We Zoomed into Development Challenges This Spring!

SGT Studio kicked off this January with a slight twist to its usual structure: the collaboration with partners from Tanzania, Mexico and Bhutan would rely entirely on remote practices. The situation presented us with an opportunity to explore appropriate remote practices to continue addressing global challenges in a multidisciplinary way.

Project Zani | Interview & workshop series

Project Zani collaborated with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) hygiene promotion experts across three refugee camps in the Kigoma region of Tanzania to develop sustainable hygiene promotion solutions for the refugees. To immerse in the context of the refugee camps, the team conducted intense background research, expert interviews, and polished their workshop facilitation skills and empathy muscles. The team then designed a series of online workshops and interviews with Hygiene Officers to create solutions appropriate to the context. Despite the distance, connectivity challenges and occasional language barriers, the team quickly learned that staying humble to what you don’t know, sharing stories and laughter were the best ways to establish a good rapport between those involved in the project.

Project Mapit | Intensive online camp

In this second edition of PBL South Asia Bhutan collaboration, Aalto’s team worked with students from the Royal University of Bhutan to address landslide susceptibility in Dewathang Gewog in Samdrup Jongkhar district. The teams’ journey consisted of diving into new cultures and the world of landslides together, brainstorming on Miro, expert meetings, surveys and landslide susceptibility analysis. All of this culminated in a two-day online camp for designing the final product together. To warm up the connection, the teams scheduled bonding activities during the weeks leading up to the camp. Exchanging pictures of daily lives through WhatsApp and giving small snippets into each other’s cultures via Zoom proved to be a fun way creating a more relaxed atmosphere.

Action Lab Mexico | ALM Jam

Action Lab Mexico (ALM) has been running for nearly 10 years in the Mayan community of Ejido 20 de Noviembre.  This year, nearly 15 students from Aalto, Universidad Modelo and Universidad Autonóma de México collaborated to address issues related to access to healthcare, water and income. The challenges related to working on a multi-objective project, with a large team across an 8-hour time difference have been acknowledged before. To address these challenges altogether, the team planned a 3-day ‘ALM Jam’ to simulate the field trip. In simulating the field trip, the Jam succeeded: there were irregular working hours, salsa dancing, moments of desperation, breakthroughs and – importantly – the team managed to interview locals, even if this meant staying alert at all times due to uncertainty regarding when someone from El 20 would be able to connect.

Remote working brought its own challenges, but it also provided us with many opportunities to be creative with our way of working to ensure a great result. It allowed me to break out of my comfort zone and work on creating new possibilities in a remote setup.

Akshitta, ALM student

Zooming out on our journey

There are no silver-bullets to creating a perfect remote collaboration journey, only appropriate practices which can be identified through trial-and-error, then applied to a given context. In our case, this meant patience, regular ice-breakers and reflections, a lot of iterations of original plans and building trust within teams through sharing, listening and humour. In the end, no matter the differences in geography, culture or disciplines, there exists universal ways to connect, empathize and create a common understanding. When they are applied to a remote setting, one can realize that suddenly, such distances do not seem so big after all.

Read more about the teams’ journeys from project reports.