This week I worked on instruction manuals for the design projects created last fall in the Engineers Making a Difference course. Each team had written out instructions and diagrams for their projects, and included in their reports so notes about trouble-shooting during the assembly of the prototype they built. The notes were especially helpful, because they gave a look into the longevity of the product they had created. A project that is well thought out lasts longer, at therefore helps the community organization by eliminating excessive upkeep of the product. For a service learning project, keep in mind this 4 things:
1. Does the project correctly identify the community/community organization’s need? Don’t make a product that has really neat features, but does nothing address the needs of the organization or provide an example or useful service to the community. Engineers have the ability to create amazing things, but creating the next iPhone is not equivalent to redesigning a water catchment system or a creating software to help community members learn a new language. In many cases, the community will need some time to learn to use the most basic features of the product, and that is to be expected. When designing, know that less is more. You want to make your design work for the people you are serving.
2. An important part of whether the community organization will implement your product will be size. Bigger is not always better for community organizations, and that is why it is important to really get to know the organization and ask questions about where your product is to be placed, if the community organization is to implement it. Perhaps your community organization is located in a small piece of land in the neighborhood, or maybe even in rented office space in a downtown area. The location of the organization dictates most of the project choices, but so does the size of these areas. It is important to make your project compatible within the boundaries of what the organization already has, and for the project to be efficient enough to make the best use of the space allotted for your project.
3. Maintainace: this is for design projects that require care (cleaning, replacing batteries, etc) after being installed in an area or being put to use for an extended amount of time. With Growing Hope, this meant projects that would be exposed to the elements for full seasons or spend years outside if possible. A project that enables the organization to function as normal with minimal maintenance would allow the project to be functional without a being a large liability on the organization’s part. Keeping in communication with the community organization during the design process can help to get immediate feedback on how involved the organization is going to be with your product once it is installed. Chances are, if the product will belong outside, it will need to be designed so that the weather doesn’t destroy it or cause it to rot/stink/etc.
4. Installation time frame: How long do you plan for the construction and implementation of your design to take? Does this correlate to your community partner’s idea of how long the process should take? When writing the instructions to your design, carefully consider which steps could be eliminated or replaced by using another part or tool that can do the same job in a shorter amount of time. This can be usually observed when creating the prototype of the design. The objective is to make the the project straight forward and as easy as possible to construct and replicate.
Community organizations don’t have as much time to do extra work, but if the project is simple to put together and use, the organization is more inclined to actually implement your design.