IDDS 2008: Co-creation, Concrete Solutions and Confluent Technologies

By Niall Walsh, IDDS 2008 Organizer

This month, close to 60 participants from over twenty countries took part in the second annual International Development Design Summit (IDDS) at MIT. The conference was once again headed by MacArthur ‘genius’ grant winner Amy Smith and was supported by a team of over twenty organizers and mentors who selected from previous IDDS participants. Amy spoke at the final presentations about the huge diversity of the group and highlighted that they were “students and teachers, professors and pastors, economists and engineers, masons and mechanics, doctors, welders, farmers and community organizers”. The central idea behind bringing such a huge variety of people together is that of co-creation, as Amy put it, “the concept that it is better to provide communities with the skills and tools they need
to create technologies, rather than just giving them the technologies themselves”.

The eclectic group arrived at MIT on the weekend of July 14th. From the outset, the participants were given the chance to learn some specific skills in the workshops before picking their projects and forming the teams in which they would be working for the rest of the month. After whittling down a list of over eighty proposed projects, IDDS 2008 eventually revolved around ten specific issues. These included an incubator for low birth weight babies in the developing world, an interlocking stabilized soil block maker, a low cost educational TV Computer, a ropeway transport system for the Himalayas and a system for heating breast milk to reduce transmission of HIV from mother to child.

Amy Smith stressed the difference between this conference and a technology workshop, highlighting that IDDS “is not just about the products, but rather the creative processes behind them.” Throughout the conference there was a definite focus on learning these processes through doing.  Participants were given work sessions from basic problem framing, idea generation and stakeholder analysis, right through to sketch modeling, prototype design and even sessions on project implementation and entrepreneurship. The participants also had the opportunity to work with design consultants from Cooper Perkins, IDEO and Design Continuum in refining the finer points of their projects at design reviews at the end of the second and third weeks. This emphasis on knowledge sharing was central to IDDS and has gone far beyond focusing solely on the projects.

Through events such as a talent show, cultural presentations, “how to” workshop sessions and participant presentations, those involved in IDDS were given, as Suprio Das, a bike mechanic from Calcutta, put it, “a much broader perspective of the world and it’s problems”. From presentations on Moringa, a plant with amazing medicinal properties, to demonstrations on how to make charcoal, participants spent the month in a perpetual state of learning.

The final presentations were a vindication for the IDDS mantra, to produce “prototypes, not paper or proceedings.”  Close to 300 hundred people from both inside and outside of the MIT community attended the event on August 5th. The Pearl Millet threshing team developed a superb mechanism, centered around bike spokes, for threshing millet, the staple crop for many rural communities in Africa.  They plan to test their prototype in Nicaragua to see if it is viable in a local context. The charcoal crushing team developed a low cost and easy to assemble machine for crushing charcoal corn cobs into powder. This powder can then be then turned into charcoal briquettes. The Power Generation team developed a system whereby the use of a treadle pump, conventionally designed to irrigate fields, can
simultaneously charge batteries which can then function as a form of alternative energy.

These concrete solutions to issues that affect the world’s poorest communities are what make IDDS such a special conference to be involved in. To see the transformation of basic ideas into fully developed prototypes in the space of three weeks was inspiring and is an exercise in the art of the possible. Suprio, in his speech before the final presentations, spoke about the motivation, the driving force, behind the work and long hours that participants had put into IDDS 2008. His conclusion, that the binding force between participants, organizers, mentors and sponsors was “we all look forward to have this world a better place to live in”, was refreshing in its simplicity and encapsulated the spirit that has infected all those involved in IDDS 2008.

To find out more about the summit please visit