The intensive workshop 14-16/04/2021

Our project is reaching an intensive phase that requires active participation from both our team from Aalto University and the Bhutan team from Jigme Namgyel Engineering College (JNEC). For this reason, an intensive three-day online workshop was organized from 14/04/2021 to 16/04/2021. The workshop was aiming to facilitate the collaboration between the teams and enhance our bonds by exchanging cultural values and having discussion on landslide topics and the project’s outputs. Due to the pandemic situation, we cannot go directly to Bhutan, therefore, the workshop was fully held online via Zoom.

We had planned the workshop since the early phase of the project, however, due to some delays in deciding the schedule, problems regarding communication and limitations from remote working environments, the workshop can only be organized in the middle of April. The time spent for the workshop per day was only 2 hours which was quite compact and hectic, hence, a timetable should be clearly planned. 

Before the workshop, our team had several meetings to discuss the workshop’s agenda and initiated a warming-up game to get to know each other better called “Take a Picture”. The game began a series of cultural exchanges in the form of pictures taken of our everyday lives. The idea was to take a snapshot of specific themes with a brief explaining text and send it to the WhatsApp chat. Our team proposed a different theme for each day until the beginning of the workshop, e.g. the view from your window, an object that tells something of who you are, your favourite colour, etc. The game received active participation from both our team and the Bhutanese students with many beautiful pictures and especially, a lot of fun, which helped us to be ready for the start of the intensive workshop.

Workshop day 1: Introductions and Breaking the Ice

The first day acted as a refresher to activate our minds and connect the thoughts. The main theme for the workshop was to break the ice between the teams, by giving an opening activity called Things in Common competition. After that, we provided a presentation in half an hour to introduce about the Life and Studies in Aalto and in Finland for the Bhutanese students to get to know more about the Finnish culture. Then, the working progress of each team was presented, followed by a workshop opening presentation by the roving ambassador for South Asia, Harri Kämäräinen. In this presentation, Mr. Kämäräinen had emphasized on the relationship and interaction between students of Finland and Bhutan. From his perspective, there are many dimensions in our life that we can learn from each other. Bhutan is being known for its uniqueness and by exchanging ideas, we will understand more about different customs. Under the current climate change situation, by dealing with it together, it is possible to narrow down the distance between the countries.

Workshop day 2: Activities prepared by JNEC Students and initiating the discussions about the project outputs

Most of the time on day 2 was hosted by the JNEC team. The Bhutanese students had helped us to organize some activities to introduce about their culture, as well as to elaborate their working process regarding the landslide susceptibility analysis. The day started with a boedra welcome dance shown by the Bhutanese team, along with the zhungdra and rigsar songs. Many Bhutanese traditional dances are meant for good luck and happiness. After that, their mid-review presentation was provided, clarifying the causative factors for the landslide analysis: Road, Land use and Land cover, Settlements, Soil and Slope. Some other Bhutanese cultural aspects were also introduced, for example, their traditional dress and food recipe. JNEC’s session closed with a Dzongkha language learning activity, which brought us a lot of fun and laughing together. At the end of day 2, we initiated the discussions about the information package, which is preliminary called “The Handbook of Landslides”, to let us brainstorm and prepare for the main discussion on day 3.

Workshop day 3: Discussions about Landslides and “The Handbook of Landslide”

Day 3 focused on our actual working topic – Landslides. To bring back the feeling of calmness and joy after two intensive days, we began day 3 with a short meditation session. This activity helped us to relax our bodies and our minds, in order to be more productive for this last workshop day. Then, we were glad to again have Philipp Schmidt-Thomé from The Geological Survey of Finland with his presentation on landslide risk assessment from a stakeholder communication point of view. He pointed out that we should clarify our project objectives and outputs by defining the values of the project, considering the gap in the knowledge of landslides within the local community. The following activity was a highly active discussion on the information package as an output of our project. We came up with the final decision, that the package will be produced in a form of a handbook, including general information on landslides with infographics and the landslide susceptibility map made by the Bhutanese team as a core. The proposed contents for the handbook include, e.g., the causes of landslides, how landslides affect people’s life, solutions for preventing, signs of landslides, human activities that increase the risk of landslides and contact information under emergency.

We were happy that the workshop had been organized well under the compact timetable, even though we still faced some technical issues when working remotely. After the workshop, we continued discussing with the Bhutanese team via our WhatsApp channel. The finalizing phase of the project is approaching; therefore, our team is working hard on completing our media release, final report and especially “The Handbook of Landslide”.

Meetings with experts

 

A fundamental part of our project was to meet and interview experts who hold special expertise on themes related to our project. We had thought of a list of topics to discuss beforehand and although this preparation was somewhat helpful, we were a bit unprepared how significantly the meetings can alter our perspective towards the project.

A good moment in our project for the expert meetings was when we had gained some insight on the situation with landslides in Bhutan but still needed a push to crystallize our ideas and really reflect what is actually possible with our project. Hence the meetings served as an activator for developing our project into new directions and motivated us to challenge the overall sustainability of our project.

