How might we map community engagement to reduce energy consumption?

By Jorge Morales Guerrero, PhD student in Sustainable Energy, and team member of re-Engineered.

One of the goals of re-Engineered is to learn from past experiences of individuals and communities to overcome the main challenges and injustices of our present. For example, in the practice I do in re- Engineered, I have been focusing on creating and implementing analytical tools to learn from hands-on projects. In this blog post I present one slice of the research work that I am conducting about the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP). The goal of this project is to learn and understand how communities and individuals organized to decrease their consumption of gas and electricity at municipal and residential scales.

Historically, experiences in competitions and prizes—like GUEP—have shown that these events can accelerate the development of new technologies and encourage participants to find innovative ways to solve specific problems. With these ideas in mind and under the direction of Dr. Karwat, we designed an empirical method of analysis that could show how communities—small to medium municipalities inside the US territory and with populations between 5,000 and 250,000 [i]—organized during GUEP to decrease their consumption of energy.

I like to think of this empirical research as a video game. For example, in Super Mario Bros., after you completed a ‘world’ or level, you would get a score of your performance, right? This score, I remember, described the number of coins you collected and the time it took you to finish the level; it may also include an aggregate final score.

We did something similar. We utilized qualitative methods to identify the stages of the process and the activities that were implemented across GUEP. With this structure in hand, we were able to quantify (in a 1-7 scale, see figure 1) how GUEP organizers and community leaders involved the public and the stakeholder groups that were part of these activities. The following graphs (figures 2-4) are examples of how we mapped the scores that we were able to identify through this method of analysis.

1-29-2019 jorge figure 1

Figure 1: Scales of participation

1-29-2019 jorge figure 2

Figure 2. Example of the participation scores one community. It maps how the community was engaged during GUEP activities

1-29-2019 jorge figure 3

Figure 3. Example of the partnership scores of one community. It maps the number of stakeholder groups involved during GUEP activities

Figure 2 and 3 present the activities that were developed during the prize, the averages (represented by x with the number on the right) and the scores (represented by circles) that a community obtained across this analysis.

1-29-2019 jorge figure 4Figure 4: An example of the final scores of one community

Figure 4 shows the final scores of one community. For example the average of partnerships is 3.3, so we can conclude that more than 3 stakeholder groups participated in the efforts of this community. Where as a 3.4 in participation shows the average on the type of participation through which the public was involved.

These graphs mapped a score in similar ways as some video games do. The difference is that here we mapped the number of partnerships and the forms of participation that were utilized in the activities and stages of the process in GUEP. We imagine this method as a mechanism to keep an eye on how community members and stakeholders are involved in energy and development projects.

We hope this research will illustrate an accurate picture of GUEP experience. We believe this effort could inspire community organizers and government staff to plan future practices that help us create a more just world. We are thankful for the amazing job that GUEP participants did during the competition; their experiences are the cornerstone of this work.

If you want to know more about this work, please contact me, Jorge Morales Guerrero, at jmoral31@asu.edu

[i] https://www.guep.org/docs/20171009_GUEP_Guidelines_v8.5.pdf

When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls: Thoughts on the Design

This is the fifth in a series of posts about generating public conversations about the social responsibility of engineers and engineering using the case of border walls as a starting point.  The first four you can find here , here, here and here.

This video shares our thoughts on how we came up with the design of the installation.

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to making this video possible.  Footage is by Isaac Easley, photos are by Tanya Harrison (of Mars!), and production is by Samantha Lloyd.  

 

When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls: Public reactions

This is the fourth in a series of posts about generating public conversations about the social responsibility of engineers and engineering using the case of border walls as a starting point.  The first three you can find here , here, and here.

This video shows some of the highlights of our conversations with experiencers at First Friday.

Thank you so much to everyone who contributed to making this video possible.  Footage is by Isaac Easley, photos are by Tanya Harrison (of Mars!), and production is by Samantha Lloyd.  

When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls: First Showing

This is the third in a series of posts about generating public conversations about the social responsibility of engineers and engineering using the case of border walls as a starting point.  The first two you can find here and here.

On April 6, 2018, for First Friday, we were given our first opportunity to publicly present When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls.  Arriving at our site on 2nd St. and Garfield in downtown Phoenix at 3 pm, we had a good three hours to situate and assemble the experience.  The weather was perfect, and while there were a few nerves about the wind picking up as the sun set, between the installation being well-designed and the winds dying a little later, we were in good shape for setup, which you can see below:

Big art events with lots of artists and vendors generally means quality attention to your work from a few and passing attention from most.  Add in alcohol as the night progresses, and all bets are off.  While we thought the design of the experience was spot on in our heads, we didn’t know how and whether people would engage with the substance of it all, namely that we were using the US-Mexico border wall as an entree into broader conversations about the roles and responsibilities of engineers and engineering in society.

