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How can we use human centered design thinking to create energy security and bridge community between Rwandan farmers?



In the decades following the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the country has made significant gains towards reconciliation and rebuilding. The country is eager to continue making progress through innovative and progressive solutions.

Critical to these solutions will be the progress of rural communities. These individuals are more financially insecure than their urban counterparts, more likely to be illiterate, more food insecure, and more at risk of disease and gender disparities.

Examining the people of rural communities, it is reported that agriculture workers make up 85% of the Rwandan workforce and are key to supporting the countries tea and coffee industries. Here, a lack of affordable energy options prompt many to collect wood. This can put users at risk for respiratory illness and harvesting of local wood has resulted in rapid deforestation.

One possible alternative is biogas energy. The benefits of biogas include increased energy security, environmental protection, and cultural development. Biogas in Rwanda, began in the mid 20th century, and has developed into an important industry. Many factors still exist limiting its universal adoption. In rural communities, factors such as lack of technical expertise and public knowledge, and financial limitations have limited growth. The government is looking increase its use and develop systems to work around present barriers.

In this proposal, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers from the School of Industrial Design and College of Engineering will use design thinking and human centered design methodology to develop a community biogas system for Rwandan farming communities. This will be done with the support of the Rwandan Government and rural community leaders.

Once completed, project deliverables will include a biogas digester prototype, implementation system, visual symbol technical operations manual, and strategies for the countrywide education and proliferation of biogas technology.

What actions do you propose?

Adoption of the system will include the use of a community biogas system within rural farming communities. A significant driver of this will come from the evolution of behavioral norms and a significant reliance on education. With current systems, many residents are simply not aware that biogas is an affordable option. When it is an option, a lack of technical expertise renders the systems useless when they inevitable break down. The provided solution would use a mixture of education, training, and community engagement to make the system a reality. This proposal would also make the users the driver of design decisions. Their needs and criteria would be at the center the project and researchers hope to make them actively involved in the process.

Who will take these actions?

  1. Farmers in Kayonza District of Rwanda: Primary users and would provide ethnographic insights, and commentary on ideation and design decisions
  2. Mr. Kayonza Murenzi Jean-Claude Kayonza: Mayor of Kayonza District, advisory capacity and cultural insights
  3. Rugamba Egide: Director General of Planning  Ministry of Local Government, advisory capacity for implementation and planning considerations
  4. Theonest Higaniro: Director of Projects and Implementation Rwanda Energy Group  Eng, engineering advisement and techical expertise.
  5. The Ministry of Infrastructure Energy Department: advisory capacity for implementation and energy policy considerations
  6. Georgia Tech College of Design and Georgia Tech College of Engineering: academic and project management support

Where will these actions be taken?

Primary and ethnographic research will occur in the Kayonza District of Rwanda. Project management and execution will occur on the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta, Georgia.

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

The amount of emissions reduced will depend significantly on the scale of use. On a industrial farming level, systems have the potential to offset tens of thousands of tons of methane gas. On a household scale, this number will be much smaller.

What are other key benefits?

It is hoped that this solution will not only create energy independence and environmental sustainability, but that it will also help promote community building. Be creating a community level energy system, researchers hope to see how a human centered design solution can promote community unity and aid in reconciliation efforts. Other social benefits could include economic advancement, and increased gender equity due to the large number of women in farming roles. Finally, this work will create a model for design thinking into a global development context. The field of development and policy could benefit tremendously from design methodology and tools.

What are the proposal’s costs?

A negative side effect could include the technical costs necessary to manufacture and construct the system. The solution will aim to incorporate sustainable materials with a low technical expertise. If the cost of implementation is too high, it may not be affordable for its intended users.

Time line

In the immediate researchers will look at adoption of the system in the proposed district. Upon success, short term actions could include adoption in other districts as well as a cultural comparison of adoption in western nations. Medium term actions could include expansion to other African and Western nations. In addition, actions could include rigorous testing and evaluation efforts. Long term actions could include further scaling of the design system based of of lessons learned from testing and evaluation.

Related proposals


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