the Social Justice Coalition came together to host a two-day design-oriented workshop focused on early childhood development: a Design Storm. Writer, photographer and corporate social investment consultant Deni Archer was there to participate, record the conversations and track some of the outcomes.

“You are the ones that showed up, so you are the ones who really care about early childhood development. This is a good starting point!” Marc Steinlin is facing a room of 40 plus people gathered together at 09h00 on a Saturday morning, in the Enkululekweni Wellness Centre in Khayelitsha. They’re here to be part of a Design Storming session that he’s facilitating: a weekend of learning and brainstorming on the topic of early childhood development (ECD). More specifically, they’re here to help the hosts of the event, NPOs Ikamva Labantu and Equal Education, solve the problem of how to involve parents more actively in ECD.

Participants at the design storm on early childhood development

ECD is a vital stepping stone

The South African government’s definition of ECD includes children up to the age of nine. However, the term is more commonly used to refer to children between zero and four years of age and South Africa’s National Integrated Plan for ECD targets this age group. It is during these early years that the foundation for future learning is laid. Sadly, around 70% of children in South Africa still do not attend preschool or benefit from other ECD activities.

If children aren’t properly developed in these early years, their entrance into the foundation phase of schooling (grades 1 to 3) can be shaky. One of the mothers at the workshop illustrates this point by sharing the struggle her seven year old daughter is currently facing. Having fallen far behind on her reading and writing skills the little girl is struggling to get through grade 2, and the mother is worried she is being set up for failure in her later school career. And justifiably so – South Africa is currently struggling to produce competent school leavers. This young girl’s story, then, is the reason we have come together for Design Storming this weekend.

Participants trace topical contributions to early childhood development

Design Storming fosters collaboration

Design is about innovation. As Bruce Snaddon from the Cape Town Design Network (CTDN) puts it, “It’s about taking something that exists and tweaking it to make it better and more useful”. The Design Storming model adds a collaborative approach to the design process: It’s not about reinventing the wheel, or generating new programmes, but rather about working with the stakeholders of the issue to come up with ideas that will result in improvements.

Co-organised by Cape Town Partnership, CTDN and the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), Design Storming aims to address social issues of significance to Cape Town’s citizens. In this context, design is used to bring people together, raise awareness, and develop ideas and interventions that belong to everyone.

This is the second Design Storming event this city has witnessed. Last year, social innovators, designers, and community members put their heads together on the topic of waste management in Khayelitsha. Some interesting proposals were developed and put forward to the City of Cape Town. Off the back of this process, a pilot Solid Waste Management Project has been established by the City.

“Design Storming is an evolving process,” says Andrea Couvert from CTDN, “Last year it was more of a freestyle brainstorming session, but this year we have Marc to facilitate. Also, this year the stakeholders [Ikamva Labantu and Equal Education] are present, hosting and participating in the process.”

Collaboration harnesses a wealth of expertise on ECD

Ikamva Labantu is a community driven NPO that concentrates on providing health, learning and development services to more susceptible community members like preschoolers, orphans and vulnerable children, and senior citizens. Now in its fiftieth year, Ikamva Labantu’s success is grounded in its inclusive approach. Input from its ‘community forums’ are vital to each and every programme that is developed. This makes Design Storming’s collaborative design model a good fit for Ikamva Labantu.

Ikamva Labantu has just completed a pilot programme focusing on supporting parents by building their parenting skills. Aside from nutrition and health, the programme focused on child development and communication, and this is the area that Ikamva Labantu is hoping to enhance through the workshop. “We want to help equip parents to raise their children well,” says Laluma Sigasama, programme manager at Ikamva Labantu. “Broken homes are a big problem and single parents really have little in the way of a support system.”

Equal Education is an activist group driven by learners, parents, teachers and community members who are working to improve the quality and equality of the South African education system. With an active parents division, Equal Education has a vested interest in the Design Storming topic, which it developed together with Ikamva Labantu. Many of the parents present at the workshop are also members of Equal Education, and they are hoping to learn more about how to raise and teach young children to prepare them for a successful school career. The aim is to take lessons learned back to other parents and members of Equal Education, with the view of bolstering their own work.

