AAS were contracted by the British Council Thailand, with partners Prince of Songkhla University (PSU) and social enterprise Wanita, to provide design, social and creative enterprise development training for four groups of female artisans affected by ongoing conflicts in the Deep South provinces of Thailand to empower them to lead on increased social and economic wellbeing and sustainability in their communities and to revitalise their cultural assets. The project is part of the British Council’s Crafting Futures programme.

Project reach was to an estimated 750 members of four basketry groups, each creating products using different local raw materials:

  • Ban Dahong Lipao Weaving Group from Srisakorn, Narathiwas working with Yan Li Pao
  • Ban Tung Bamboo Basketry Community from Panarae, Pattani working with bamboo
  • Khok Payom Seagrass Basketry Community from Muang, Narathiwas working with seagrass
  • Bulakalapa Panan Weaving Group from Muang, Narathiwas working with Panan
Bamboo tray (left); Seagrass small bag (middle); Yan Li Pao baskets (right), photographers Dr Patcharawee Tunprawat (left and middle) and Helen Voce (right)

Due to restrictions, guidance and advice against travel to the provinces, local curfews and the limited mobility of the Thai national and local partners the identified delivery model was ‘train the trainer’.

Design Thinking and Creative Enterprise Skills Training Programme – January 2019

With a focus on design thinking, product and business development for identified PSU staff and individuals nominated by Wanita to train them as trainers to provide in the field training with the female artisan groups in their communities, cascading knowledge and skills to support them to fulfil their product and business development aims.

Three models formed the primary structure of the training: Design Thinking, Risk It and Double Diamond. The programme’s schedule echoed the five steps of Design Thinking (1. Empathise, 2. Define, 3. Ideate, 4. Prototype, 5. Test), with Risk It introduced at the beginning and revisited as necessary through the training, which finished with the Double Diamond.

‘Design Thinking: A Non Linear Practice’, Author / (c) holder Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation, (c) Licence CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Carol Sinclair, AAS Chair and Co-Trainer (right) with Patcharawee Tunprawat, British Council Thailand Head of Arts and Creative Industries (left) introducing the ‘Risk It’ model, photographer Helen Voce
Exploring idea, production and delivery in the Ban Tung Bamboo Basketry Community via the 'Risk It' model, photographer Helen Voce
Exploring idea, production and delivery in the Ban Tung Bamboo Basketry Community via the ‘Risk It’ model, photographer Helen Voce

Visual Learning Kit – February 2019

A 57-page primarily visual Kit, developed from the training programme content in response to attendee interaction, discussion, advice and peer support, the Kit provides trainers and the artisans, making communities and their supporters with new ways to work together and communicate ideas for creative and business development. It supported trainers to deliver in the field training, equipping them with their new skills and tools to support their continued development on the project.

The Kit’s content drew primarily on the models / tools introduced, discussed and applied during the training programme. They are grouped into four sections, however can be used in any order and / or combination to suit the needs of the communities. The fourth section is a set of tools and resources specifically for trainers to assist them to lead and facilitate group discussions, workshops and activities with the making communities.

Patapian designers with the Khok Payom Seagrass Basketry Community at the April 2019 in the field training session, photographer unknown

Mentoring – February–June 2019

Trainers were mentored during their delivery of three in the field training sessions. Mentoring was provided in response to trainers’ questions, queries and challenges, following each session, enabling them to effectively deliver design thinking, product and business development training to the local female artisan groups. AAS’s responses were provided in writing to the British Council Thailand Arts Team, translated into Thai and circulated to all trainers.