We designed the experience to have three stations that met the design criteria mentioned in the last post:

  1. Station 1: When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls: The name of the entire experience, with 1) a quote on one side of the 12′ tall and 16′ wide wall canvas, highlighting how many engineers and companies see their role as providers of engineering services, regardless of social or political backlash; and on the other side of the wall, 2) the inside of an engineer’s notebook with sketches, thoughts, ideas, and the mundane as they work on designing and building a wall.  The wall itself, separating these two sides is meant to represent the wall that engineers build in their heads between the technical work they do, and the lack of consideration of the impacts of their work.
  2. Station 2: Museum of Walls: The Museum of Walls provides a quick but multi-perspective take on borders, border walls, and engineering, namely about 1) the history of the US-Mexico border; 2) border walls and barriers around the world; and 3) the technical specifications that engineers and companies bidding on the new border wall solicitations from US Customs and Border Patrol.
  3. Station 3: Wall of Thoughts: Public engagement was central to the design of the experience, and the Wall of Thoughts provided experiencers the opportunity to share their thoughts on engineering, social responsibility, and the border wall, provoked by two questions: 1) What is the role of engineers and engineering in society? and 2) What would you like to ask or say to an engineer or company working on the US-Mexico border wall?

What was so wonderful was that over the entire five hours the installation was up, people slowed down, stopped, read, and themselves engaged in the exact conversations we wanted them to, conversations we overheard, captured on the Wall of Thoughts, and recorded as interviews, as the pictures below show.

In the next couple posts, we’ll talk more about our experiences and takeaways from the experience.

[Thanks, as will be given in every post related to this project:

Cade, Migle, Aliya, and Jorge did a tremendous job with everything from design to execution.  Special recognition goes to the ASU facilities team, which includes Chris Wilkes and Matt Lavery, for their grace and technical support, my sister Niyati for helping design the decals, and my friend Chris for helping paint the wall.  The School for the Future of Innovation in Society events staff played a huge logistical role, and The Design School helped, too.  Funding for the project was provided by the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and The Polytechnic School.

Most importantly, we would be remiss to not acknowledge the deep gratitude we all have for Cade’s father, Mr. Lortie, whose experience in construction and resources made the whole thing possible, from design, to logistics, to building, assembly, and disassembly.]  

 

When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls: The design

This is the second in a series of posts about generating public conversations about the social responsibility of engineers and engineering using the case of border walls as a starting point.  The first one you can find here.

If engineering–the actual process of it, the nitty gritty, day-to-day decision-making, design, and analysis–happens out of the public eye, how do we get people thinking about the role of the profession and its social responsibility in society?  How do we get the public to understand how engineers create mental walls in their head to separate the technical work they do from broader social, political, and ecological considerations?  Can we use a current engineering issue–the US-Mexico border wall–as a way to get people to think about engineering in society?  How do we give people a sense of scale of being at the foot of a border wall?  What does that make them feel?  We designed When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls, a public art/engineering experience to do all of these things, and we’re so pleased to say it was a huge success in its first appearance last Friday, April 6, in Downtown Phoenix.  We’re still parsing through our thoughts from April 6, so for now, we’d like to share how we designed the whole experience.

The design

To convey complexity and history, to convey scale, and to be completely modular were our three design criteria for the installation/experience:

  1. Complexity and history: We wanted to convey several messages at once: that engineering is driven by business opportunities; that even for politically charged objects, the turn of the engineering design crank can be routine and almost mundane, and that the US is not the only nation in the world that is building or has built border barriers and walls—they are quite common.
  2. Scale: Whatever we designed had to convey to experiencers a sense of how big, tall, sturdy, and imposing border walls can be and are.  Our design had to be big, imposing, and look like an actual border wall.  We wanted people to look up, like you do when looking at a tall building or at a rocket on its way into space.
  3. Modularity: We wanted to be able to quickly assemble and disassemble the whole thing given time constraints, and to be able to easily store it for future use.

Considering public safety—as engineers are drilled to do—and the fact that we didn’t have the ability to lay a foundation limited the height of the wall to 12 feet.  Twelve feet is still pretty tall, and standing at the base of a 12-foot wall certainly makes your neck turn up if you’re reading something at the top.  Not having a foundation also meant that the structure needed to be designed to be self-standing and stabilizing—a Z-shape where the angles are 90 degrees would do the trick.

Limiting the height and designing a self-standing and self-stabilizing structure helped me (and the rest of the team) sleep at night knowing it would be sturdy, and could withstand a steady wind.  Using standard construction techniques, we built the whole thing using 2 x 4s, 4 x 4s, steel studs, Masonite, and a lot of self-tapping screws.  Painted using a light gray, then covered in perfectly cut decals made by FASTSIGNS in Tempe, followed by coats of clear spray paint, the wall ended up symbolizing the wall engineers build in their heads to separate their technical thoughts from their political, social, and ecological ones.  The sturdiness of the design also allowed people to touch the wall and put sticky notes with their thoughts on it.

