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A final [personal] reflection

I love to get stuck in projects – Fact!

Let’s have a look at my reoccurring five metrics I used to give a qualitative stat [satisfaction out of 5 grading] on how things were going. You can compare them also to my previous reflection 12 earlier in the project.

Be outside as much as possible [3/5] There was a direct correlation with cold weather and work, the more of the two, the less I did outside. Outside activities involved walking,  cycling, canoeing, surfing, dry stone wall building and who would have thought I’d enjoy Surfing and Mushrooms?!

Creating design outcomes [4/5] overall and by project:

  • [1/5] Branding for the Quinta was not taken to a final outcome. The owners kept changing their minds about what they wanted their guest house to be. We suggested appraoched, I collected benchmarking and competitor examples. Julia created a business plan. But basically because we were not really getting payed for the work we were doing, the work we did was seen as ‘useful’ but it wasn’t the right timing to get it actually used. Hence, our efforts were focused elsewhere apart from the occasional photo shoot of gems found in the Quinta and group workshops.
  • [1/5] Adventure park. I would have liked to help Lucio with detailing the experience of his park and the branding for Alternativtours and website, rather than making it all makeshift – but it somehow works! Unfortunately due to health reasons most work was placed on ice after one and a half months and the park project was suspended.
  • [0/5] Algarve 123 did not happen. Why? A small improvement was made in-house after our meeting with two of the directors – the cultural part of the newspaper got a tiny bit more significance on the title page. An example re-design as part of something like ‘Novas Direcoes’ or the ‘alternative tourism office’ idea – was suspended as we realised we were trying to do too many things at the same time. Very unfortunate, as it would have been fun to do!
  • [3/5] Own Projects. I came up with ideas like the Patterns of Monchique book and the second post but did not go further into detail, interviewing craftsmen and women, but researched into local crafts and souvenirs. I haven’t had much time to create outcomes from it, but a few: print pattern on fabric and some jewellery prototypes.
  • [5/5] Novas Direcoes – maps, content, exhibition curation and documentation. Great success. We had 60 visitors at the exhibition and 6 email requests for more information via the 2nd newspaper article which was published.
  • [4/5] Veredas de Monchique. I’m very happy with the maps but should have allowed more time to distribute and getting them used. Looking back at the Veredas process, I am also surprised at how long it took to derive at the final maps without the concept changing much. Of course I conducted several GPS traces and did research into existing walks, but already at the first meeting at the beginning of October, I had a fairly solid understanding of what I imagined the maps to be like. I was also not completely pleased with the workflow creating the Monchique town map, giving directions to our illustrator. We (Jules and I) were pulling in too many directions with a too lose brief which caused the style of the illustration to get lost, taking away the enjoyment and attention to detail, rather than having a beautifully crafted map. I also would have liked to continue the Veredas work, but don’t think I made the depth of necessary connections, to get paid work from it.
  • [3/5] Research into ‘How unique is Monchique?’  Blog posts: Salir / Alte Tourist officeHow unique is Monchique? Monchique’s untapped potential for tourism. 

Blogging [5/5] I set up 3 blogs. 130 posts in total. over 1000 visitors in 3 months and an average of 20 views a day. My particular favorites are: Photography competitionTiles contemporary tiles, building a dry stone wall, my Lisbon trip and the Sustainable design jam and the craft posts: Dust and wooden shavingsMonchique Artesanatos and Products of Monchique blog posts.

Follow passion and curiosity

Learn Portuguese [1/5] Due to the lack of immersion, I did not really pick up Portuguese. Living in a house with 12 Brits, 2 Germans and 1 English speaking Slovakian, did not help with learning a language! I should have foreseen this based on my experiences with previous languages and living abroad.

Customer Service Qualification [N/A]- Customer Service Qualification NVQ Level 3. I haven’t really made mention of this qualification I supposedly gained whilst in Portugal by reflecting on my customer service experiences. It sounded like an interesting thing to do, (useful to get to know the other side of designing for service), but it was more a hindrance than constructive, not helping reflection or capturing of impressions and skills. All I can say is that I hope that other individuals who do this qualification don’t get told: No one can fail!

