Last week I had the pleasure of attending a workshop organised by the wonderful Dr Zoë Sofoulis and Justine Humphry of University of Western Sydney. Zoë and Justine have been working as part of the National Water Commission Fellowship for 2010-11 on the Cross-connections: Linking Urban Water Managers with Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences Researchers (PDF 311 KB) project.
As the title of the programme suggests, the focus of the workshop was on how to connect social researchers with the water industry. It was a very interesting discussion, looking at the challenge from a variety of perspectives. For me it was an invaluable insight into the challenges of bringing the social sciences into a field that is largely driven by a more quantitative and engineering focused approach.
As part of the days proceedings, Zoë invited me to present a short segment on the use of design research methods for communicating and engaging with ethnographic and qualitative research. My presentation looked at mobile diaries (for which I recommend Penny Hagen and Natalie Rowland’s excellent Johnny Holland article as a backgrounder), personas, infographics and visualisations, customer journey mapping, storyboards. I also used Smart Design’s wonderful work for the FastCompany Biomimicry Challenge (embedded below) as an example of envisioning using video/animation, of particular relevance given the focus on urban water.
Part of what Zoë and Justine have been working on is a Directory of Social and Cultural Research on Urban Water. Their work to date has focused on researching and collating the data for the directory, but they will soon be turning their attention to publishing it. It was during discussion on how this might be advanced that I was reminded again how valuable social technologies like wikis and rapid development frameworks like Ruby on Rails or Django can be in providing low-cost publishing methods for this kind of work.
Thanks to Zoë and Justine for the invite — I’m looking forward to continuing the dialogue into the future.