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In recent years Bournemouth University (BU) has witnessed a growth in undergraduate projects aimed at resolving problems in low-resource communities, with an emphasis on sustainability through the use of locally-available resources and production methods. BU academics have also been involved in helping the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) to develop product solutions to help prevent global drowning, with an initial focus on the Bangladeshi context.
Alongside the potential to enrich or even save lives in the target communities, such projects can offer considerable benefits to a range of domestic stakeholders: from the students and staff themselves to local businesses and non-government organisations (NGO’s). But they can also offer considerable challenges - educationally, ethically and practically – including issues with design validation, the reliability and availability of information, and the barriers of differing cultures and languages.
How can educators support low-resource projects successfully? Can students truly gain sufficient understanding of all the relevant issues to design products for an unfamiliar culture, no matter how diverse? And why are low-resource communities looking to designers from the other side of the world to provide low-tech solutions to local problems?
Bournemouth University’s low-resource projects have achieved varying degrees of success. By examining some of these - including the RNLI’s Bottle Buoy, which has recently gained international acclaim - the authors explore the complex issues relating to the use of such projects in an educational context, and present a proposal for future success using jugaad strategies and greater collaboration.