Field Ready: Sharing know-how is the key to localization
Photo: Field Ready
Field Ready has pioneered ‘networked local manufacturing’ to make aid supplies in the field. It uses digital fabrication, traditional and craft manufacturing, open hardware and distributed mass production. Field Ready’s approach has been to make its work ‘open’ so that anyone else can copy it in their humanitarian efforts – in particular local manufacturers, entrepreneurs and relief organizations.
The Covid-19 pandemic has led most humanitarian organizations to re-consider their supply chains, and to procure locally made supplies and even start making supplies themselves. However, many agencies and manufacturers have not had much prior experience of this work. Some are sadly even not aware of Field Ready’s catalogue of open designs for aid supplies – so they start designing aid supplies again from scratch.
The barrier that agencies and manufacturers face is the steep learning curve to be effective with ‘humanitarian making’. Field Ready has, over 8 years, learned about what works and what doesn’t. But know-how, unlike knowledge, is tacit and often involves ‘learning by doing’ – and this can take a long time to develop.
Field Ready has struggled to find good ways to share its know-how; all its expertise is spread across a range of decision-making tools, research papers, documents and websites. Our own staff struggle to know where to look to learn what they need! We wanted to better share our expertise to help others get ready, climb the learning curve and be more effective in the field.
- Open hardware portfolio – searchable database of designs for aid products
- Social sustainability tool – converted a research paper into an interactive assessment tool (image 1)
- 3D Printing training – published training materials under open license
- 3D Printing assessment – adapted PhD research into a decision-making tool
- Open Know-Where mapping – published a survey tool to map local manufacturers (image 2)
- ‘Field Track’ QR Code labelling system – a tool to label locally made supplies so that users can learn about them, give feedback, and get help if anything goes wrong (image 3)
- Goods Received Notes – shared a system for tracking the impact of locally made supplies
- Product design process – captured our complete design and manufacture process as a workflow tool
Field Ready is now building a community of practice to bring together humanitarian organisations that are already active in the local manufacture of aid supplies. The hope is with this community and these tools will enable wider change in the humanitarian sector towards the localisation of supply. A conference of this community is being planned.
This project was the first time that Field Ready has hired a software engineer. Until now, all of our engineers have been experts in hardware. Originally, we hoped to create a mobile app. But that turned out a very complex endeavour and we were advised by H2H Network to focus on mobile-enabled website instead – which we did.
During the project we realised that hosting tools on the Humanitarian Making website would mean that many organizations would not be able to internalise and adapt the tools to suit their own systems. So, in some cases, we simplified the work even further and just made available templates that people can download, edit and use.
So, in many ways, the project itself was an exercise is simplification – just like capturing all our know-how about ‘humanitarian making’.
The localization of aid has to date focused on money, power and decision-makers. But to really localize aid, aid dependency on international supply chains should give way to resilient local market responses. The manufacturing capabilities needed to make most aid items are now very common in most developing countries – a situation quite unlike that of when the humanitarian system was designed. Oxfam buckets are being made in Fiji. Certified medical devices are being made in Gaza. Handwashing stations are being made in the settlements of northern Uganda.
To make the local manufacturing of aid supplies normal in humanitarian response, we must all share our know-how with local actors; not just leave it in journals, donor reports or the hands of a few experts – but bring it to life, out in the open.
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