Learn about Sustainable Tourism [1/5] – I’d been keen to learn about the principles of a permaculture garden or learning about how guest houses run and how they run sustainable, but I got the feeling ‘sustainability’ is either treated as a label or it’s ticked off by having a solar panel system. I missed the opportunity to attend the sustainable tourism conference or learn more about the commune Tamera north of Monchique.


A final reflection [on the execution of the project]

So, how was Monchique? I think it’s time for a last [update: penultimate] reflection.

Telling people, friends and family about the program, brings up mixed emotions and thoughts. For me, it has been absolutely brilliant and I like to think it has helped the rest of the group too, either in gaining experience or confidence to make life changing decisions, whether that’s getting trained for a different job or gaining the confidence to start life in a different spot of on earth, getting involved in interesting projects and hopefully feeling more like a rounded person at the end of the process. Of course, the black sheep and obvious catch that might make the project seem useless and question the use of European funding, are the questions: So what did the community gain and how did we make a difference in Monchique? Was it a sensible use of European funding? And was the mobility of the participants increased and how?

Frankly, the answer to this would probably be No if you looked at the whole group altogether, of which the majority treated their time in Monchique as a paid holiday; went by the title ‘Sustainable tourism’ or the pictures that went up on facebook from the trip, depicting numerous parties, going canoeing or spending a week in Lisbon. The perception of ‘real work’ of course differs, especially when talking to Londoners or parents for that matter. But even in Portugal within the group: If you were not holding a spade in your hand or did some kind of house work, and were sitting on your computer, you were assumed to be ‘skiving’.

But let’s look at specific issues to learn from as in principle projects like this and similar other funded projects are beneficial, but are dependend on whether someone is cashing in on them and the detailed implementation and execution of each individual project. Problems can rarely be pinpointed on one single issue, but are rather made up of different situations coming together:

Setting wrong expectations

I was in the initial batch of interviews at the Hub Kings Cross. Already there, the fuzzy approach was apparent ie the project outcomes weren’t specified. …. I was convinced I would learn about sustainable building and tourism offers and get to know the other side of service design a little bit by mingling with customers myself either at a guest house or different service offer like executing a walking tour or activity. For a designer, the fuzzy front end, is a familiar terrain: just keep an eye out for opportunities and listen to your gut feeling, but this also means going against the flow of the somewhat assumed plan once that’s been created. As a consequence, Novas Direcoes was born from joined efforts of the group. Some others expected to gain full time work experience in tourism or as a chef, others were looking for an opportunity to help the community to leave something behind, others were just up for having a nice time. Probably through ticking off application sections, making sure the funding for this project would come in, a mix of messages was communicated: ‘sustainable tourism‘ as a project title. ‘increased mobility’ and ‘self development‘ as core objectives for the Da Vinci Program together with an additional qualification in customer service level 3 (NVQ). The partnering organisations receive labour and funding! to develop their businesses. The town gets to know that there is this project happening and wonders about how they will benefit?!

Insufficient support

In one of the earliest blogposts: A medley-ed group, I already draw on insufficient planning, improper briefing, too little goal setting and inexperience of the partnering organisations to be let loose without support other than fictional deadlines to submit written plans or spread sheets. The trap: Thinking too big and not being prepared sufficiently, is easy to fall in. Basically no one really knew what to expect, the local coordinator was inexperienced and too few wanted to be voluntary leaders to take charge and drive the group and project forward (most group members were too young). To execute this role from within the group, as Julia and I attempted to do, was not reasonable, as firstly we were not getting paid to do this rather important job, and secondly we were part of the group, hence the sense of authority, which most of the group needed, could not be provided. In terms of supporting the partnering organisations, there was little sensibility whether the partnering organisations would be suited to take on 7 or 14 volunteers at a time or be supported in gaining the experience to do so together with the group, afterall managing people is a hard job whatever their age is! Lastly, if this project was about ‘mobility‘ ie. new job opportunities at home or in the country of exchange, there was no support from the day of return. Even some psychological support may have been adequate in some cases and situations to define tangible next steps of what to do with the blank canvas of life and help with taking control and decision making.

