While my time in São Paulo this summer was very busy, the work with the innova+ project is really just beginning. My role at Porvir was to get this project off the ground. I established connections with our partners, created proposals and presentations explaining the project and drafted a plan for the initiative to continue moving forward once I was back in Providence. I also understood the inner-workings of an organization whose work I had always admired from afar. As school is just about to start, I am eager to continue working on the innova+ project, but this time more as an advisor to the team of journalists. The innovations have been submitted by the network of specialists we have gathered from California to London to New Zealand, and now it’s the journalists’ turn to take over in editing our content.
Before leaving, I also contacted a talented graphic designer (and self-taught web developer) to take on the job of creating the site for the final publication. Though our deadlines have shifted a bit more down the road, we hope to have the publication ready to go by the end of October. I will keep updating this blog with important news along the way, and of course, on the big day of the publication release.
Some reflections on the topic of my research: What is innovation anyway?
I spent a good chunk of time this summer trying to define the term “innovation.” While I didn’t come upon any answers that I felt passionate about, my search has helped me understand some of my own concerns regarding education and the role of “changemaking” in a fast-paced world, where technology is making big moves and potentials for scalability of projects are expanding exponentially.
After much deliberation, we decided to let each contributing specialist give his or her own definition of innovation when submitting their suggested projects. This way, we will also learn how people define this concept, and embrace the idea that there may simply not be an answer to this question. In my own research for this semester, I plan to reflect on my experiences, both at RISD and beyond, to understand how I have applied my own design background into projects that will make a difference in the world. Designers are at a critical point in the working world, as we are trained to navigate between spheres of communication. To me, using innovative approaches to communicate ideas, solutions or even just a thought is the best application of design toward making a difference. The key is understanding all the components, and finding the best means to pull the parts together, making everything accessible to the players involved.
Below are a few of the definitions I came upon:
Innovation is about finding a better way of doing something. Innovation can be viewed as the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, in-articulated needs, or existing market needs. This is accomplished through more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are readily available to markets, governments and society. The term innovation can be defined as something original and, as a consequence, new, that “breaks into” the market or society. A definition consistent with these aspects would be the following: “An innovation is something original, new, and important in whatever field that breaks in to a market or society”.
While something novel is often described as an innovation, in economics, management science, and other fields of practice and analysis it is generally considered a process that brings together various novel ideas in a way that they have an impact on society.
Innovation differs from invention in that innovation refers to the use of a better and, as a result, novel idea or method, whereas invention refers more directly to the creation of the idea or method itself.
Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better.
I will continue to elaborate on my definition, but will allow it to happen organically. Afterall, the “lightbulb moment” is a glorious one, but the process is where the magic happens.
As I have been researching the potential causes of dwindling honeybee and wild bee populations, one name continues to rise to the top: Neonicotinoid insecticides. Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticides that affect the neuro-activity of insects. And, because of their lower toxicity to birds and mammals, have become the most popular insecticides in the world. The Neonicotinoid pesticide family is composed of acetamiprid, clothianidin, imidacloprid, nitenpyram, nithiazine, thiacloprid and thiamethoxam. Imidacloprid is currently the most widely used insecticide in the world.
These insecticides can be used as a topical spray to already developed plants and can also be used as a treatment coating to seeds making the insecticide systemic. Systemic insecticides are particularly effective because the chemicals are bound up in the whole of the plant, meaning it exists in the roots, the leaves, the pollen and the nectar. Neonicotinoids are effective at killing pests right away, however, to honeybees and other pollinators, they are sub-lethal. They do not kill adult honeybees and are thus deemed “safe.” In a honeybee colony, though, these insecticides work on the superorganism as a whole, affectively sickening and ultimately killing subsequent generations. The methods used for testing efficacy and safety of these chemicals looks only at adult bees and though the evidence suggests these chemicals are harmful to bees, they are still used. These methods of testing are a huge part of the controversy around honeybees and Neonicotinoids. See this article for more.
