User Research for Social Innovation: Sustainable Aquaculture in rural India
Crossed Design conducted a 4-month-long exploratory study with the fish farming and aquaculture communities of Assam and Odisha. The project was executed as an initiative undertaken by GIZ, Germany, BMZ, and the Government of India (PMMSY) to promote Sustainable Aquaculture and livelihood among fish farming communities of India (states of Assam & Orissa).
In order to build an impactful communication strategy to promote sustainable aquaculture, we wanted to understand :
the current scenario of Aquaculture practices and its correlation to their Quality of Life
the fluency and transparency of communication of the fish farming community with the Aquaculture Service Providers (ASP) and the government, along with their familiarity with digital and non-digital communication channels
the awareness, accessibility and effectiveness of training and capacity building for the farmers in ‘Sustainable’ aquaculture
Even though the primary stakeholders (or beneficiaries) were the aquaculture farmers, it is safe to consider the diverse personalities and roles that people assume within the community. Before conducting the research, it was important to identify the right stakeholder and demographic. The following considerations were taken into account while selecting the right set of participants for the research:
Gender Dynamics- The role of gender can play a crucial role in the participation and responsibilities in aquaculture, if there are any, for that matter. The ideologies and social structures of Men and women in the community are subject to be comparatively different in terms of freedom of choice, societal obligations, or even interest.
Education- The way an individual perceives and makes conversation, regardless of an urban or rural area is based on the level of education the individual has received over the years.
Age- Along with education, the perceptual ability and openness to change are also dependent on the age of the individual as the flexibility of new accommodations and conditioning deteriorate as they grow older.
Membership in organized groups- Being a part of organized groups like FPO (Farmer Producer Organizations) and SHGs opens doors for multiple opportunities for training, access to resources, peer-to-peer guidance, etc… that is likely to help the livelihood and the occupation of the farmers. However, it does not rule out the fact that individual farmers can be successful and be satisfied with their lifestyle despite not being a part of the groups.
User Research Methods
In order to ‘empathize’ with the community and get the best out of our research, we decided to do an Ethnographic field study. To help us visualize the current scenario in real-time, in its natural environment, an extensive research Methodology and tools were designed and incorporated. (add images of methods and cards of the field study). Following are the few worth mentioning:
Observation- To gain firsthand information on the surroundings of the beneficiaries and interaction with the natural environment
Contextual inquiry- through conversations and discussions with the relevant stakeholders and beneficiaries about aquaculture practices and channels
Card sorting- interactive activities that would help us deep dive into their perceptions and PoVs regarding aquaculture and communication. These activities would also determine our scope in designing strategies and designs for the betterment of the community.
User Testing- to test ideas and concepts that may be feasible to implement as an effective communication strategy to bridge the communication gaps among the beneficiaries, organized groups, and the government.
Field Study stages
The field study was designed to minimize the level of disruption in the beneficiaries’ lives while maximizing the impact within the sociocultural factors of the community. The research was carried out in 2 phases which involved the exploration and evaluation of various concepts.
Phase I was all about the ‘knowing’ part of the research. We wanted to know the real-time situation of the community, their economic, and socio-cultural influences, mental models, perceptions etc… We visited multiple districts in different state districts over a period of 3-5 days of each state (Assam and Odisha) and held in-depth interviews with fish farmers, Group discussions with SHG, NGO and FPO, along with quick street intercepts with fish vendors and traders.
Phase II mostly emphasized on testing the ideated concepts and prototypes that were designed based on the insights on Phase I. Phase II was tested with participants similar to phase 1, however, adding new stakeholders like government officials and CRP (Community Resource Person) as new sets of participants. The testing phase focused on evaluating the effectiveness of multiple channels and ideas for communication for awareness, skill building and internal communication among the implementation partners like the NGOs, GIZ and the GoI. The research took place for a period of 10 days where we seeked insight on what works and what doesn’t, and more importantly, why.