Settled onto the cool concrete floor of the boathouse, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) students furiously took notes as the fishermen of Air Papan, Malaysia explained their work, their challenges, and their hopes for the future. There, between buoys and hammocks made of fishing net, with a view of the South China Sea, the UTM-GKI Southeast Asian Water Challenge began. With 44 students and 13 researchers, UTM and GKI traveled to Air Papan, Malaysia November 15-17, 2013 to get to know the community, explore challenges faced there, and identify areas of alignment and opportunities for collaboration and solution creation.
Before heading to Air Papan, GKI trained the researchers and students in methods for collaborative innovation research. Deploying those skills with coaching from GKI, students and researchers observed Air Papan and its resources, interviewed community members to understand their perspectives on challenges, and created integrated challenge maps to illustrate how various perspectives on challenges relate to one another. This inquiry revealed pressing water challenges in Air Papan. In the eyes of the community, solving water challenges in paddy fields, fishing, and tourism represent key paths to higher, more stable incomes for the 450+ residents of Air Papan.
With these priorities established, UTM researchers selected particular challenges within those domains for which they are best suited to collaborate and offer solutions. These include:
- How might we improve tourism promotion communication?
- How might we build a better fish hatchery?
- How might we utilize fertilizer?
- How might we build a rainwater harvesting system for the paddy fields?
These challenges represent points of alignment between the desires of the community and the capabilities of the researchers. To turn alignment into partnership, teams of researchers, students, and community members formed to pursue ongoing engagement and inquiry with the goal of drafting research proposals and solving challenges with further support through the UTM-GKI Southeast Asian Water Challenge.
Contributor: Courtney O’Brien