At present, virtually all corn planted in the Midwest is treated with at least one form of Neonicotinoid insecticide. Additionally, many plants being sold at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart and other big box stores have been treated with Neonicotinoids before being shipped off for sale to the public. There are currently no warning labels on plants that have been treated with these insecticides so consumers are unwittingly buying and cultivating plants that are detrimental to pollinating insects.
The danger of using insecticides is not only that non-targeted, beneficial insects (like honeybees) are often exposed and killed, but also how these insecticides interact with the ecosystem as a whole. As exemplified in her alarming Silent Spring, Rachel Carson writes about the impact chlorinated hydrocarbons (DDT, DDD) and organic phosphorus insecticides (malathion, parathion) have had on the predators of treated insects (birds and fish). Scores of dead or dying birds, fish, amphibians and small game were found in areas treated with these insecticides. The animals had been eating the poisoned insects and were thus becoming poisoned as well.
Biological amplification or biomagnification is an extremely interesting phenomena. It is the process by which poisons or heavy metals move up the food chain. Little fish consume a bunch of insecticide laced mosquito eggs, a larger fish then eats a bunch of these little fish, still a larger fish eats these fish, an eagle or hawk eats the big fish and so on. As the animals are being consumed, the concentration of harmful material (insecticide for instance) is being concentrated. Many insecticides are fat-soluble and become stored in the adrenals, testes, thyroid, liver and kidneys. High accumulation of poison in these organs can ultimately lead to mutations in genes, sickness and death.
Through her work, Carson was able to bring broad public awareness of the environmental impact DDT was having. DDT has since been banned from agricultural use worldwide.
It does not seem coincidental that dwindling of bee populations of the last decade has coincided with the increased use of Neonicotinoid pesticides. In fact, earlier this month two of the largest Canadian honey companies filed a lawsuit against Bayer Cropscience Inc. and Syngenta Canada Inc. claiming negligence in “their design, manufacture, sale and distribution of neonicotinoid pesticides.” READ ABOUT THE LAWSUIT HERE. Though Bayer continues to claim the risk to bees from these pesticides is low, mounting evidence is claiming the opposite. This issue will surely continue as long as there is profit to be made. It is high time we look for safer alternatives for dealing with problem insects.
Today I toured the Multidisciplinary Simulation Center before I headed over to the PRC. At the Simulation Center I saw the Anatomage, which is a computer the size of a human body, where doctors can look at full body scans in different layers to identify problems. I also saw recreated patient rooms, recreated practice operating rooms, human like dummies, classrooms, and a dissection lab. It was incredible! The Simulation Center was designed to teach all hospital personnel how to handle any medical situation. Suprisingly, the arts had a rather large impact on the design of the rooms and the construction and design of the dummies. It was crucial that the patient actors, dummies, and surroundings looked just like how it looks in real life. I was shocked at how innovative the design elements were and how much creative problem solving played a part. Here is an image of a full body scan in the Anatomage- so cool!
Afterwards, I went to the PRC for my last distraction session. Today I taught the block print project and everyones’ projects turned out really nice. Also, the patients gave me a parting gift, which was very unexpected! Everyone was very thankful and appreciative of my project, which was great to hear!
Although the testing period is over there is still so much to accomplish. I am working with the researcher to write the methodology section of the study and we hope to submit the study to be published in a medical journal. I also gave a presentation at Mayo and I am flying back to Jacksonville in April to show my work and present my project at the National Convention for the Global Alliance of Arts and Health. Although I am not completely finished, my project at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville has been an incredible opportunity and I have learned more than I ever imagined was possible in such a short time. It was truly a great experience.
I have almost completed my 9-week study! Over the past few weeks though, I ended up having to take an IRB test on the Mayo campus. I received a certificate of completion for passing the Human Subjects Protection Test. The test was required of all personnel engaged in IRB research studies. The test covered topics including the world history of human subject testing, codes and regulations involved with human testing, informed consent procedure, legalities, risk and benefits, confidentiality, Internal Review Board procedures (IRB), and the ethics in Human Subject testing. Until now, I had no idea about all of the laws and regulations governing research!
