The Cloud x British Council
The term that has become more and more popular in the creative industry is ‘Hackathon’. Some of you may have never heard of it, we would like to tell you about it.
A hackathon is where people come together to solve problems in a short time or within 24 hours, same as brainstorming for creators. The ideas are presented to the judges and the winner will receive seed funding to develop the project.
The latest hackathon is “Social Innovation Hackathon 2020” led by the British Council who supports Thailand’s crafts and creative cities. This time, creative hubs are encouraged to think outside the box and bravely execute their ideas.
We would like to unveil this event through the conversation with Jay-Dr. Patcharawee Tunprawat, head of Arts and Creative Industries at the British Council, and Julian Huang, co-founder and representative of the winning team, Weave Artisan Society from Chiang Mai. Come join us as we discuss ideas to solve community problems and improve the quality of life through Hackathon.
The hackathon was organized in collaboration with the British Council as a part of research to discover and empower creative hubs in Thailand. After the gathering, the center of creativity should be established as a space for people who come together to solve a particular problem, rather than just a co-working space in the general sense. Finally, we have creative hubs house in one creative space to complete the social innovation hackathon and help the community in need.
“Normally, the hackathons overseas are usually two-day events, but for the British Council, it took us months because we provide time for the participating hubs to get to know the area, learn about the problem, and figure out what they are going to do with it.
“Each hub came with ideas and discussed them with mentors. The real hackathon is when they get to work in the area for three more days before entering the pitch process or propose a project to the judges. The main idea of a hackathon is that we brainstorm to solve the problem” Head of British Council’s Arts and Creative Industries Department said.
“What we’re doing in this project called ‘Creative Space Making’, a social innovation hackathon to create liveable spaces.”
And it led to this social innovation hackathon. Each team has to study and join forces to solve problems for the Nang Loeng community.
Creative Nang Loeng
At this point, readers may be curious, just like us,
Why Nang Loeng? Why it has to be the old community that is famous for its delicious street food market?
She told us “To start, Nang Loeng is known as Bangkok’s oldest community. It is a culturally diverse area fused with the city’s efforts to redevelop. It has also been an important cultural district since ancient times.
“If you walk around Nang Loeng district, you’ll see some old buildings and the trace of an old business district because there are a wood factory and a printing house. Longtime residents are sellers. This area is very diverse and interesting. “
Changes come with times and problems arise. This is where creative hubs can offer some help through brainstorming.
“Another reason is that we have previously worked with the FREC or the Ford Resource and Engagement Center and we also work with the Urban Studies Labs, the urban studies research institute whose team includes academics, architects and activists with the same interest in urban development. Both organizations work with the community and are located in Nang Loeng district so we thought we should start the project in Nang Loeng. “
Before taking further action to improve the community, one should understand the area and its problems to offer the proper solution.
“We met with partners, FREC and USL, who have worked in the area for a long time. They found out that the main issue is elderly people live here but younger generations left Nang Loeng to work elsewhere. Consequently, the next issue is that the number of immigrants in the area is increasing. Environmental concerns are traffic jams and the amount of garbage. Cultures and the traditional community began to disappear”
Since there are various issues in the area, after discussions with the community, fieldwork, and reading researches, each hub has to identify what caught their attention.
“The issues identified by each hub will vary based on their interests. Some hubs focused on environmental and waste issues. A group took cultures as the main focus. Some people looked at the business and come up with how to make local businesses grow. We are open to all of their ideas.”
Social Innovation Hackathon
Four creative hubs joined the event: Team 1 Weave Artisan Society from Chiang Mai, Team 2 Factopia from Nonthaburi, Team 3 Prayoon for Art, and Team 4 E-Loeng from Bangkok. They formed a network of young creative minds who want to give the area a new spark.
How did they work? Jay told us the process.
“We wanted to start in February but because of the COVID-19, we had to postpone to November. But we started the fieldwork early. After visiting the area for about two weeks, each team had to come up with the idea and propose, then adjust it during our three-day hackathon. Mentors are hubs from the UK and there are Thai mentors as well.”
“In the final step of the project presentation, a total of five judges were invited: director of the British Council, director of FREC, representative of the Center for Creative Economy Promotion and Development, representative of the community, and lecturers with expertise in the fields of architecture and urban planning.”
Evaluation criteria consist of creativity, possibility, the potential for becoming a business model, and environmental sustainability.
“The steps that each team had developed for each project are great. They meet all the needs of the community. For example, E- Loeng’s project is to introduce urban farming, to grow vegetables in one of Nang Loeng’s wasteland, and provide a co-working space for people in the community. They focused on food security problems as residents do not have areas to grow produce. Also, there is zero activity area.
“Factopia team looked at the business aspect of it. People visit Nang Loeng district but have no knowledge of it. They proposed the idea to improve the whole system, create a website to show opening and closing hours, and start the local currency to be spent and circulated in the community.”
“And Prayoon for art, they are interested in cultural and intangible aspects of it. They saw that Nang Loeng district has more stories to tell. So they proposed the idea of a virtual reality game. When you visit the area, the character will virtually pop up to tell the story. It encourages people to come to the area and learn about Nang Loeng district.
