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Design of Research for Systemic Design: Insights from an occupational safety study of sanitation workers in urban India

Format: Papers, RSD12, Topic: Cases & Practice, Topic: Health & Well-being, Topic: Methods & Methodology, Topic: Sociotechnical Systems

Mamta Gautam

This paper draws on a systemic intervention in faecal sludge management in the Indian urban context. The study was undertaken in two urban locations in the state of Tamil Nadu to gain a deeper and clearer understanding of desludging operators’ occupational practices and worker’s safety. The paper discusses the scope, method and approach that was conducted for the Need Assessment Study (NAS) to draw insights for the design of research for culturally diverse contexts. Ethnographic frameworks have been helpful for contextual inquiry; however, with complex systems, the multiple dimensions to be understood pose a significant challenge. Several questions emerge. What is the right sample size? What is the right mix of quantitative and qualitative? What impact would cultural plurality have on the research process? When to stop probing further while conducting research? 

Further consideration is given to whether complex systems require a nonlinear approach to conducting research and allow mixed methods. The design of research is acknowledged as a challenge. This case study draws upon broad considerations for conducting design research in pluralistic systems. Conducting and designing research with the awareness that complex social systems cannot be defined, mapped, or transformed without the participation of those whom the process and result will impact. The presentation considers the question of indigenous knowledge and how this could be leveraged.

KEYWORDS: design research, decolonisation, SDG 6, sanitation, participatory research 

RSD TOPICS: Cases & Practice, Health & Well-Being Methods & Methodology, Sociotechnical Systems 

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Citation Data

Author(s): Mamta Gautam
Year: 2023
Title: Design of Research for Systemic Design: Insights from an occupational safety study of sanitation workers in urban India
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Volume: RSD12
Article No.: pre-release
URL: https://rsdsymposium.org/research-for-systemic-design
Host: Georgetown University
Location: Washington DC, USA
Symposium Dates: October 6–20, 2023
First published: 30 September 2023
Last update: no update
Publisher Identification: ISSN 2371-8404
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