Designathon!

As a committee, we decided that we wanted to host a design event in November 2019. At this time, the streets of Sheffield were wild streams. Public transport was closed, people were being evacuated from Meadowhall and the city of five rivers was a collection of flooded valleys. We decided to run an event based around flooding, an issue that is likely to affect an increasing number of people as the climate crisis accelerates. 

One of our key objectives was to expand participants’ outlook beyond the world of western engineering and consider how design might be approached in an area with a significantly different cultural, socioeconomic and environmental context. Bangladesh was an obvious foci. Severe flooding occurs every 4 to 5 years in Bangladesh and covers more than 60% of the country.

This causes suffering, damaging communities and claiming lives. The problem is also getting worse due to a series of environmental factors, including the climate crisis.

Image: Bangladesh Floods | Humanitarian Coalition

The creation of the designathon was a feat of collaboration. Helen and Alastair, our efficient Secretary and President, worked efficiently to plan the logistics of the day from start to finish.

Considering the strike action and growing global pandemic that coincided with our event, this was no mean feat. This left Kristel, Margo and I to create an interesting brief and research pack for the participants. This experience taught me masses about how to communicate large amounts of information sensitively and effectively. The experience of emailing contacts in Bangladesh and EWB-UK also gave me great experience of long distance collaboration. Something that I think will be useful in the coming months!

Over the weeks before the event, there were many late nights writing the brief, reading heavy papers on Bangladeshi geography and politics and emailing back and forth with various catering companies. By the Wednesday before the event, we’d finished everything that we needed to do.

The night before the event, the university cancelled all lectures and events in the fight against COVID-19. I received this news in the pub. Suddenly, we had a decision to make. 

I’ll spare you the minutiae of the decision process but it meant long, late night discussions and an early morning meeting.

Eventually, we decided to go ahead with a series of safety measures. Throughout the day, the teams worked together well to understand the brief and come up with solutions. They quizzed the various academics well and the presentations at the end of the day were as impressive as they were varied.

The winning presentation!

The feedback from the event was gratifying, my favourite line being: “the whole day was beautiful.” There were also constructive comments asking for more structure, workshops and practical sessions. I hope to respond to these by making our next event even more successful!

On the whole, I felt the day was extremely successful. The attendees enjoyed it and there was innovative conversation about how engineering could be ingenious, local and place people and the planet at its heart. I learnt masses about event organisation and communication and I’m certain that attendees will have developed their understanding of the devastating effects of the climate crisis and how engineering can alleviate suffering.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who collaborated to make this event happen. I’ve included a short list below but may have forgotten some!

Alastair White

Helen Meutermans

Margo Sulek

Kristel K Bedregal Portugal

Richard Collins

Helen Wright

Tim Wilmshurst

Sally F Cawood

And all the attendees!

If you’d like more information about the designathon, or access to our resource packs, please get in contact at: njstrathdee1@sheffield.ac.uk

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