The weird logic of paying a company to take on unpaid staff

There is just something wrong about all organisations involved receiving a big share of the funding money irrespective of what actually gets achieved as an outcome. The participants earned 85EUR a week from which food, and personal expenses were payed and in Max’s case, as stated in his journey, 80% went on booze in the local bar. So overall as a group with a duration of 13 weeks this comes to about 15,500 EUR which is less than what most of the organisations got, to provide a meaningful task and ‘entertain’ their volunteers. If this money had been directly invested into the projects making a noticeable difference and ‘achievement‘ to the group, it wouldn’t be so  worthy of criticism. Instead, insufficient tools were bought to accommodate the entire group, and there was no funding for the end of project event which from the onset was expected.

How about an allowance on project and task basis to provide more incentive to get things done? Participants rather than earning money irrespective to what they do, earn money through specific tasks with the partnering organisations or can apply for funding to create their own project which benefits the community, with the requirement to show outcomes. In this particular case, there may be a high risk of failure. ie no outcome, e.g. through the lack of experience. If that’s the case the focus should be on reflection and the learning outcome, if it’s successful the participant will have gained new confidence to follow their dreams or even become an entrepreneur.- would this be a sensible use for European money? I’m not saying that this would be easy to do or not add a complicated funding and support structure, but it would provide motivation, prevent just ‘holding hands open’ and hopefully provide opportunities to learn life lessons in a safe environment.

Quality control, the European funding way

Even though, one may moan about filling in a mid and end of project evaluation form, it’s kind of needed to regulate the flow of funding in some way. But one may argue, it’s not asking the right questions! Have a look at my end of project evaluation form. Participant Report – end of project evaluation. In the evaluation there was no focus on achievement. It only checks whether attitudes have changed and to really evaluate this I question the approach of a questionnaire!

Whatever you do, value the participants and celebrate project outcomes

Considering the mixed bag of messages from the onset, transparency is needed to muffle voices and prejudices – communicate progress, make connections, collaborate beyond the initial set of partners and surprise the people listening in. Communicate the skills and the best the participants have to offer! If the majority of the participants are incapable of formulating what they are good at and hence lack confidence, interest needs to be created and ensured that volunteers’ work, gets appreciated and valued, to break away from this negative energy spiral. Organisations who take on volunteers should be interested in the skill set each individual which he or she is bringing along, trying to make use of it and challenge the participants if they are up for it. Afterall, nothing can be lost, only gained! As an example of how not to treat volunteers: when we visited, the Christian bird conservation place Arocha, we as a group were treated like unskilled labour, probably caused by wrong communication and lack of ‘selling the group’, there was a lack of appreciation of what the group as a whole had to offer and we weren’t even fed lunch to give something back in return for the half day’s work we did there.

Boa Festa! Até logo Monchique

It’s time. The 13 weeks in Monchique are coming to an end today! I hope one can read through the words of this blog on what an inspirational time this project in Monchique has been. Gaining the confidence to pursue interests and listening to intuition. There will be a few more blog posts following in the next few days to tidy up all the lose ends – the blog posts I never quite finished and the work I still kinda need to do to really round up the project completely, like doing last tweaks to the Medronho map, uploading the map materials and making them available on Feliz natal!

The major of Monchique posts us on facebook…

In the middle of preparing the 2012 budget, time for a small gathering in the way of farewell to the 14 youngsters who were in Monchique for 3 months and they did a very interesting and can be seen in this blog, also created by them. Many paths, or “NewDirections” is now open with the help of these young people who miss a farewell in tears of sadness as a sign that leave a lot here, but also take a little of our culture and our Friendship!

A little mapped out….

… but the Veredas de Monchique site is updated with final maps, new top navigation and neatened philosophy including creative license and attributes.

We are in the papers #2

Algarve News / Portugal News 10th December 2011. Note the caption of the picture. Article (PDF)

Novas Direcoes now open!

Thanks to everyone who came to our launch event yesterday and the praising words on facebook! Meeting lots of interesting people who really like the maps, products and ideas, saying that Monchique needs exactly something like this, fresh blood and initiative! Check out the Novas Direcoes Blog to see details of the new ideas exhibited. (Details and materials will follow in the next few days)