Linking Design Thinking and Social-Ecological Research in Mon State, Myanmar

Working with Point b Design + Training and the Marine Science Department at Mawlamyine University, I am (1) learning more about design thinking and human-centered research alongside graduate students and faculty in Point b’s “Human Centered Research Skills” course, and (2) collaborating with Marine Science faculty and a Point b intern on a pilot research project, “Fisher Experiences in the Market Chain in Daminseik Village,” for the final two weeks of the course.

Where the magic happens

Through collaborative planning, we have decided to use basic small-scale fisheries assessment methods (for which I will provide training and background) alongside “journey mapping,” a method taught in our course that is frequently employed in design thinking to elicit rich detail of user experiences, perspectives, and needs. Following the end of the course project, the Point b intern and I will continue using these methods to collect basic socioeconomic data on small-scale fisheries at another site (TBD) in the Gulf of Mottoma.

Brainstorming our research questions
Sharing our toolkit with fellow course participants to get feedback

This 2-month collaboration conveniently serves multiple purposes:

  •  Professional development: enhancing my understanding of Design Thinking. The potential of Design Thinking for improving fisheries management and conservation is exciting, and I believe that it will play an important role in my future research and career pursuits. So, this mini-experience in learning and melding some Design Thinking approaches with social-ecological research will be interesting!
  •  Connecting academic institutions and building capacity: SIO has an MOU with Point b to work to enhance the capacity for marine science at Mawlamyine University. The head of the marine science department, Dr. San Tha Tun, is eager for greater inclusion of social-ecological research – a forward-thinking mentality that I certainly appreciate! Our research team members are enthusiastic about learning social-ecological research skills, and I am thrilled to be working with them. Apart from a guest lecture I gave last year, this will be my first chance to solidify a relationship between SIO and the Point b/Mawlamyine University partnership.
  •  Contributing to wider research initiatives: IUCN and the Network Activities Group are collaborating on the Gulf of Mottoma project, which, among other objectives, seeks to fill substantial data gaps in coastal fisheries in the area. Socioeconomic research is among their priorities, and the data that we will be collecting will be shared with this initiative.
  • Facilitating future fisheries research and training: My aim is to train Point b’s intern to the point where he will be able to conduct research and interface with IUCN, NAG, and other groups after my departure in mid-December. This will allow him to function as Point b’s point-person for marine research and conservation initiatives, facilitating research capacity building at Mawlamyine University and linking that research to ongoing projects.
  • Snooping around for my next visit to Myanmar, where I’ll be focusing more on my interest in diverse approaches to enhancing stewardship…more on that later!
Documenting the catch. From a quick visit to local fishing communities last year.

I greatly admire the great work that Point b has been doing to train “change agents” in diverse sectors in the country, and it’s fantastic to finally be actively collaborating with them. And I am truly enjoying getting to learn and work with the students and faculty here – their enthusiasm for learning new skills is invigorating!

A big “thank you” to Dr. San Tha Tun and to research team members, Wint Hte, Daw Thiri Tun, and Daw Soe Taw, not only for their research efforts and expertise, but also for their support and work on research project logistics. A foreigner with limited Burmese language skills can certainly be inconvenient for logistics! Many thanks to Point b for suggesting this collaboration, identifying a brilliant intern to work with me, and their general support along the way.  Big thanks to Davey Kline at SIO for making the partnership between SIO and Point b happen, and for including me! And thanks to the University of Zurich for partnering with Point b to make this course happen.

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