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:: Frequently Asked Questions
I want to do a project involving sustainability. What can I do?

We realise it’s often difficult to think of a project but we can’t tell you what you should do! The most important thing is to choose something you’re going to find interesting. So, a good place to start is to make a list of your interests or hobbies and then think about how you could design and make something that’s sustainable and useful in your interest/hobby. For example, one student recently told us she was interested in ice-skating. We had a brainstorm and came up with the idea of designing and making a bag for carrying skates with integrated blade protectors. The bag would be made from recycled textiles and tyres.

Another starting point is to look at some of the projects SDA students have done in the past. There are several examples on the website. They might give you ideas of the sorts of things you could do.

How do I get started?
It depends on whether you’ve got a project already or if you need some help. If you’ve already got your own project then use the Sustain-a-balls part of the site to guide you through. If you need some help deciding on a project, click on the “I need help” signpost.

Can ANY project be registered for SDA?
Absolutely, as long as it follows the principles of sustainability and it is based on a genuine design issue. We want you to think that sustainability is as much part of the designing and making process as fitness for purpose, aesthetics etc. We can offer some support to most projects.

Are overseas projects different?
Overseas projects must either be Practical Action projects or projects where there is a genuine problem owner who will give feedback to the student. A project where there is an assumed need and no problem owner should not be entered for SDA. There have been several examples of recent student work where we feel the motive for completing an overseas project has been “to help those poor people abroad”. We want to discourage such projects. Only projects where there is evidence from the outset that it will be a collaborative piece involving a stakeholder providing proper feedback will be accepted.

When can I get help from the project partners?
As a rule, there are three times in your project when we can usefully offer support. The first time is when you’ve got some initial ideas for design solutions. You can contact us to give you some feedback on which we think might be most suitable.

Secondly, you may need some help when you’re trying to decide which materials to use. What kind of wood might be most sustainable? Do they have all textiles in Kenya? Those are typical questions at this stage of your project.

Finally, when you’ve come up with your final design, you’ll want some evaluation. We can give you some feedback on how well you’ve met the sustainability elements of your specification.

Which partner should I use to help me?
As a general principle, Practical Action can help you with overseas projects. CAT are specialists in energy, waste, water and buildings. Loughborough University have expertise on most design topics, except food. You’ll see that their design briefs relate to reducing, re-using and recycling so contact them if that’s the focus of your project.

What’s the best way of making contact?
It depends at what stage you’re at. If you want to make some general enquiries early on, an email or phone call might be helpful to point you in the right direction. It’s the same when you want to enquire about material selection. However, when you want us to make some comments on your design ideas or on your final product, we really need to see something, so you need to either photocopy your ideas and send them to us, or send them via email.

How quickly are students’ requests dealt with?
Our target is to respond within 48 hours. With overseas contexts it may be more difficult if it is a question we can’t answer easily in the UK. Obviously email enquiries take longer than phone enquiries.

What are some of the most common errors students make?
• Not making use of their research and feedback, simply presenting it as part of the folder. Exam boards want to see evidence that they have made good use of the research and feedback to inform the development of their ideas and manufacture.
• Not incorporating sustainability into their project but having it as an “add-on”. We often see a page that constitutes their “sustainability” bit with little or no reflection of it elsewhere. It should be seen all the way through a project folder, with references at each stage of how sustainability fits in.
• Failure to justify less sustainable decisions. There may be very good reasons for using a less sustainable materials (simply cost) and students should explain their choice, reinforcing the idea that all designing and making decisions are moral ones.
• Trying too hard to find sustainability in everything. If it’s not there, don’t try to make it there. Although there are likely to be economic and social repercussions in all designing-making, if it’s not going to be part of the design spec, don’t include it.

What are “clients”?
What the exam boards want is for you to get feedback at relevant stages from someone who has a significant and knowledgeable contribution to make to the process of evaluating your ideas throughout designing and making.

If you look at Sustain-a-balls, you’ll find we refer to “stakeholders”. They can be anyone who might have an interest in advising on the designing and making of a project – users, producers, manufacturers, technical experts. The more feedback you get, the better.

We asked the exam boards about three “levels” of stakeholders in the process. Firstly, family and friends who might be possible users, then clients in the traditional commercial sense, and thirdly technical advisers, like SDA partners. They say that all three are acceptable, with the first the least satisfactory. They would give greater credit if you make effective use from all three.

The important thing from their point of view is for you to provide credible evidence that you have used the feedback effectively to develop your ideas further. Simply providing the evidence of emails is not useful – you need to show what you have done with the information received.

What do I have to do to get an award?
There are some assessment criteria in the Teachers’ Handbook and on the teachers’ section of the website. You need to try to meet the stated requirements which differ between As and A2. They are written in examination language and you may find them hard to understand. There are two alternatives.

The best is to use the Sustain-a-balls section of the website. When you go into it, each part has several bullet points. Some will be relevant to your project, others not. Tick them off when you think you’ve covered each point and make a note of the page in your folder where you think you’ve covered it. That will help your teacher decide whether or not you should get an award.

There is also a student-friendly version of the criteria on the teachers’ side – ask your teacher for a copy and put it in your folder as a reminder.

What do we get as the Award? Is it any use?
You get a certificate to include in your record of achievement or portfolio. Level 1 is for AS level, Level 2 for A2. Several universities now include sustainable design as part of their Design and Technology courses. They will be very pleased to see that you’ve gained the Award because it shows them you know something about sustainability before you start the course.

Some students will have their work and folders displayed at the annual Design and technology Association conference. Last year six students’ work was shown and they all received certificates from the top speaker in front of an audience of over 200 teachers and advisers. They were also able to attend various events promoting SDA and events where they learnt more about sustainability. Three of them came to a study weekend where they helped other students.

What is the purpose of the study weekend?
In their current format, the A2 study weekends are designed to deepen your understanding of sustainability at an early stage in your project. It should enable you to integrate sustainability easily into your A2 work. It also provides an opportunity for those of you who know what your project is to get guidance and ideas, and those who haven’t got a project to broaden your thinking.

The weekend mirrors the process through which you should go in your A2 designing and making, whilst also providing ideas of use for product analysis and examination answers. You will work in a small group to design and model a sustainable product. You finish by making a presentation to the other teams.

In 2006 regional one-day conferences will be held instead of a study weekend. They are planned for Loughborough University, Goldsmiths College, Sheffield Hallam University and wolverhampton University. Your teacher will be sent details.