Experiments by the Ban Dahong Lipao Weaving Group, photographer unknown

AAS were interested in Crafting Futures Wanita as it:

  • applied design theory to and in response to the reality of the female artisan groups’ circumstances
  • was a sustainable model for product and creative business development
  • aligned with our work on a Craft Toolkit, commissioned by the British Council Thailand, to support business development in craft practices across Thailand
  • empowered female artisans to individually and collectively lead development of their communities through making and aligns with our emerging Making Sustainable Livelihoods strategy
  • aligned with our key themes of collaboration, sustainability and identity
  • recognised and respected the female artisan groups’ cultural heritage with identity core to the project
  • continued recognition of shared values, challenges and skills development between maker communities in Scotland and Thailand, facilitating peer to peer exchange and dialogue

There were 20 attendees of the five day training programme, equal to 13 trainers from Wanita and three further education institutions and seven artisans from three of the female artisan groups. Of the attendees 78% were female with the majority, 56% aged 41-50.

Trainers, artisans, Co-Trainers, British Council Thailand Arts Team, PSU and Wanita staff, Patpian Designers at the Design Thinking and Creative Enterprise Skills Training Programme – January 2019, photographer unknown

A Wanita representative provided an insightful reflection on the wider challenge faced by the artisan communities and the products they currently make in advance of the training programme:

‘Most of craft business is by customers’ order or copying designs from internet as well as selling existing products that the group already made. We have never developed any specific design for our community. The biggest issue we have is our product is not modern. The products have elaborated details which made the price too high – thus no one is interested. The problems that we think needed to be fixed urgently are having designs that meet different customer’s requirements and fins way to make the price more affordable.’

Trainers delivered three in the field training sessions with the four female artisan groups. There were 29 instances of trainer attendance and 120 instances of artisan attendance at the three sessions. The key qualitative impacts were:

  • Context and Challenges: trainers increased knowledge of the female artisan groups’ circumstances, including culture, heritage and natural environment, and the challenges they face in terms of skills, leadership, roles and responsibilities, ageing populations
  • Creativity and Production: artisan groups were willing to learn, experiment, work with new materials and develop skills, generate ideas inspired by their community / location /heritage to realise new products
  • Products: artisan groups produced samples and experiment to test and explore, pattern, scale and more
  • Community Members: group members were willing to gain a better mutual understanding necessary as communities usually have one / few people who manage all processes
  • Design Thinking: need to clearly introduce and return to the tools and models learnt at the training programme and detailed in the Visual Learning Kit
  • Stories: potential value of stories in and of the community, where they are located and their beliefs, plus the language within existing products that draw on the communities’ culture, heritage, tradition and practice

Selected new works produced by the four female artisan groups were selected for the British Council’s ‘Crafting Futures 2019’ stand at Chiang Mai Design Week, 7-15 December 2019. Wanita recorded sales of 50 of the exhibited new products, ranging in price from 225THB – 1,500THB, totalling 32,100THB (£805.11 at December 2019 currency exchange rate of £1 = 39.87THB).

‘Crafting Futures 2019’ stand at Chiang Mai Design Week 2019, photographer Carol Sinclair

On completion of the project, Wanita reflected on its impact:

‘The villagers have learnt a lot, realising the importance of creative thinking. They have applied the knowledge set gained from the training course to develop their own products. Their income has increased; therefore, they feel the training was successful. Customers have ordered every product piece. Knowing their products can be sold has changed the elders’ mindset towards the training. Before the training, they thought that only designers could design their products. They simply created products based on the designs of others, never thinking that they could design their own. However, they discovered it was possible. This training course allowed them to realise that they are more than capable of becoming great designers, and now understand the process and components of product design. The things that exist around them in daily life have provided important inspiration for their product design. Since learning the processes of product design, they are now able to plan ahead and wish to create something more challenging next year. In addition, after the training course, they are less hesitant about creating new things.’

Due to the project partners’ design and careful consideration of the project’s stages, AAS’s recommendations following our involvement in the project were provided for in the continued support the artisan groups subsequently received: product development, business matching, an exhibition and active citizens training.

The key development opportunity AAS identified was to incorporate our learning and knowledge of working directly with the artisan groups and their supporters (trainers, agencies, etc.) into the Craft Toolkit, to ensure it is relevant to the intended users in Thailand defined by the British Council Thailand as designers, designer makers, craftspeople and artisans whether individuals, groups or communities.

You can read more about the projects AAS have contributed to on the Crafting Futures Programme here.