Because of the pandemic all meetings were conveniently arranged in Zoom and were held in March-April of 2021.

Meeting with a landslide expert

The first meeting was with Philipp Schmidt-Thomé, who is an International Operations Director of the Geological Survey of Finland (GTK) and also an expert in landslides. His background is in environmental geology, natural hazards, climate change adaptation and land-use planning – and in his own words: mainly in communication.

Because of Mr. Schmidt-Thomé’s wide experience on working both with landslides and international projects, he right from the start got a clear overall picture of our project and could start to lead the conversation. We had a long conversation with him about landslides and how to raise awareness on the hazard within the local communities.

He easily saw the weaknesses in our work but luckily enough – also the strengths. Our project is very important, we just have very limited resources especially with these special pandemic circumstances. Hence, we needed to carefully evaluate what is feasible. His opinion was for us to still proceed with the GIS (if we want to) but in addition to that turn the focus more on the leaflet – or the handbook – as we now call it.

After the meeting we were a bit confused but in a very positive way; Before the meeting our project was revolving around GIS, now we could also see the educational side in it more clearly.

 

 

Meeting experts on Bhutanese culture and society

Second meeting was with the staff from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. We were honored to meet the roving ambassador for South Asia Harri Kämäräinen, an assistant to the ambassador Annikki Hakala and Liisa Folkersma, a Desk officer at the Unit for South Asia.

Both Mr. Kämäräinen and Mrs. Hakala have visited Bhutan and shared some of their professional knowledge on Bhutanese community and their perspective on the situation with landslides. All of the experts were very excited on our project and were happy to see students from Bhutan and Finland working together in a project promoting for sustainability and raising awareness on climate change.

Mr. Kämäräinen recognized a lot of potential in our project and he also thought that the handbook comes in just a right time as there is a need to build resilience towards landslides in Bhutan within the local communities. He had also quite an ambitious vision to develop our project furthermore and engage more organizations to the project such as Red Cross and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

With this meeting we gained a lot of insight of the Bhutanese people and communities but also the connection these two countries have tied together.

After the meetings

Both Mr. Schmidt-Thomé and Mr. Kämäräinen visited our intensive three-day workshop with the Bhutanese students and were happy to share their wide expertise and know-how with the whole team in a brief lecture.

Work with the handbook continues. In the coming weeks we might still need to engage one expert to our project to support the design of the handbook as infographics and simple yet educational visual material is planned to be published in the handbook.

Our recipe for functioning online project and group work

Hello everyone!

Project work fully online can be challenging – especially when you have never visited the case location and it is located on the other side of the world. Thus, it is important to find functioning online working tools and methods, and also think about how to stay motivated and interested in the project. In case you are wondering how we work on our project online, I will explain here in more detail what kind of tools we are using. Of course, there are many other (similar and different) tools available, but these are the ones that we used and found useful in our project.

Online group meetings in Zoom: One of the most important things in our project work is to be able to discuss together as a group, meet our mentor, teachers, and partners, as well as some experts who can provide us vital information and new ideas for the project. For that we use Zoom, as meeting in person can be difficult – or in the case of the interaction with our Bhutanese partners – even impossible nowadays. Thus, online meetings are our main tool for discussing, planning the project, agreeing on tasks, and sharing ideas. As online interaction is not as natural as discussing in person, most important things to remember in online meetings are to keep your camera on (No one likes talking to black boxes!) and assign time also for just chatting with each other as it helps you to get to know each other better, breaks the ice, makes the atmosphere more relaxed and open, and lowers the threshold to talk in general.

Brainstorming together in Miro: During the meetings we have found it useful to brainstorm together using Miro. Even though we cannot sit together around a table and use real Post-It notes for brainstorming, Miro enables doing it online, as well as creating all kinds of different mind maps and diagrams. This has helped us to visualize our thoughts and ideas to each other as well as other people too.

Shared folders in Google Drive: Another tool that we use for sharing ideas and information is Google Drive. There we have folders for both our own Aalto team as well as a shared folder with our Bhutanese peers. Our own folder works as a space for creating documents and presentations together as well as sharing relevant information. It enables working together on the same file in our meetings but also continuing the work on the same document independently afterwards. The folder shared with our peers is used for sharing data and information as well as documents that include relevant information for the other student team.

Quick questions, comments, and discussions in Telegram and WhatsApp: To complement the online meetings, we also use Telegram and WhatsApp chat for urgent questions, quick discussions and comments, informing each other and setting up meetings within our own team or with the Bhutanese students. Telegram is used within our team and WhatsApp for communication with the Bhutanese students. The most important thing in using these chats is that the conversation is open and relaxed, and the threshold for asking questions and starting discussions is low. At the moment, this is an important aspect to improve in our project, as we haven’t been as active as planned in our WhatsApp group.

Formal interaction via email: For communicating with everyone else than our own and the Bhutanese student team, we use email. It is used for setting up meetings with our mentors, partners and experts relevant to our project, and also for information sharing between the same stakeholders.

