When I first visited The Gambia “I was struck by the amount of obsolete equipment and infrastructure dotted around the smallest country in mainland Africa. I came across a large solar water heating system installed at a cooking school that had fallen into disrepair and was covered in dust; the remnants of wind-powered water pumps along coastal towns; a car ferry with a broken motor that [I along with other] passengers had to pull across a narrow part of the River Gambia using a rope.” 
As a designer “I was concerned with improving the everyday and it seemed that here the intended ’users’, […] their needs, capacities and aspirations, had been ill-considered in what appeared to be techno-centric approaches to local energy challenges.” 
A decade of research later, ‘Reframing Energy Access: Insights from The Gambia’ explores past, current and potential future modes of energy production and consumption from a human-centred point of view. This enables examination of common rhetoric surrounding energy leapfrogging and concepts such as energy sufficiency. It argues that developments must be rooted in situated understanding of consumption practices to ensure sustainable and equitable access to modern energy services such as electricity. The book provides a uniquely long-term and holistic perspective into changing energy practices on the ground and the economic, political, environmental, technical and cultural factors that shape it.
As John Thackara author of ‘How To Thrive In The Next Economy’ and ‘In The Bubble’ writes:

“Energy for all is a noble ambition - so why do many projects fail? A common factor is too much focus on the tech - energy production - and too little on the ways people actually use energy in their daily lives. Whether it’s transplanting rice, cooking food, or traveling on local transport, diverse social arrangements are often in place that achieve impressive results using modest means. This social dimension to energy access is often-overlooked, but Anne Schiffer’s first-hand reporting brings it to life. As her fine-grained stories accumulate, the need to integrate energy use with transport, agriculture, and other forms of land-use, becomes inescapable. An understanding of the everyday yields further insights into enabling conditions for energy access: finance; volunteers with the right skills; time. These important lessons transcend both industrialised and developing world contexts.”

Find out more about the book here.

You may be interested in a recent paper that reflects on ‘Issues of Power and Representation: Adapting Positionality and Reflexivity in Community-Based Design’ published by the International Journal of Art & Design Education.


Dr Anne Schiffer

Reader / Leeds School Of Arts

Dr Anne Schiffer explores how design thinking can help tackle local and global real world challenges, including in the areas of sustainable energy transitions, energy and water access. She is the author of Reframing Energy Access: Insights from The Gambia.

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