Additionally, I had a number of meetings to discuss why and how my project at Mayo Jacksonville should be shared with the public community and the logistics behind that. Not only could my research project highlight the program in the PRC as well as the Lyndra P. Daniel Center for Humanities and Medicine, but it could possibly help attract patients and increase knowledge about the Mayo Clinic. Additionally, it could help promote the overlap between art and science. The logistics behind blogging, sharing certain information, and deciding how to share it, has been quite a learning experience. For Mayo, as in other businesses, they take public relations very seriously. If told correctly, patient and hospital related stories could increase donations to fund programs, such as creative distraction therapy. It could also increase awareness of patient satisfaction, and alternative or additional care techniques. Although this sort of thing is not my forte, it was great to meet with people who wanted to share my project with the possibility of promoting the idea of arts in medicine, as well as the work of the PRC.
I have also been working on my own body of work inspired by my project. I have mainly been thinking about and using the same techniques taught to the patients. For example, while making my own artwork, I have tried to actively focus on the present and I have tried not to worry about the result. In addition, I have incorporated many aesthetic processes to complete a single piece. With any luck my own artwork will be finished soon and I can compile the data from my research project! Here is one piece in progress:
In addition to doing my research study with patients in the PRC, I have been able to participate in a variety of other arts and medicine projects initiated by the Lyndra P. Daniel Center for Humanities and Medicine. For example, I was able to participate in the Humanities for the Physician Program at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. While there is a tremendous amount of training, education, and money spent on doctors, it is in the best interest of Mayo to make sure their employees are healthy, happy, and continually performing at a high level. Thus, this program was initiated to help doctors and residents not just manage stress but to increase interpersonal and communication skills, professionalism, the quality of patient care, and their own medical knowledge. This program has also proven to prevent ‘burn out ‘ in the long run. The program consists of taking small groups of residents to The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens with an attending physician. We had lunch and then went into a gallery. The attending physician spoke about his personal experience of dealing with stress and led a meditation technique. They then were given a gallery talk of a temporary exhibit, followed by an interactive, reflective writing exercise inspired by the photos viewed in the exhibit. The program also includes viewing and discussing other exhibits. It was amazing how such a simple outing could have such a huge impact.
I was also able to participate in another Lyndra P. Daniel Center for Humanities and Medicine program, ‘Connect at The Cummer: Art for Alzheimers’ at The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens. The program is modeled after similar programs at MoMA, the Met, Art Institute of Chicago and other major cultural institutions. It’s the only program of its kind in the region. For this program, about 10 Alzheimer’s patients and their caregivers met at the museum and discussed a few paintings for about thirty minutes each. The discussions were led by a museum staff member. This program provided relief for the caregivers in addition to the patients. It gave the caregivers, who are often the spouse of the Alzheimer’s patient, a way to interact with their significant other, without discussing the treatment plan, the illness, or any other medical issues. I found this program to be exceedingly therapeutic and everyone involved really loved it.
Another program I participated in was the Strong Box project for a stroke support group. This took place at the Clinic and we administered a project called ‘the Strong Box’ for patients and family members who have had a stroke. The ‘Strong Box’ project consists of the patient writing positive attributes about themselves in white crayon on two pieces of paper, the patients then watercolors over the crayon, and the crayon shows through. They then fold both pieces of paper to construct a box with a lid. Inside the box, patients are encouraged to place tiny pieces of papers with their personal stressors written down. Everyone really enjoyed it and it seemed like it gave some needed stress relief to families and patients.
