Accepted Paper:

Designing cultures of care for vulnerable children: Experience and imagination in Bihar, India  


Tracy Johnson (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
Palash Singh (Vihara Innovation Network)
Divya Datta (Vihara Innovation Network)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws on design anthropology to understand and elevate material artifacts of health, protection, and community as the foundation for building improved cultures of care around vulnerable children in Bihar, India.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropology illuminates ways in which life has been socially constructed in past and present and brings greater depth to understanding lived experience. Design, on the other hand, focuses on imagining and prototyping potential futures. While trying to solve for complex problems like the state of the public health care system in Bihar state, India, this imagination of potential futures must be grounded in the present and past lived experience of the communities for whom we are trying to solve. This is where anthropology and design come together as design anthropology.

Vihara Innovation Network, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, employs a design anthropological approach in Project Paanch Paar to understand and solve for childhood vulnerability in rural Bihar. Detailed ethnographies of families provided us with enhanced understanding of the experience of illness, health, and care among Bihari communities. Interrogating cultural artefacts and local metaphors - marital wall paintings, safe space rituals, and totems of protection - allowed us to articulate key constraints and leverage points to structure the imagining and designing of potential futures.

Our paper - illustrated with photographs and developing prototypes - will focus on the processes by which we worked with families to design a Bihar in which communities come together to identify and care for the vulnerable among them in innovative ways. We will share lessons learned from how we drew on design anthropology to craft a narrative explanation of childhood vulnerability as a foundation for designing new cultures of care.

Panel P062
Design Anthropology: Uniting experience and imagination in the midst of social and material transformation