News >> Maasai communities co-design with Schumacher College

Maasai communities co-design with Schumacher College

Mona Nasseri co-designing with Maasai
Monday, 11 March, 2019

Ecological design thinking processes are being used to tackle problems arising from soil erosion which is disrupting the lives of Maasai people in Western Africa.

Dr Mona Nasseri from Schumacher College has been working with university colleagues in the UK and Africa to examine how to reduce the formation of dangerous gullies in the Monduli district of Northern Tanzania – some of which can be as deep as 30feet.

The gullies (seen below left) have become significantly deeper in the last two decades due to factors such as changing climate and soil quality, population growth, delayed annual rains and exceptionally heavy rains.   They present a serious hazard for the Maasai and their cattle.

Mona, who teaches on the MA Ecological Design Thinking programme, said it was a great illustration of how design process can tackle complex problems involving diverse groups of people.

“Designers are experts in bringing people and ideas together.  We understand the importance of connections – but equally we understand that generating ideas in isolation from stakeholders is only doomed to fail.”

Mona has been working with colleagues at Plymouth and Exeter Universities, the Nelson Mandela Africa Institute of Science and Technology (AIST) in Arusha as well as Maasai communities (pictured above) and the local council in Monduli.

She said cultural considerations had been the key to the success of the work.  For Maasai, cows are an important part of their identity and also part of their social status – more cows often are associated with a higher social status and they also use cows for trading rather than cash.  Yet the greater the number of cows in any area of the land, the greater the impact on the soil.  

As a result of hold ing workshops with everyone involved it became evident that the Maasai wanted better education around the subject as well as local laws to try and improve the situation.

Dr Nasseri added: “Part of our role was providing a space to have conversations. After the first workshop we could see that the needs of the stakeholders were different so it was about everyone involved having an awareness of that and coming up with the right solutions.  It was important they knew, despite their difference, they shared the same frustrationsand the same vision for the future.”

A workshop was held where everyone involved was given the chance to be a co-designer.  It involved developing an infographic tool to raise awareness about the causes of soil erosion by illustrating a visual narrative.

“It was important that each of the stakeholders used their way of story-telling and that they were able to create their own story,” added Mona.

First steps have been taken to co-design by laws which will now be evaluated and approved by the local council and then central government.
It is hoped there will be a good take up in the adoption and maintenance of the new laws as the communities affected have been instrumental in co-designing them.

“It was very nice to see how the role of ecological design is acknowledged and appreciated and I have since been approached to work on four other projects,” said Mona.  “But it also illustrated the importance of co-designing.  Millions of pounds goes on research but if there is no relationship with the people who are affected, there’s less likelihood of achieving sustainable results.”