The other stakeholders at the workshop, “the ones that really care about early childhood development” as Marc puts it, together comprise a wealth of knowledge that promises Ikamva Labantu and Equal Education some interesting ideas. The largest proportion of participants are from the local community and include parents, grandparents, community workers and NGO workers. From slightly further afield come interested architects, designers, artists, corporate social investment managers, and development specialists. All of them are somehow invested in ECD, and here to learn and make a difference.

Bringing the issues to the surface

Post-it notes track challenges faced in community, photo by Lisa Burnell.

At the start of weekend, Marc divides us up into small groups to explore the concept of ECD through personal storytelling. The aim is to highlight key issues and identify key role players in the field, and it quickly becomes apparent that ECD is about so much more than the child. It’s also about parents, families, teachers, communities, government, and society. And it’s affected by transport, living conditions, access to food, health, and vulnerability to crime and poverty, to name but a few of the issues that pour out as people begin sharing their own experiences and insights.

What we are doing is “setting the scene”, Marc explains. By understanding the context of the problem, we are preparing ourselves to be able to ask the right questions. Marc also reminds us that the questions we arrived with may transform completely by the evening. And they do.

In fact, by the start of day two, it’s clear that our focus is drifting from pure ECD to the issue of children in general. But that’s ok, because as Marc points out, there is no wrong answer in a Design Storming process. The results of the workshop depend on what’s important to the people that participate, making it a democratic process. This is vital because “people only support what they create”. For success, community ownership of the responses developed is essential.

Unlocking creativity and distilling ideas

By now we’ve honed in on just a handful of questions covering issues with parental development, child development, public spaces, schools, crime and the role of the media. We commence with creative modelling in small teams, fusing our ideas together, using all manner of interesting and colourful materials. It’s a very tactile experience. The groups then have to describe their weird and wonderful models to other design stormers, and answer their questions, after which we deconstruct and reconstruct them again under Marc’s guidance. The experience of handling different materials is meant to trigger different parts of the brain, Marc explains, and also helps people to articulate their ideas more easily. Furthermore, by building up and breaking down our models a few times, we’re actually distilling the most important ideas.

We then jumble up to create new groups around each of the models, with only one person from the original group remaining to interpret the model to the fresh team. By now our creativity is sparking and we all dig in to further enhance the model. After an hour or so of this hands-on stuff, Marc asks us to forget all the ideas we’ve had today – yes, just forget them – and come up with something altogether new. After the initial shock, we do. And the results are rather impressive. Each team writes down three new ideas, and these go up on the board to receive expressions of interest by the group.

The afternoon is spent workshopping the four most popular ideas: an ECD support network, parks as safe zones for children and families, free access to remedial classes for foundation phase children, and a focus on fathers. After a couple of hours’ work, interrogation, and more work, these are written up into proposals for Ikamva Labantu and Equal Education.

The fruits of our co-labour

The final proposals range from holistic community approaches to targeted child-focused interventions. This illustrates the extent of the challenge of developing really effective ECD programmes. It’s not a child problem. It’s not even a parent problem. It’s a complex societal one.

What Ikamva Labantu does with these proposals remains to be seen. But Laluma is excited by the prospect. “I am humbled by this whole experience and the work that has been done. I will put these ideas through our community relations officer, and we will try to blend them together to come up with one strong initiative to complement our work. We want to do this in a respectful way that brings dignity back to the community.”

Design Storming is a platform for inclusive and participatory design, focused on addressing issues of social significance. It uses design to promote collaboration, raise awareness and develop open-source ideas and interventions that can serve as a catalyst for change.

Organisers of the August 2013 Design Storming: Design Storming is coordinated by the Cape Town Partnership, Cape Town Design Network and the Social Justice Coalition, in partnership with relevant community organisations. The August 2013 edition was co-hosted with Ikamva Labantu and Equal Education.

Facilitator of the August 2013 Design Storming: Marc Steinlin from I-P-K

Text by Deni Archer. Photos of the August 2013 Design Storming workshops by Lisa Burnell

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