Water, Sanitation and Hygiene are major issues that are plaguing the African continent including Ghana in recent times. For instance according to a report published on Oxfam International’s website, only 50 percent of the rural population in Ghana has access to water. Access to sanitation can be as low as 42 percent in urban areas and 11 percent rural areas. As a result, many effort are made towards finding a sustainable means of eradicating these challenges. I was fortunate to participate in the second Global Lab Science Cafe (The First was on AI led by Darlington Ahiale Akogo) under the theme, “Co-design; the secret to sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene innovations” on the 19th of January, 2019.
I was excited when I heard the title of the Science Cafe because I thought it was rather very fitting, considering the numerous water, sanitation and hygiene issues plaguing the country and the continent as a whole.The need for innovations in tackling these issues cannot be over emphasised.
The Global Lab Science Cafe attracted various stakeholders in this sector within the country. There were students, lecturers, water, sanitation and hygiene specialists of all sorts, people in government, agencies responsible for these critical sectors, tech savvies and social entrepreneurs.
The Global Lab Science Cafe
The event started with the introduction of the participants at the gathering. The audience, made up of people from diverse backgrounds, shared light on the interesting projects they were undertaking, the challenges they encountered and how they are overcoming these challenges.
The main session which discussed the topic of the Science Cafe was led by Jacob Amengor, a Water Quality Analyst. He started his discussion by defining what co-design was.
Co-design is an iterative process of designing innovative solution where the viewpoints and wishes of all stakeholders and especially the end users of the solution are factored into the development of the solution. -Jacob Amengor
He identified the following as the principles of co-design:
- Inclusion of all relevant stakeholders
- Respect for the viewpoint and wishes of all stakeholders especially end-users of the system
- Participation of all stakeholders
- Iteration of the process to cater for change
He also outlined the processes involved in using co-design to build an innovative solution;
- Identify a problem that is worth solving
- Find the relevant partners and stakeholder who care about your problem to deliberate on the problem and the kind of solution that will
work for them
- Research intensively on the problem and your proposed solution as well as its effect in the world
- Build the solution with users in mind
- Continually iterate and refine the process to accommodate changes in the sector.
The beauty about a Global Lab Science Cafe is it’s informal setting and interactive nature. As such audience participation also helped identify some of the challenges impeding co-design when developing innovative solutions in Africa;
- The absence of structural frameworks for rolling out innovative solutions on the continent. That includes both policy and infrastructure
- Cultural issues involving the use of innovative solutions
- A lack of resources to support people who want to undertake such innovative ventures
- A lack of proper education regarding the benefits, use and implications of innovative solution and co-design
- Inadequate enforcement of regulations related to this sector (Sanitation, Water and Hygiene)
- General apathy and self-centered tendencies with regards to the development of innovative solutions.
Of course, a discussion of this sort will be complete with the proposal of a few solutions. Alongside Jacob, the audience put forth a few options which were noteworthy:
- A need to emphasize and adopt co-design when building innovative solutions
- The need for more education on the benefits of undertaking and using of innovative solutions
- Full participation of all stakeholder in fighting to eradicate the major challenges facing the continent
- The call for the youth to actively participate in finding innovative solutions to Africa’s numerous challenges
- The need to encourage and incentivize people who are actively working to provide solutions to challenges
When it was all said and done, a free flowing networking session closed the program.
For my first time ever attending a Global Lab Science Cafe, I believe it was a successful and fruitful event. This mode of communicating science and community related matters positively impact our country. If more people take their message to the streets and cafes in this format, it will foster a community approach to informing on and solving the challenges facing the continent.