Last July, the Edinburgh Living Lab received an exciting invitation from colleagues at MediaLAB Amsterdam to participate in the first-ever Global Goals Jam. The Jam would set an example for engaging people around the world in designing creative solutions to realise the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and would be featured at the United Nations’ annual Social Good Summit. Based on a hackathon-style model, the Jam would take place over two days and would bring together interdisciplinary teams to work through a series of design ‘sprints’, taking them from a broad challenge to a specific and actionable solution.
The invitation came at a timely moment, as we were in the process of securing funding for what would become the Energy Data for All project. Here was a chance to implement a number of our Living Lab ideas - integrating research with practical action while engaging students and the University community through innovative learning experiences. We set the Global Goals Jam as the launch event for the project. It would be a test to see how we could develop a set of practical challenges linked to our research questions, present them to the student community and generate actionable ideas.
|Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy|
|Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities|
|Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production|
These aligned broadly with the aims of our project as well as with other energy and sustainability initiatives at the University, from research on solar waste in the School of Social and Political Sciences to major themes that are the focus of the Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability’s efforts.
We recruited participants from across the University and the City of Edinburgh, looking to include people with skills and interests not only in energy and sustainability but also in design, technology, social science research, engineering, art and more. Within the University, we spread the word to student societies, course organisers and programme directors of relevant courses and programmes in all schools and to new students through the academic fair. Within the City, we reached out to start-up and tech incubators, design companies, environmental and sustainability organisations and the Council.
With an enthusiastic group of participants, we kicked off on Friday night, 16 September 2016. We presented the selected Global Goals, proposed a number of possible challenges and then encouraged people to divide into groups based on interest and begin thinking about what they would like to work on for the weekend.
|How might we use open data on power consumption and solar energy installations in India to reveal and predict failures and breakdowns?|
|How might we use data and art to provoke questions about the finances, geography and politics of growing global demand for solar energy?|
|How might we engage staff and students in saving energy and developing a culture of reuse?|
|How might students influence suppliers to be more socially responsible and sustainable?|
|How can we communicate with people about their patterns of energy usage and payments using 'interactive' non-digital materials and methods?|
Teams developed in three clusters - one focusing on solar waste, one on energy data and one on sustainable supply chains. Participants were students and the employed from a variety of backgrounds - architecture, engineering, international development, data science, business, design, digital technology and physics among them.
On Saturday we began with the design sprints suggested by MediaLAB and began tracking and communicating our activity with other teams around the world via MediaLAB’s app Scream and Slack. Mentors from a number of our partner organisations and supporters came along to guide students through the challenges and sprints and answer questions.
Guidelines for using Scream
Example design sprint
Teams working on design sprints
By the end of Saturday afternoon, each team had a clear idea of what their solution would be. They created diagrams and physical prototypes and got feedback from other participants and mentors.
Prototype sketch (Solar Waste team)
Remnants of a brainstorming exercise
Over the course of Sunday they fleshed out their ideas and prototypes.
By Sunday afternoon it was time for each team to present their final solution.
The Jam concluded on Sunday evening, but the Energy Data for All project had just begun. We were inspired by the participants’ ideas and learned a number of lessons about how to run a successful hackathon around multi-faceted global challenges. The Jam also allowed us to identify students who were interested in the project, and three of the participants from the Global Goals Jam joined us for the Energy Data hackathon in Nairobi in December 2016.
The Global Goals Jam was made possible with the generous support and involvement of the Global Environment and Society Academy, the Festival of Creative Learning, the Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability and Product Forge, along with Scene Community and the Global Challenges Lab.