DIY Kenya: Welcome!

I am so very thrilled and deeply honoured to have been awarded the DIY Kenya Commission.  What a fantastic opportunity it will be to work on a collaborative design project with the students and staff of the Kwale Homeopathy Centre!

Sincere thanks to Carolina Vasquez, Emma Posey, Noel Thomas and Louise Wright for selecting my project and to Marie Magrie and everyone at the Kwale Homeopathic College and Health Centre for making this possible – I look forward to meeting you all.  Special thanks also to Amelia Johnstone (UWIC) and to George Karani of the African Partnership Initiative, UWIC for their invaluable support.

This blog will document the day-to-day happenings of the DIY Kenya project; before, during and after the event – so please keep checking back and feel very welcome to comment and contribute!

I thought I ought to start by sharing my plans for the commission so I have included below, details of my project proposal as it appeared in my application for the commission:


In a developing country such as Kenya, where 56% of the population live in poverty[1], there is much opportunity for the designer to address fundamental humanitarian challenges as well as long-term aspirations for economic prosperity and improved independence.  My proposal for the DIY Kenya Commission is to instigate a participatory design project that will aim to make use of locally sourced, commonly available materials, and will, through production and/or implementation, both utilise and promote the skills of the people in Kwale.  The design solution will be generated by the community for the community, thus ‘user generated’ and ‘open source’, whilst also providing a model for employment and trade.

My approach will be that of the Product Design Process – to begin by collating a rigorous body of research regarding Kenyan affairs and identify potential opportunities for design innovation.  This prior research will provide the foundation for further Ethnographic enquiry at Kwale. 

An empathetic approach is essential; any design or technological innovation has to be ‘the right fit’; a solution derived from a sound, holistic appreciation for the issues at hand and a pragmatic approach to innovation.

I intend to facilitate an open and collaborative project by involving the students of Kwale in fun and engaging ‘innovation workshops’ that will form the basis of a democratic Product Design Process.

These workshops will encourage participants to explore notions of innovation, creative problem solving, team working and collective decision-making in response to given challenges.

Students will be supported in the collation and analysis of creative ideas via primary and secondary research as ways of ‘filtering’ out the most promising ideas.  This shared experience will allow the student group to make informed decisions about design iterations and democratically decide on the evolution of a collective idea.  The outcome of these workshops will, at the very least be a set of proposals for future developments.

My objective is to employ the design process to deliver the most effective solution, whatever form that may take.

The legacy of this project will be the Design Process which the students can keep and re-employ to solve problems and to help their community long after this project has finished.

By nurturing the networks of the DIY Kenya project, I intend to transcend the 3-week secondment via further partner-led initiatives. At the ‘Maker Faire Africa’ I will act as a representative of the DIY Kenya Commission as well as ambassador for UWIC, PDR and the African Partnership Initiative.

A dedicated ‘wordpress’ website (this very one! – Pete) will enable the Kwale community to share their ideas and experiences and provide an open platform for discussion with students and practitioners in the UK.   Publicising of the website in the UK Design Press and University Networks will raise awareness and encourage participation. The content will provide a documented ‘model’ for innovation which could be implemented by other African communities or indeed used as a teaching aid in the UK.

My motivation to design something fundamentally useful for the developing world is profound and I anticipate working with the Kenyan people to be an inspiring, enlightening and humbling process. These unique insights will, no doubt radically inform my own design teaching and practice and have implications for possible innovative applications in the UK and around the world for global cultures and humanitarian design. 

[1] ‘Ageing and Poverty in Kenya’,  United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2003

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