Written by on April 16, 2015

Brainstorming appropriate technologies for Cal Poly at Open Science Cafe

When asked the question, “What can be improved for Cal Poly students?” student suggestions range from campus dining to parking to the classroom. Often solutions to these problems seem nearly impossible. However, Lonny Grafman, founder of Appropedia, uses a resourceful approach. At Open Science Cafe on April 10, Appropriate Technologies Near and Far, he modeled an appropriate technologies process to addressing community needs.

Open Science Café is a competition for students to host a Cal Poly Science Cafe with the expert of their choice. This event was hosted by Nasim Delavari (MCRO ’15), who won one of two Open Science Café 2015 grants.

Nasim and Lonny

Lonny (l) and Nasim

First of all, what are appropriate technologies?

Appropriate technology is technology designed to be appropriate to its context. It is often developed using open source principles and emphasizes choice, people, scale and sustainability, among other considerations. It can be found in both developed and developing countries, built by local communities for local communities.

For example, Lonny talked about his experience in Las Malvinas in the Dominican Republic. First, the community determined one of their needs, the need for a new classroom. Then, they worked together to find a way to build that classroom using the resources that they had available to them.

“It starts with the chaos of the community building trust and projects,” Lonny said about the beginning stages of the process.

The classroom in Las Malvinas built using plastic bottles.

Las Malvinas classroom constructed from plastic bottles.

In this small community, plastic bottles were abundant. So, they came up with a way to build the classroom using plastic bottles as the main resource. And in about 6 weeks, Las Malvinas had a new classroom. For the full story, check out the Appropedia page!

How can appropriate technologies be used at Cal Poly?

To model the process, Lonny asked us what improvements could be made at Cal Poly. The audience had many suggestions:

  • Homes for students
  • Lockers/student storage
  • Food waste composting
  • Access to healthy foods
  • Connectedness
  • Meditative/relaxation gathering spot
  • Easier campus transport/better parking
  • Student marketplace
  • Redistribution center
  • Place to nap
  • Bike friendlier
  • Open studio space on campus

Then, Lonny asked us to prioritize and narrow our list to five, which we did through nominal voting:

  1. Student marketplace
  2. Redistribution center
  3. Homes for students
  4. Student storage
  5. Access to healthy food

From here, we split into groups and brainstormed solutions for these issues, keeping in mind cost, sustainability and what materials/resources we have available.

Brainstorming ideas.

Brainstorming ideas

I was in group 4, and we wanted to come up with a way for students to easily store heavy textbooks, laptops or whatever they need on campus. Our main solution was to use bike racks as foundations for lockers. We chose bike racks because they are all around campus and are used by a lot of students. Using existing materials, like water bottles, we could come up with a way to construct lockers to attach to the bike racks. Then, students could bring their own locks and store whatever they needed for their day.

At the end of brainstorming, each group had come up with innovative ways to solve their problem.

“I love this. In just 15 minutes we came up with great stuff,” Lonny said.

Looking for realistic solutions

Something about Lonny’s talk stuck with me after the event: Often times, we either get caught up trying to solve big problems with even bigger solutions that really can’t happen, or decide that the problem is too big to solve. Instead, we can look at simplified solutions and use resources/materials we already have to actually solve the issue.

Read more on appropedia, appropriate technologies, Lonny Grafman, open science cafe, and science cafe.

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