May 23, 2016

For this entry I've been working with my teammate Cierra to give her perspective as the teams researcher and design ethnographer. In the following post Cierra reflects uponher work as ethnographer and its impact on the project as whole. 

-Liam Maddox

As Riverpoint Academy’s Inventeam began more serious work on developing the technical side of the stove it became more evident that in order to have a product that Ugandans could and would use, deeper ethnographic work was necessary. I joined the team as the lead ethnographer. With absolutely no knowledge of Uganda, how cookstoves work, or what an ethnography even was I came onto this team unsure if I would be able to accomplish the task ahead of me. 

   During the previous summer, a contact with a woman running her own non profit organization in Uganda, Sylvia Namukasa was established. When I joined the team this fall I began by taking time to read through the four or five emails corresponded between her and students on our team. After this I made her aware that I was taking over work, and began asking her questions I had of my own. By her living there I was able to learn about Ugandan culture and tradition because it became an interactive experience. With the information gained I went and did online research to further understand the way of life explained to me. Concurrently I went about doing research on what an ethnography was and how to build one. This involved watching several videos, reading articles, and even looking at other ethnographic works. Learning about indoor air pollution was an eye opener for me for  I had no idea such a thing was going on in the world, especially at such an alarming rate. It was astonishing to look at stats of how many children and women are killed or diagnosed with life long health issues due to IAP(Indoor Air Pollution).  Sharing these facts with the team motivated us even more to develop the best product we could for the women and children of Uganda.

   I had a short correspondence with a man working with Carnegie Mellon, Michael Taylor. Through him I learned how lopsided the household workload between sexes in Uganda is. Little did I know, it would be the thesis of my entire ethnography. The process of writing has been difficult because I had no previous experience with this style and no one taught me how to write an ethnography. I was expected to take what I learned online and teach myself. Several drafts have been written and I will probably write a few more before the final product is completed. I am editing my current draft and planning on making my next one less about the actual facts of the situation and more about how the culture of Uganda is affected as awhole. I then plan on comparing it to similar situations on a global scale.

    From the ethnographic work done, changes to the design of the stove have already been made. The more found out about the way Ugandans cook traditional foods; the time in which cooking is done, what ingredients are used, if the food is eaten moist or dry, and the amount of food cooked per meal, the more the stove design needs to be adjusted to fit our users needs. Throughout this process the way in which I think about the problem has been changed. Before starting, I never really thought with a user centered (design thinking) mindset. As of now I can say not only have I adapted to writing my ethnography in this mindset, but in most of my other works as well. At this stage a constraint for the engineers/designers of the stove would be to try and keep the design as in line with traditional Ugandan culture as possible. Again, it is a big deal to them that their customs are not broken.

    Overall, I have learned a great deal more about Uganda and the way of life that goes on there. Although I still don’t have full knowledge, I feel like I know more now about thetechnical way that stoves operates. Ugandans are a group of people that live life in a whole nother way and I feel confident that we will be able to develop a product to help reduce indoor air pollution in this community.

-Cierra Dalzell