And the winning team, Weave Artisan Society, focused on the environment. “Weave is different. They may not look at the bigger picture like other teams but they focused on plastic bags. When we went out to eat, we saw that sellers will give a plastic bag to you even if you buy just one small thing. “
Julian from Weave Artisan Society nodded and told us that he found the inspiration for his project that day, the day he went to eat and received a plastic bag.
Weave Artisan Society
But before we get to learn what this creative team delivered and won. We want to get to know them first.
Weave Artisan Society is a creative hub from Wua Lai, Chiang Mai. They work with the community. As a representative of the team, Julian told us how they work.
“We do various things. We take care of both the design and research. We see how one lives as our design focus too. We have a design studio that collaborates with local designers and craftsmen. We design projects from small city-level ones to much larger ones.”
“And by linking these projects, artisans in Chiang Mai are brought together. Weave would not be able to survive without the partnership with the community. The community, in our sense, is not just people around you, but people in the city. “
“We are interested in participating in this project because we saw the possibility to do a project in Bangkok and when we researched the community of Nang Loeng. We saw the similarity between the social context of Nang Loeng in Bangkok and which of Wua Lai in Chiang Mai. We were wondering if Wua Lai will has a similar result to that of Bangkok. “
From a designer’s perspective, like Wua Lai, Nang Loeng community is a historical community. It is the community that has been woven meticulously. It was the origin of a special gem and similar to Lanna, it was changed through time.
“I joined the hackathon and it was a lot of fun. Normally, workshops focus mainly on design but the hackathon focused more on the implementation, how to make it work. In the end, it should be helpful for the community. It’s a new experience for me and Weave.
“We aren’t from Bangkok. We aren’t from Nang Loeng district. We think as the outsider and I think it made Weave special and interesting. If we are Bangkokians or the residents of Nang Loeng, we may not have thought of doing this. When we went to Nang Loeng district, we have nothing, no idea, we are open to everything because everything is an opportunity and there is always a possibility.
“After joining the event, I think the beauty of the hackathon is the opportunity to talk. After we talked to the community, we learned that they have the plastic waste problem. We don’t have the complete structure to collect and handle plastic waste. We therefore see an opportunity to turn waste into valuable resources. “
But it is not easy. The first problem they encountered is how to make people in the community partner with them and collect plastic bags for them.
“Finally, we found two methods: First, we will create the 1×1 meter recycling stations that will be placed around the market. Residents and visitors help us separate the waste into different bins. The second method is a little more challenging. We will hold a workshop and teach them how to do the waste sorting and build larger recycling stations for the community. They can sell us waste. It will motivate them to separate and bring us the waste. Not so long, the community will see that plastic bags are valuable. We will then hold another workshop to teach them how to upcycle plastic bags and turn them into other materials, for example, an awning fabric.”
Plastic bags can be upcycled easily and turned into an awning fabric for versatile uses. We only need an iron.
“Just grab a plastic bag and iron it. We talk in our team that we want something the community can do. Regardless of the design, it must be easy. It can’t be complicated or difficult. We can’t hold their attention if we have too many techniques. Just stack three or four layers of plastic bags and iron them, that’s it.”
“The idea of ironing plastic bags came from our collaboration with Baopae (Yihen Wang) from Design Local Studio. He works with Precious Plastic. We once used plastic to build a music festival’s pavilion in Singapore. We have the knowledge of plastics in hand. However, this time we use a different method and we require community cooperation since our purpose is to give the knowledge that will benefit and create a widely positive impact in the community.”
Julian thinks that it’s time to do the project like this. The community can change in one way or another. If we wait for a few years, the community may change and he will find himself lose the opportunity and potentiality to work with it.
As someone who has a closer relationship with the community, Jay told us that “the community wants a project that benefits the area. Sometimes people come to do the research and go. They took from Nang Loeng district but never give anything back. The community feels that if we want to come and do something, they hope it will benefit them. The community itself is stronger as we see the importance of why Nang Loeng community has to be preserved.”
Starting with the idea of wanting to solve the environmental problem or the waste problem in Nang Loeng community, the Weave Artisan Society team developed a practical way to make use of the waste, improve the area, and generate income for the community.
“This project checks every box, environment, sustainability, possibility, and potential business plan, to upcycle the plastic waste and transform it into waterproof awning fabric. It’s chic because we can add the design and it’s sustainable in the sense that the community can do it by themselves. Also, it’s useful as awnings for houses and the market.”
“and we can make the area more interesting by allowing people to come and using the material to create shade and create a space for the children. It can also generate income or even become a career for residents.” Jay told us.
After winning, Weave’s next task is to start helping the community within the next month. It will take another 6 months with a total investment of 600,000 baht to bring the idea into reality.
Although the hackathon to help Nang Loeng community is just a start, it is an important step towards the development of communities in Thailand. Not only useful for people and their community, but the project also shows the creative support to thinkers and designers in our country. It is such a great beginning of the road to creative city that has equally creative citizen.