Screws and screw guns (video/credit Darshan)

First assembly (video/credit Migle)

Priming (video/credit Migle)

Sticking and peeling (video/credit Migle)

We also designed a little Museum of Walls that discussed the history of the US-Mexico border, the barriers and walls that exist between the US and Mexico, and technical details on the new border wall prototypes.  With everything written in both English and Spanish, along with the consideration of visually-impaired, we felt confident that most people coming to experience the installation would be able to take in its full intent.

The Museum of Walls (credit Tanya Harrison)

DSCF5062 (1)

That’s it for now.  Next time, details on the assembly and the actual First Friday experience.

 

[Thanks, as will be given in every post related to this project:

Cade, Migle, Aliya, and Jorge did a tremendous job with everything from design to execution.  Special recognition goes to the ASU facilities team, which includes Chris Wilkes and Matt Lavery, for their grace and technical support, my sister Niyati for helping design the decals, and my friend Chris for helping paint the wall.  The School for the Future of Innovation in Society events staff played a huge logistical role, and The Design School helped, too.  Funding for the project was provided by the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and The Polytechnic School.

Most importantly, we would be remiss to not acknowledge the deep gratitude we all have for Cade’s father, Mr. Lortie, whose experience in construction and resources made the whole thing possible, from design, to logistics, to building, assembly, and disassembly.]  

Starting up: Our first public project | engineering and border walls

When I wrote Activist Engineering: Changing Engineering Practice by Deploying Praxis, I didn’t know when I’d have the opportunity to start experimenting with the ideas expressed in it in practice.  I was thoroughly enthralled by the prospect of spending more than a few years in Washington, DC, and working with passionate people to push the federal government to be the force for the public good it can be.  My experiences at the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy put me in touch with people deeply committed to protecting the environment and serving the public good.  But my search for something long-term put me in touch with the amazing Dan Sarewitz, who led me—unexpectedly—to Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society and The Polytechnic School.  I never thought I’d live in Arizona.  I didn’t expect to be an academic, at least right now.

A little over one year on in the Sonoran Desert, and I count my blessings.  The ideas in Activist Engineering have been in some part of my head for years, and now I’ve been given the opportunity to scatter many project seeds in the hope that some bloom into working examples of those ideas.  Some of the questions going through my head are: Why, in the richest country in the world, is there endemic poverty, and how might addressing issues of energy and climate change be tied to it?  Can we take a systems approach to addressing environmental, energy, and climate justice?  How can we create a movement of scientists and engineers that works on issues of justice?  How can we provide graduating engineers with good-paying job opportunities in peace, social justice, and environmental protection?  If we had the opportunity to redesign the US Environmental Protection Agency, what would we actually do?  What might it look like if there were advanced projects in peace as opposed to defense?  How can we accelerate community-based engineering work in addressing climate change?  And, fundamentally (inspired by Science for the People), Why are we engineers?  For whom do we work?  What is the full measure of our moral and social responsibility?

In the newly-formed lab re-Engineered, these questions are at the heart of imagining and creating an engineering profession that centers ideas of peace, social justice, and ecological holism.  To answer the questions above in their fully complexity, and to ask better questions moving forward, will take the talents of many different kinds of people.  That’s why no one in re-Engineered is like anyone else in the group.  This blog will document our thoughts, processes, findings, suggestions, successes, and failures as we build re-Engineered.

I’m excited to let you know about our first public conversation, spun off of this essay on engineering and new US-Mexico border walls, which is called When Mental Walls Lead to Physical Walls.  Up for First Friday in Downtown Phoenix (@ 2nd St. and Garfield) on April 6, between 6-11 pm, the installation is designed to \bring to the surface of people’s minds the simple fact that the built world they live in and the technologies woven into our social fabric don’t magically appear, but are instead the outcomes of focused thought, design, politics, and resources (like money and materials), all of which find a home in the process of engineering.  Here is a little blurb about it:

Engineers have helped design and build the world you live in.  Engineers and engineering are behind your phone, your home, and your ability to navigate life.  Using the current debate around border walls between the US and Mexico, this interactive public art installation intends to create a conversation highlighting the role of engineers and companies in building objects and structures that have significant long-term social, political, economic, and environmental implications.  It asks the public to consider important questions like, What is the social responsibility of engineers in society?  And, Who do and who should engineers work for?  Come, experience, and share your thoughts.

We’re expecting thousands of people to see the installation (an unfinished version of which is below), think about what it signifies, and talk to others about it.  Pictures and reflections from First Friday to come in the next post.

DSC_2881

~darshan