Setting up meetings using Doodle: Sometimes it is too difficult to agree on a meeting time in Telegram, WhatsApp or email, especially if the meeting is for a bigger group, for example both student teams and the mentors. In that case, we have found Doodle useful, because there we can propose some possible time slots for meetings, and everyone can individually go and click which time slots suit them. This makes it easier to find suitable time slots for bigger meetings. However, it is also necessary to remember to give people enough time to answer the Doodle poll, because the more people involved, the longer it can take to get everyone’s answer.

As a conclusion, I could say that our recipe for a functioning online group project uses similar ingredients as “conventional” group projects, but it is based on finding online tools that support the communication and information sharing. The main ingredient is having functioning video meetings, which are then supported by different communication tools. But nevertheless, even with functioning tools, the group work won’t function without proper motivation, a lot of empathy, positive and open attitude, and eagerness to learn from each other and contribute to the project!

Project Mapit in a nutshell

Hi all!

It has been a long time since our first blog post, so it is finally time to share more details about our project topic and what we are currently doing.

Our project is called Project Mapit, it started in last January and it will be finished at the end of May or early June. The project is aiming to enhance and support sustainable development in Bhutan, with the specific focus on landslide mitigation. The specific case location is Dewathang Gewog in Samdrup Jongkhar district. The project is part of Sustainable Global Technologies (SGT) Studio course organized by Aalto University School of Engineering, and we implement the project in collaboration with a student team from Jigme Namgyel Engineering College (JNEC), Royal University of Bhutan.

Figure 1. Location of Samdrup Jongkhar district in Bhutan. Dewathang Gewog marked with a star.

Our aim of reducing the risks of landslides is closely connected to achieving some Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The most important SDGs the project contributes to are SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and SDG 13 (Climate Action), as landslides are a major natural hazard in Bhutan for example because of the country’s geographical and climatic conditions (Sarkar & Dorji, 2019), but also because of the climate change (Stockwell et al., 2019). The severity and frequency of landslides in Bhutan are also one reason why we find it important to address the hazard in our project.

We will address the topic of landslides by creating information to increase the awareness of the topic and to decrease the risks related to it. The two most important outputs that we will create are landslide susceptibility maps of the area and an information leaflet about landslides. The maps will be created in collaboration with our Bhutanese partners using geographical information system (GIS) software, and after the project our partners will also provide the result maps to the local government in Bhutan. The specific content of the information leaflet is not specified yet, but it will either focus on raising awareness of the risks of landslides or giving educational information about how to do a landslide susceptibility analysis with GIS.

Because of Covid-19, Project Mapit is implemented fully online, without a field trip to Bhutan. However, we will still work closely with our partners there. We have for example already had some meetings with the JNEC student team as well as their mentors, and the students have also provided us some data for the GIS analysis. Moreover, in the beginning of April we will also organize a two-to-three-day intensive workshop with the JNEC students to work for example on the GIS analysis.

Something important to know is also that Project Mapit is part of a cooperation project called Problem Based Learning (PBL) South Asia. PBL South Asia is a project of Erasmus+ Program of European Union and coordinated by Aalto Global Impact. Thus, the project is also co-funded by Erasmus+.

This is our project in a nutshell, but what are we currently doing, and have we done so far? We have already done some background study of the area and the topic as well as prepared a project document including for example the project implementation plan. We have also had some meetings with our Bhutanese partners and got some data for the GIS analysis from them. The next steps for us are to study more both landslides and how the GIS analysis is done, arrange some expert meetings to learn more about the project area and topic, familiarize ourselves with the provided data and actually start working with the analysis and the information leaflet.

We will keep you posted about the progress!

 

References:

Sarkar, Raju & Dorji, Kelzang, 2019. Determination of the Probabilities of Landslide Events – A Case Study of Bhutan. Hydrology. Vol. 6(2):52. DOI: 10.3390/hydrology6020052. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333822109_Determination_of_the_Probabilities_of_Landslide_Events-A_Case_Study_of_Bhutan. Referred: 17.3.2021.

Stockwell, E., Simons, J. & Gex, M. 2019. Landslides in Bhutan. ArcGIS StoryMaps. Available at: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/0f0b80491eb442e9b1828f400106d9e8. Referred: 17.3.2021.

Image source:

Figure 1 modified from: User:NordNordWest, Government of Bhutan. 2011. Samdrup Jongkhar Bhutan location map. [png].  Original image available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dewathang_Gewog#/media/File:Samdrup_Jongkhar_Bhutan_location_map.png. Accessed: 16.2.2021. CC BY-SA 3.0: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/.

SGT Studio commences – Introducing team Bhutan

Hey all!

This is team Bhutan’s public blog linked to our Sustainable Global Technologies studio course. We update the most important progress and findings to this site.

The topic for our project this year is to study landslides and to make a GIS-based analysis on landslide susceptibility. The project is carried out together with JNEC student team from Bhutan.

 

Welcome onboard!