'Algae Connects' Update

© Kheng Guan Toh - Fotolia.com

Although the TEDxBG (Bulgaria) organizers were interested in having Kamelia Mitevia present the 'Algae Connects' project, they ultimately decided against including the project.  Kamelia had focused on the systems aspects of the design as well as the process we had used.  The organizers appeared more interested whether the 'Algae Connector' component had been built and tested.  We also found out on March 5th that the project had not been selected as a finalist by the International Algae Competition jurors.  One of the competition organizers commented that our presentation was difficult to summarize on a single overview page for the website because of the unusual format and sequence.

In spite of these disappointments, team members were positive about the project.  Although the project was international, inter-disciplinary and virtual, the team was able to reach a consensus on key issues and deliver a coherent and compelling presentation.  Team members enjoyed collaborating and communicating ideas: they respected the input of others, the broad range of skills and expertise created synergy and members found it easy to build on the ideas of others. 

A schedule of regular bi-weekly and weekly conference calls maintained momentum.  Excellent attendance kept communications flowing and helped build consensus.  Having someone manage the overall project proved valuable although some parts of the project seemed to drag on without coming to a timely closure.  Team members felt that the effort expended was reasonable and consistent with the results achieved.

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Although inter-disciplinary collaboration is important for effective bio-inspired design, the time and effort required before the team can function effectively is often underestimated. It would have been beneficial to focus on team dynamics early in the project to build a better understanding of each team member's skills and interests, although this may have reduced the opportunity for individuals to explore new directions.

The wide-open nature of the competition and the lack of clear evaluation criteria made it difficult to settle on a design brief.  Team members had different ideas on what the final deliverables would look like, with some emphasizing the systems aspect and others specific product components.  Spending more time at the beginning to develop a detailed set of deliverables would have aided the team in working out any contradictions. 

The team lacked expertise relating to disaster relief in general and Haiti in specific.  We held off engaging experts until we had developed a comprehensive design brief and strategy, which occurred too late for outside expertise to be useful.  Lack of expertise may also have contributed to an emphasis in the competition entry on the design process rather than leading with the outcome.  In addition, we used biology and ecology to both develop our design and justify its value, an approach that assumes a degree of biological understanding on the part of the jurors.

It proved difficult to find information in the Algae Competition forums as volume grew.  The 'flat' structure of the forums kept entries in sequential order making it easy to identify new content but difficult to follow a particular discussion thread.   We discussed using Prezi as an online 'project wall' where the key points about the project can be recorded and visually organized.  Challenges to be overcome include concerns about yet another information store, the computer resources required by Prezi and lack of familiarity with the Prezi interface.  

In hindsight, our competition entry would have benefited from a stronger emphasis on the tangible impacts of our design.  Systems-level designs can be hard to communicate in a concise and compelling manner that grabs the attention of jurors and encourages them to read further.  Having access to expertise both in terms of the subject matter and the requirements of the competition would have helped build credibility. 

The International Algae Competition provided the team with an opportunity to work in an inter-disciplinary environment where each member could develop their skills at doing bio-inspired design.  Team members enjoyed the experience, want to work on other projects in the future and are looking for opportunities to present the 'Algae Connects' project. 

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