SDP 2021-2022 Week 17: Intro to Ideation: Tools and Strategies

We started this week’s meeting with a summary of last week by Brianne. We were all quite excited that the petition we have been circulating was already at 450+ signatures. So much accomplished in such little time!

Next, Anand and Eesha laid out the weeks ahead in front of us. We will be working in three groups this semester to focus on the following:

  1. Hopkins
  2. Community
  3. Development
    Similarly to what we did last semester, the Hopkins team will strategize on how to best mobilize the school to join the zero-waste movement. We as students will still all be involved for mobilization at the school, as the PLAN Chapter will continue to be active and to constitute a major part of our work. The Community team will similarly focus on the institutions and residents in the larger Baltimore area and devise strategies to lure them into a zero-waste future.
    The Development team is new this semester. We have explored last week some of the best practices and institutional examples in the field of zero-waste with Kevin Drew and Ruth Abbe. We wish to explore more of these, research how alternatives are lived out in practice in different places in the US and elsewhere, and ultimately envision together what a compost facility in Baltimore could look like. While mobilizing for change is one significant component of this course, the imagination of what the alternative could look like is equally important.

In the next few weeks, we will be working closely with the Transition Design Institute at the Carnegie Mellon University. The Institute has developed a framework to work with what they call “wicked problems,” which are systems problems, that is, large, systemic problems that are not easy to solve from one angle. Instead, they require problem-solving approaches that are novel and holistic. We will follow their framework to identify the problems, the stakeholders and possible solutions for our own work.

Then we have scrutinized the logo of the Ecological Design Collective, which is a leaf. When we look at a leaf, what we see is largely the main veins, as the smaller ones remain at the background. However, the latter are vital to the life of the leaf. When the major connections are severed, it is these auxiliary veins that shoulder to provide connection and channel between the different parts of the leaf. This actually provides an example of how we can think with and use biomimicry, which we have read about for this week. In human systems, too, we can think of the functioning of the leaf and try to apply it to organizational structures. How might we create systems where there are these subsidiary channels that provide the vital function of support at all times, instead of having the whole system depend on one channel? The leaf gives us a direction.

As the conversation progressed, we started to talk some of the frustrations we have been feeling both at individual and collective levels. We recognized that while doing this work with SBCLT we found ourselves in a series of past relationships that we are still trying to disentangle and make sense of. Some of these relationships are fraught with power imbalances. As students engaging with the administration, we also deeply feel the hierarchy as we are being treated to be joining the conversation from the kids’ table. Hopkins has a bad record already with disadvantaged communities in Baltimore, and we are concerned that the school will treat community numbers even more hierarchical ways. At the meeting with the PLAN Chapter in Towson, Nicole Fabricant had raised the concern that even if Hopkins agrees to sign the pledge to support the compost facility, it may use this action to its own advantage. How can we then ensure both accountability on the part of Hopkins but also total community control over narrativity and continuity?

Our session concluded with a sketch of the web of relationships beautifully drawn by Raychel. This helped us identify which stakeholders are in this in the long haul, even after our class ends. The question of accountability and continuity will be at the forefront as we continue our work into the future.

In an acute observation of what happened in this class session, Elizabeth described the process as emergence. We were frustrated, talked about our frustrations, articulated the concerns in the form of a larger problematic and brainstormed solutions. None of this was planned by Eesha nor Anand. Things just happened as we made space to talk to each other honestly. We concluded that we may have to accept that institutions like Hopkins will always try to capitalize on community work, and that we may have to accept this fact. But what we can do is to try.

We finished the class outside on the lawn, enjoying the warm weather and each other’s company.