When a team of students from Parsons The New School for Design began designing a system for rural public health officials in Guatemala to monitor their inventory of medical supplies, it seemed natural to have the workers send text messages to a central authority when they were running low on supplies. What they soon found out, however, was that average supply levels were consistently low. “We discovered that it makes more sense to text what they do have,” says MFA student in Parsons’ Design + Technology program Paweena Prachanronarong. “Otherwise, it’s going to be a lot of texting.”
That’s just one example of the kind of on-the-ground knowledge that sets apart the school’s work with international NGO The Open Societies Foundations (OSF). Parsons students are connected with organizations around the world, selected in collaboration with OSF. Through a combination of fieldwork and collaborative design work in the studio, students develop ways to help the organization through digital technology: devising social networks, websites, mobile technology platforms and more to help those organizations serve their client populations.
That partnership, now half a decade old, was deepened and expanded this academic year. Once a summer program, participating students now make multiple trips to visit their partner organizations, including two lengthy summer trips, shorter visits during the spring semester, and a full academic year of coursework.
Prachanronarong spoke with the News after returning from her second visit to Centro de Estudios para la Equidad y Gobernanza en los Sistemas de Salud (CEGSS), an organization dedicated to monitoring the public health situation in Guatemala. The system she and her team designed allows CEGSS—via mobile communications and a website—to show the true level of medical supplies in hard-to-reach communities. CEGSS will share this with anyone – journalists, the government, and beyond – who cares about the state of public health.
“CEGSS seems really pleased,” says Prachanronarong.. “They’re running with it, and hiring people to maintain the system. I think that’s amazing. It’s nice to be able to do something that’s real, and helps real people.”
Now, the project has been handed off to a new primary student team, who will continue the work through summer of 2013.