Before coming to Mayo, I had no idea how much the arts were integrated into healthcare. On the one hand being on campus, you are constantly aware of how sick people can become and how stressful it is both for the patients, but also for family members, doctors, and other health care professionals. Patients and families are often at the Clinic day after day, all day long for weeks. As an artist, not only did I quickly realize how important the visual surroundings of the environment are, but I began to realize how therapeutic some of these simple creative exercises could be. Additionally while doing my research study, I have come to notice that not only is there a physiological impact of creative processes on the body, but I have come to believe that measuring the physiological benefits of creative distraction methods will become increasingly important. Also, as a fine artist, I see this as a possible avenue of employment that I had not previously considered.
With the help of Chrys, Dr. Kurklinsky, and Dr. Sletten, so far we have ironed out the details of the experiment and we have administered 6 of the 9 projects. The process of figuring out which creative exercises would be most beneficial to the patients’ needs was much more difficult than I anticipated! For starters, everyone had to be able to complete each project in 45 minutes. The projects needed to be easily administered with little mess and cleanup. Additionally, we wanted to think of projects that could be financially sustainable for the long term. Lastly, and most importantly, everyone needed to be able to succeed at every project, enjoy the process, and feel that it was meaningful. So all in all, it was quite a challenge! Over the last few weeks my supervisor and I brainstormed, and performed trial projects.
One project we came up with is what we called the ‘Rotation Project’. For this project, we gave each patient a piece of paper and a triangular stencil. We also gave each patient a particular tool; whether it was watercolor, pen, collage materials, pastels, etc. We then set the timer to 4 minutes and the patients then had 4 minutes to work on their paper. After the 4 minutes they passed their paper to the left and their supplies to the right. For this project there were many things to consider -
- It was necessary to give a definite starting point, so providing a stencil seemed like a simple and easy place to start. We found that asking patients to just start on a blank piece of paper proved to be very stressful.
- We wanted to emphasize the idea of ‘process’ rather than end product. It was important that there was no expectation of a successfully completed project, so the patient could not fail. Also, if they were focused on the process, they were more apt to be focusing on the present moment rather than the past or future.
- We hoped the project would force patients to focus less on their own stressors, and their own pain and focus more on other people’s artwork, think about what other people are making, or how they might make things differently than they would. We wanted the project to encourage the idea of the ‘collective’ rather than an intense insular focus on their self.
- We created a gallery in the conference room where the patients meet, so this project is something the patients left in the gallery even after they finished the 3 week program.
Overall, there was a large age range amongst the patients and additionally, everyone came from a wide range of backgrounds, so this sort of collaborative project was fun to do. Initially, everyone was very outwardly upset by the idea of passing around his or her artwork. The idea of working on someone else’s art seemed to be equally antagonizing and the process of physically passing everything left and right seemed to be challenging. Some people also complained because they found certain mediums more antagonizing than others and wanted to keep certain tools rather than passing them around. However, after about two rotations into the project, the patients began to interact with each other about their artwork. They remarked how horrible their project looked and how rushed they felt, but eventually each patient laughed about it, and teased others about their artwork. Consistently, by the end of the project, everyone’s paper looked pretty great and all of the patients were amazed and satisfied. No one felt as if they failed and they had been successfully distracted for 45 minutes. For these patients 45 minutes of relief can make a big difference. The hope is that the patients might return to some of the projects that we came up with, so I tried to emphasize how they could do this rotation project with just one other person, or with a simple doodle. Additionally, I tried to point out famous artists whose artwork is primarily processed based and how well respected their work is in the art world. One patient later told me how much they appreciated this project specifically, because it made them feel like they could really let go and relax. Here is an example:
I am in Jacksonville, FL and my project is up and running at Mayo Clinic! I am working with the Lyndra P. Daniel Center for Humanities and Medicine in Florida, to conduct an Internal Review Board (IRB) approved research study to determine whether or not there is a correlation between creative expression and pain and stress management. Typically, the center’s programs, educational activities, and research in the medical humanities serve patients, families, employees, and the larger community promoting the compassionate delivery of healthcare. However, for my project we were also hoping to have measurable data to determine whether or not administering art projects to patients in the Pain Rehabilitation Center (PRC) is beneficial.
