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Design for the Taste-Makers: System oriented social innovation for improving the living condition of salt pan labourers

Format: Papers, RSD7, Topic: Health & Well-being

Authors: Kumar Anshuman, Wagle Prashanth, Bandarkar Vishwesh, Nahar Praveen

Social Innovation
Community based Design
Wicked problems
Unorganized Sector


Imagine food without salt, the taste buds falling into deep unconsciousness due to the split subconscious confusion created to identify the taste of the food we consumed. The term tastemakers fit perfectly to the labourers who work in the salt pans to produce what gives taste to our food, Salt.
The project aims to understand the ecosystem in and around the production of salt, use design thinking to flourish the living condition of the labourers working in these salt field, improve their working condition to care about their physical parts in the self-involved work culture of producing salt, understanding the socio-economic and cultural condition prevailing in it and build a self-sustainable model for the people involved in the ecosystem enabling a well-deserved return on their efforts. Using Co-design approach and participatory design approach as tools, NGO’s working in the area, the community leaders and the labourers working in the salt fields were involved in bringing design interventions.
The target of this project is to not only make the profession of salt pan labour a respectful one but also to make this profession recognisable. This would ensure cultural sustainability and justifiable remuneration pertaining to the physical and mental efforts invested in the process of producing salt looking at the psycho-social, economic and work environment conditions. The idea was:

To expose the family of the labourers to the multidimensional possibilities to identify and solve a problem
To associate with them, to improve their work and living conditions
To motivate the children of salt pan labourers to explore diverse professions for their means of livelihood
To build a co-operative self-sustainable system that would bring the community together and work towards their social inclusion in and around the community.


The entire ecosystem was understood by doing many field visits, Shadowing method and primary and secondary interviews of the academic experts working in this field, the Non-profit organisation associates working in these areas, labourers, labourer’s family members, landowners and the retailers as part of this applied design research project. 15 case studies which included literature, documentaries and blogs were explored to build a strong understanding.

The location of visit was restricted to Morbi salt production areas in Gujarat, India. Co-Design and participatory design workshops were done with the available members of the community and NGO workers working for them to understand the hierarchy of the problems and the social outlook of the residents. Exchange tools and methodologies with the NGO workers helping them to build a social to Interactive workshops were done with the kids trying to understand their mental development and interest areas. Design tools like Affinity Mapping, Break the Paradigm, Method Cards were used to synthesize the findings to get insights to bring about design interventions.

Observations & understandings

Repeated visiting of the salt pan areas, shadowing their daily routine activities and living a few days of their life at their home, gave a clear understanding of the different layers of the conditions prevailing in the area.
The caste and religious system coupled with the age- old stereotypes contributed a major role in the present condition of the labourers. The downtrodden living condition was due to a combination of socio economic and political reasons. A design intervention encompassing these factors would be necessary for bringing about a social change.
Intense interview sessions with experts from social science background, socialites, faculties from labour institutes, social innovators, designers, social reformers, policy makers were done. This helped in building the topic case study as viewed by different perspectives and understanding the interlinks between the different factors that caused the prevailing condition.

The problems that the designers figured out initially were as per the paradigm build due to their upbringing in a different context all together and be very much possible that the problems that they figured out might not be
the real problems that the labourers are facing. The participatory workshop with the labour family and other stakeholders helped us to understand the true problems that were concerning to them. A clear hierarchy of the intensity of the problem could be mapped. During the Co-Design workshops the participants facilitated by the designers could themselves bring out creative solutions to the problems faced by them, thereby bringing a positive outlook towards their life. The involvement of stakeholders and users in the design process helps in in-time validation of designs and to understand the satisfaction and influence of the new design user.

The interactive workshop with the kids living in 2 different contexts, one with the children who took formal education and other with ones who did not receive formal education, showed the difference in the perspectives of the outlook of children and gave a clear picture of the need for formal education for the children in the area, thereby facilitating us to bring about design interventions to build a sustainable future for next generations.

Design interventions

Looking at the scenario with a systemic approach helps to break the boundary of possibilities for bringing about intervention. It was understood that a single solution cannot bring a reformatory change in the condition of the salt pan labourer which was an outcome of socio-political and economical aspects with a historic background.
Different levels and kinds of intervention would be required to bring about an upliftment in the condition of the salt pan labourers.

Create a new business model: Avsar, a sustainable collaborative start-up between social reformers and the salt pan labour community. Looking at the contribution of small scale salt manufacturers against the large-scale manufacturers in the total quantity of salt production, it is necessary to look at the present scenario not from a profit-making lens but from a sustainable livelihood opportunity lens. Avsar is a business model build on these lines that would manage the systemic complexity and present a sustainable future scenario.
Redesigning the playgroup: Gamification of the learning process created an interactive learning experience for the children helping them to learn healthy living habits and acquire basic knowledge. A playgroup which would infuse motivation in children of different age group would help build an active individual with a positive and responsible outlook towards community and society.
Designing co-creation workshop models for organisations working independently in the social sectors: Co-design and participatory workshops give rich and meaningful insights into the condition and problems faced by the end-users. Methodising the process of organising a workshop and its activities would help the organisations working at grassroots levels to improve the efficiency of their efforts.
Policy design for the governing authorities: Suggesting policies that would cater to different needs of the salt pan labour community and which would align to their economic condition to sustain for a longer run.

These would contribute in the complex system to improve the living condition of the labourers working in the salt pan industry, the tastemakers, to align to Nelson Mandela’s dream in true sense “Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all”.




Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2018
Title: Design for the Taste-Makers: System oriented social innovation for improving the living condition of salt pan labourers
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
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First published: 2 October 2018
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