Field Research – How we Found Out What We Didn’t Know

As I said in my previous post, working under a client can mean that you’re creating thing that you have no idea about. For us, we’re making an AR educational app about gardening and garden maintenance. My team and I didn’t know anything about the nitty-gritty with gardening so we had to do some proper research. We went to the Jane St Community garden to participate in one of their ‘Working Bees’ where volunteers can help the managers with various garden tasks. We learned a lot of things that we expected to learn, and a lot of things that we never expected to know, and the experience itself is super valuable.

We learn some very obvious things to begin with. Fertilizing plants, planting plants and creating and recycling compost were what we expected to learn. Fertilizing plants is as simple as providing enough organic material for the plant to grow. Planting plants is as simple as putting the plant into a hole to grow – watering daily. The Community Garden uses coffee husks and food scraps from neighboring cafes and restaurants to fuel their compost, as well as their plants. There’s a continuous circle of life with the compost in the garden, and dead plants will find new life as compost to birth new plants and so on. It’s a fascinating process that was surprisingly obvious when we heard it.

But the less-than-obvious things we learned were surprising. The biggest takeaway from the volunteering was the creative problem solving that the gardeners use. For example, we dug out the inside of the fence in the nursery to tie up some chicken wire to keep out mice. The mice would look for protection in the nursery to eat food, and realise there was more food in the nursery, protected from other predators. We laid the chicken wire around the fence, but the gardeners realised that putting it on the inside probably wasn’t completely mouse-proof. And putting it on the outside wouldn’t have been completely effective either. One of them suggested that they create a chilli spray to overload the mice’ smell (their strongest sense) to keep them out (they’re an organic garden). I was very surprised by the way they solve problems. Furthermore, we cut vines off a water tank that were literally ripping a smaller plant out of the ground – I didn’t know that could happen, and we used the plants as compost. Speak of compost, did you know that compost actually steams when it’s good to use? It’s hot to the touch and is super moist, be purely natural means. Apparently it can even set itself on fire. Apparently I’m the last person to figure this out.

The entire exercise was super valuable and give me unexpected insight into what’s involved for gardeners to do their job. With catering to our target audiences of school students , we need them to trust us as practitioners to teach them what they need out of the curriculum. Without our own knowledge-base, we will never know what to teach them, or whether or not it’s accurate. Field research has been eye-opening and a very important lesson in game design research. Now, we can make the best possible learning experience with a wealth of knowledge behind us.

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