The patients I work with are part of an intensive 3-week outpatient program in the PRC focused on providing multidisciplinary rehabilitative therapy to patients with chronic pain with the goal of improving quality of life and facilitating a return to regular daily activities. Typically, the patients admitted have tried everything and this program is their last resort. Overall, the program is focused on functional restoration. A cognitive-behavioral model serves as the basis for the treatment and incorporates physical reconditioning, biofeedback, and relaxation training, stress management, chemical health education, activity moderation, and cognitive restructuring to decrease pain catastrophizing and pain anxiety. Throughout the 3-week program, various types of treatment and therapies are presented to help each patient achieve individualized goals in returning to an active and fulfilling life. The art making session is part of the ‘distraction’ session three times a week.
In the first few weeks of June I met with my supervisor Chrys Yates, who is the program coordinator of the Lyndra P. Daniel Center of Humanities in Medicine in Florida. We first discussed possible art projects and logistics. We were also able to have a productive meeting with the director of the PRC, Dr. Christopher Sletten, and Dr. Svetlana Kurklinsky, the research fellow helping me with the study. We discussed the intricacies of our experiment and possible ways to test how visual art making can impact pain capacity and overall stress levels. Dr. Sletten and Dr. Kurklinsky thought it best that we administer a daily standardized survey to each patient before the art project and after the art project to determine a change in stress level. So far it has been a good start!
As I enter the final weeks of my stay in Delhi and my engagement with Adhyayan, it’s really inspiring to see a distinct pattern of our interventions in the community.
This week we finally completed our big consolidated map of the village. The original piece is a 5’x4’ compilation incorporating the handiwork of many children at Adhyayan. Once the final piece was completed, I scanned and did a few layers of editing to make it printable. As a test, we have created two billboards versions of the community map to be installed at two of the 4 entrances in to the community. If successful, we will be adding more in the coming days.
An important aspect of my work has been to include the residents and seniors in whatever activity we engage the children with. For a project that involves a whole community, it is imperative to have an active participation of every group involved whether it is the children, the adults, the aged, men and women. Each group brings its own thoughts, strengths and limitations and is thus vital for the sustainability of any intervention. In our biweekly community meetings, I tried to bring to the discussions, different phases and issues that we have been trying to address.
This week’s meeting’s agenda was the claiming of ownership of the streets. It was a topic that we bring up time and again; to counter the disassociation and unaccountability of the littering problem but this week we were able to support the message with process images and results of our ‘art-bombing’ intervention. This was an experiment that received a mixed response. While on one hand, the residents love the art the children are creating in the streets, and its come to my knowledge that people have even approached them offering to hire them as profession mural artists to work on spaces in and outside their homes and businesses. Many residents on whose properties we created these murals, have taken great pride in the work and have taken ownership of the space, maintaining it, as its something created by their (the village’s) children. However, there were some spaces where despite our hard work of changing its character, in full view of the surrounding businesses, got reduced back to being an easy target for collecting garbage and betel nut spitting. It is an issue that I need to reevaluate our strategy towards.
In this meeting we also ‘unveiled’ the map in front of the community. It was a project that had required walking a tightrope of dealing with the historical monuments present within the community. We wanted to celebrate the rich heritage and history of the village by the presence and association of the 15th century Mughal structures present on site, while being careful of the delicate nature of their present status and the ‘illegal’ encroachment by the local residents. As I mentioned in a previous post my personal opinions about caged monuments and active engagements, yet I understand the residents’ discomfort in coming under the authorities radar regarding their occupation of the monuments, their cowsheds etc. However, I strongly feel that there is a need to acknowledge the immense heritage in the midst of which they reside.
The map serves as a visual celebration of the village and its legacy. For a community that doesn’t even completely show up on Google Maps, being denied the very basic acknowledgement of their existence in the urban fabric of Delhi, this ‘map’ serves more than a planning record of its physical structure. In having the children draw out their spaces, we created a rich visual of the life and characteristics of the village, in their recording of their favorite snack vendor to the shoe repair man to the location of Adhyayan to the square where the elders smoke their hookahs, the life and secrets of the community is introduced to an outsider. It’s a navigational welcome into the spaces and people of Zamrudpur.
