A case study when causing a new problem is actually a solution
This case study was covered by Julie Lasky on Change Observer, the social innovation branch of Design Observer.
When given the simple premise "Solve any problem you want." by Allan Chochinov of Core 77, I wanted nothing more than to help the folks of the Cheapeake Bay. Home to one of the largest seafood industries on the East coast of the United States, many businesses are still family-owned and passed down from generation to generation. These small businesses are hit hard by even the smallest shift in production or supply.
Sadly, the life supporting this industry has been hit with environmental problems and yield has become smaller with each passing year. After speaking with experts in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, I discovered that the problem wasn't down in the bay, it was up river. The Susquehanna River to be exact. So much so that it earns the title of "America's Most Endangered River".
Nitrogen, phosperous, and other harmful elements were traveling down river from as far up as New York and Pennsylvania. The source: waste runoff from family-owned and operated dairy farms. Small efforts are currently being made to plant indiginous filter vegetation long the banks of the river, but government funding is slim. Many farms up river don't see the benefits of changing, and many don't see it as a worthy investment.
Informing the farms of the current problem wasn't working, so I had to design a new problem they would be interested in solving. At the same time, I had to gather more evidence for funding and inform the public of what was happening in their own backyard.
After several false starts, I adapted the idea of a message in a bottle to design a set of buoys equipped with an SMS for placement along the river. These buoys would monitor and report nitrogen and phosphorus levels to a central location: the Maryland branch of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The data would be used to generate a map and website showing the geographical problem areas, making the dairy farms in any offending area "guilty by geographical association."
Broadcasting such information would create a public relation issue for dairy farms in problem areas. Farms practicing healthy habits could easily clear their names, while offenders would be socially pressured to change their ways. Because the agricultural economy isn't the most forgiving, data collected by Chesapeake Bay Foundation could be used to leverage government grants. These grants could be passed on to farms that lacked the financial resources to improve their practices.
Activated by a simple click of the mouse, the user can see information on specific area that the bouys measure along the river. The information then shows what dairies are in the area, therefore guilty by association. The dairies can easily clear their names by showing off their safe practices, and the offending dairies can be more effectively targeted for funds and assistance.
The footer provides closure to the story by reinterating the relationship between the families up river and the families down river are not that different. The user can find links with relevant information, some leading to more educational material, and one leading to recipes that folks might otherwise miss out on if bay life dies off.
In the end, the information gathered by the L.E.A.K system helps all parties. The information gathered helps scientists allocate and focus their efforts for efficiently. It also serves as empirical evidence of the problem and can be used to leverage funding from the government. Finally, the information publically points the finger at offending farms and dairies. These establishments can then ask for assistance, or be shamed.