How to quantify impact (Day 7 of Brianna at OASiS)

slums temples green 670A wonderful, layered place, but it is not home

In the morning, I sat outside and watched birds pick impossibly large caterpillars from the trees. Hopping to the ground, they hit them against the pavement to stun them. “Thwack. Thwack,” I could hear from fifteen feet away. India is a wild place. As much as I am settling in and have settled in, every so often I blink and realize that this is not home. It is a wonderful, layered place but it is not home.

I enjoyed an excellent breakfast (cracked wheat with vegetables and a steamed yellow yogurty bread)… as usual!

Piyush came to fetch me on his motorbike. The caterpillar episode happened when I was outside waiting for him.

I had a list of eight questions for Pradeep and he managed to answer them all. We talked about climate change – about being able to connect a local solution to a global phenomenon. He told me about the wobble in the earth’s axis and his concerns that international talks wouldn’t really lead to anything. “They can talk all they want but we have to start doing. Communities have to start responding.”

We talked about how technical solutions need to join hands with social solutions and worked through an imagined case study about an industry whose toxic emissions drained the fertility of local farms’ soil. In this case, both a better way to process emissions would be needed, as well as a plan for replacement livelihoods for the farmers until their fields could again produce.

I asked him about how to measure the effectiveness of a solution; how to quantify impact. He said that it should be evaluated by the stakeholders themselves, which makes sense – incredible sense – but hadn’t occurred to me. Somehow, I was looking for some complicated, objective standard to evaluate against.

… impact… it should be evaluated by the stakeholders themselves.

But, if I am learning anything from my time in Bhopal (and believe me, I am learning a lot), it is that the process of “solving” a social problem, at least for OASiS, comes from the interaction of a small list of values. The complexity, not complicatedness, comes from how these different ideas (“A solution that benefits all involved”, “Think foolishly; there is power in being a novice”, “Flip common assumptions and start from there”) shape actions. It is heartening.

The task of systemic problem solving, which for me before was still shrouded and vague, seems do-able now. Not easy, but I can see footholds and handholds – ways to get in and to start learning, to build experience.

“A solution that benefits all involved”

“Think foolishly; there is power in being a novice”

“Flip common assumptions and start from there”

I asked about the workshop on ethics and values Pradeep had run the day before. He told me he had come in only with a role-playing game prepared. No content. “I like to do things ‘ex tempo’; as they happen. I like to respond to what is happening in front of me. I like to keep people off balance because when they are unsure, when they are confused, their minds open up.” I can attest to this. I think that coming to India made me more open, willing, aware of how little I knew – more like a kid.

“I like to do things ‘ex tempo’; as they happen. I like to respond to what is happening in front of me. I like to keep people off balance because when they are unsure, when they are confused, their minds open up.”

my head on a silver platter_670My head on a silver platter — in Bhopal’s science centre

Speaking of kids, after lunch I boarded the bus with them and headed for Bhopal’s science centre, which reminded me a lot of Ontario’s science centre. Does science exist independent of culture? Is there one science for everyone? The obvious answer might be yes but I think it is more complicated than that. But I digress.

My task was to teach the children about natural disasters. The children had already been taught (briefly) about these exhibits. It was a “try-out” for me before I would be given permission to teach about a new topic or exhibit.

I was thankful that I had brought my sketchpad. We talked about earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornados and floods. I was reminded how COOL tectonic plates are. Seriously, imagining them shifting below us, massive and unthinking, just makes me happy. “Should natural disasters make a person happy?” You say, disapprovingly.

“No,” I agree. But understanding why they happen and what you can do to keep yourself safe – that should. That can.

Brianna Smrke, who has been working with the SiG@Waterloo simulation team, is visiting the OaSiS Social Innovations Laboratory in Bhopal, India. She is blogging about her experiences at downwithvowelswhich you can also follow here at socialinnovationsimulation.


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