We were honored to have a dear friend and mentor, Ravi Gulati join us for the meeting. He is the founder and head of an organization, Manzil for the past 20 years working on a host of issues in and around Delhi. Amit who founded Adhyayan was himself a student of Ravi bhaiya and started the organization as an offshoot of Manzil with a wish to share his own learning. He was instrumental in connecting me with Adhyayan and offered an invaluable wealth of advice when I started working on the project.
It’s also been over four weeks since we planted our first experimental urban farming bed in the reclaimed community park within the neighborhood. Inspired by the wonderfully rich growth of our planting, we’ve started work on another bed, with the hope to strategically keep adding more. While the village residents were initially slow in accepting our initiative of urban farming on their rooftops, seeing the actual proof of the ease of growth of our demonstrational beds and the richness of our yield has raised the enthusiasm exponentially. We are getting approached every other day by some resident wanting to know more about growing organic food on their rooftops and requesting our help to set up their beds. It is this interest and initiative on the part of the community that is most encouraging and the best reward of our hard work.
The organizational chart is government’s way of structuring itself visually. In the US, this usually means it exists on letter-sized paper or on a presentation slide. It’s like a family tree where hierarchical and lateral relationships are mapped and acronyms abound.
At the State Department, the visual structure of the org chart is one of disparate columns of boxes. When I arrived, I expected that the columns of the org chart would mirror the reality of behavior across bureaus, where people remained within their column of boxes and “stayed in their lane.”
I’ve done some reflecting on org charts of late, especially as I participated in a course offered through State’s Foreign Service Institute on State’s operations here in DC and how State interacts with other government agencies. The course facilitators asked us to map out our relationships with other bureaus in the various columns of State’s org chart. The resulting maps were messy, tangled, and colorful–in short, far from the sterile grid of the official org chart. The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate that relationships are crucial to being effective, and that we rely on our colleagues who sit in bureaus across the org chart to help us achieve our shared mission.
It is in this spirit of collaboration and relationship building that the Collaboratory seeks to operate. We are learning about social networks, organizational change, and human-centered design, and seeking to be conveners across disparate org charts, the private sector, and civil society. While the private sector has been no stranger to design, the challenge of making space for design in government remains. I’ve been trying to come up with effective ways to integrate design into State’s organizational culture.
The good news is that I’m not alone: I’ve met a handful of designers working at State so far, and their projects are exciting. While their official titles camouflage them into the bureaucracy, they are using design processes to identify, frame, and solve problems of information management, user experience, and systems design in government. I was thrilled to connect with them and commiserate as I approach similar problems and encounter similar obstacles.
Last week, I piloted a design thinking workshop with the Collaboratory team as participants. Since our launch last November, we have been running periodic sessions called CollabSalons, where we open our doors to our colleagues to brainstorm, gather feedback, or thank them for their contributions to projects. The design thinking workshop will be the next iteration of the CollabSalon series. Conceived as a way to make space for design at State, the goal of the workshop is to introduce the process of design thinking and explore the ways in which our colleagues in ECA can use it to approach their work.
This project is fun and challenging—I’m doing a lot of learning about design thinking and how to communicate the process outside of an art and design community. After getting feedback from my team, I’m moving forward on designing a kit for participants with the tools that they will need for the session (picture lots of post-it notes and sharpies) as well as resources that they can take away with them afterwards. I’m also working on an identity for the CollabSalon event series to amplify our visual presence in physical and digital spaces.
In the meantime, I’m working on setting up my own toolkit: this week I sumbitted paperwork for purchasing an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription that will eventually live on an internet-enabled laptop. Imagine the possibilities for printing in a world where I don’t have to cross the street to use cafeteria wifi for transferring files… Next up: determining printing capabilities and fixing the color balance in the copy room.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the U.S. Department of State.