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Innovative Ways to Collect Water from Air

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

World water resources are being depleted quickly as populations grow, urbanize and demand better living standards. Many scientists believe we are reaching peak water – the point at which fresh water is consumed faster than it is replenished.

According to Ensia (ensia.com), a magazine showcasing environmental solutions in action, 70 per cent of the earth’s fresh water reserves are locked up in snow or ice, and are expensive to tap and bring to the world’s water-stressed places. Of the remainder, most is in groundwater, soil moisture, swamps or permafrost, while just 0.3 per cent is easy to access in freshwater lakes and rivers.

By far the biggest user of water in the world – accounting for 69 per cent of the total – is farm irrigation. That’s a serious concern when considering the world will need to grow more food to feed an increasing population. Just 1 per cent of water is used for livestock, while 15 per cent is used for electricity generation and 7 per cent for manufacturing. More water is currently being pumped from underground resources than is being replaced from underground aquifers.

The average person needs to consume 0.6 to 1.3 gallons (2.72 liters to 6 liters) of water per day to survive in a moderate climate. For drinking, cooking, bathing and sanitation, an individual needs 13 gallons (59 liters) a day (Ensia).

In many places, obtaining water requires a long trek to a well or stream. But non-desert climates have water as a resource readily available all around – trapped in the air. The clue to this resource’s existence is in the air’s humidity levels, the most visible sign of which is the dew that is found covering the grass and leaves every morning when people wake up. The trick is to extract that water from the air and create a steady supply of this essential resource.

Italian architect and designer Arturo Vittori (http://www.vittori-lab.com/team/arturo-vittori), a lecturer on aerospace architecture, technology transfer and sustainability, believes he has an answer.

Wired magazine (http://www.wired.com/2014/03/warka-water-africa/) reported that Vittori was inspired by a trip to Ethiopia, where he observed the daily struggle to get water. Access to water in northeastern Ethiopia often requires a long walk, which reduces the amount of time left in the day to do other things. Parents often take along their children, meaning the children cannot go to school. The time consumed by gathering water leaves people poorer and unable to dedicate more of their day to income-earning activities.

And there is no guarantee the water is safe to drink or free of chemical contaminants. This situation left Vittori pondering ways of coming up with an inexpensive solution that would eliminate the daily hassle of finding water and guarantee its quality.

The answer was a WarkaWater Tower (http://www.architectureandvision.com/projects/chronological/84-projects/art/492-073-warkawater-2012?showall=&start=1). The bamboo structure – which looks like an upended, latticework funnel – captures the dew and moisture in the air and collects it in a basket at the bottom.

The water collector is inspired by the Warka tree, or Ficus vasta (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ficus_vasta). Native to Ethiopia, it is known for providing shade and as a rendezvous point for traditional gatherings.

A WarkaWater Tower stands 8 meters in height and is made from either bamboo or reeds. Inside, a mesh traps humidity from the air and the water drips down into a basket. One tower can gather around 94 liters of water a day. The water is right there in the community and not kilometers away, meaning time and energy saved for income-generating tasks.

A WarkaWater Tower is constructed in sections, which are assembled and then stacked on top of each other. The construction does not need special scaffolding or special machinery. Once the tower is in place, it can also be used as a solar-power generator.

The tower is still a prototype and Vittori plans to build two towers for a launch in 2015.

In Peru, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune (http://www.laht.com/article.asp?ArticleId=700400&CategoryId=14095), another innovative solution to the water crisis has been developed by students at the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) (http://www.utec.edu.pe/Utec.aspx). The students have developed a highway advertising billboard that can draw drinking water out of the air. Inspired by a campaign called “Ingenuity in Action”, the students teamed up with a local advertising agency to design the billboard. It is capable of extracting water from the air and processing it through a filtration system as it flows down to a series of taps at the bottom.

The water-making billboard is at the 89.5 kilometer distance marker of the Pan-American Highway and has five electric-powered tanks that can hold a total of 96 liters of drinkable water. It is capable of providing enough water for hundreds of families. A true sign of our times!

Resources

1) How to Build a Rainwater Collection System. Website: http://www.wikihow.com/Build-a-Rainwater-Collection-System

2) The geopolitical difficulties of access to water covered in The Devil and the Disappearing Sea: A True Story about the Aral Sea Catastrophe by Robert Ferguson. Website: amazon.com

3) “Earth may have underground ‘ocean’ three times that on surface” from The Guardian. Website: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jun/13/earth-may-have-underground-ocean-three-times-that-on-surface

An article on the impact of the water crisis on food supplies. Website: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jul/09/enjoy-your-coffee-you-may-soon-not-be-able-to-afford-it

5) How to Make Water in the Desert. Website: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Water-in-the-Desert


Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

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An Innovator’s ‘Big Chicken Agenda’ for Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Increasing the quantity and quality of food in Africa will be critical to improving the continent’s human development. And a key element in giving Africa a more secure food supply will be boosting science and knowledge on the continent and making sure it is focused on Africa’s needs and situation.

One pioneering scientist is looking to the humble chicken to tackle two big problems in Africa: food security and household incomes. By pumping up the weight and productivity of African chickens, she hopes to eradicate hunger and boost household incomes.

Kenyan scientist Sheila Ommeh (http://www.awardfellowships.org/participants/success-stories/108-sheilaommeh.html ) is showing how local knowledge can give farmers the edge when it comes to improving Africa’s animal stock. An animal geneticist, she is trying to create a disease-resistant African chicken that can also produce plenty of eggs.

Her pioneering work is about trailblazing “a big chicken agenda in Africa,” she explained to TrustLaw, a global hub for free legal assistance and information on good governance and women’s rights.  She grew up in an area – Mount Elgon in western Kenya – where raising chickens was the primary source of both income and food. Her family raised chickens and the income from this helped to pay for her schooling.

Raising chickens is common in rural Kenya, and many of the people doing it are women.

Based on her experience, she saw how virulent diseases kill chicken flocks and destroy family incomes and disrupt lives – diseases like Newcastle (http://www.avianbiotech.com/diseases/newcastle.htm) and Gumboro (gumboro.com).

She works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ilri.org) based in Nairobi, Kenya. The ILRI “works at the crossroads of livestock and poverty, bringing high-quality science and capacity-building to bear on poverty reduction and sustainable development” and conducts research in Africa, South and Southeast Asia and China.

“I’m really passionate about giving back to the community an improved chicken that will really help their lives,” she explains.

Another project she is working on is the development of a drought-tolerant chicken. This chicken could prove very helpful in parts of Africa suffering from drought and hunger, like in the Horn of Africa.

Women are considered to be the majority producers of food in Africa yet just one in four people working in agricultural research in Africa is a woman, according to TrustLaw.

Ommeh has a PhD in chicken genetics and is a staunch believer in seeking out solutions to Africa’s problems within Africa: “In my view = it’s about time Africa looked for solutions in Africa for Africa,” she told a group of British Members of Parliament.

She will continue her research by looking at native African chickens. She is worried indigenous African chickens are being wiped out by cross-breeding and the introduction into the continent of exotic breeds, which are making African chickens more susceptible to viruses.

Her goal is to produce a disease-resistant breed of chicken weighing four kilograms and laying 250 eggs a year. This would be a big increase on current average weights, and a trebling of the yield.

“Definitely the incomes of these households will increase and that will (create) a rippling effect that will trickle up … And we hope that in 10 to 15 years the poverty issue in Africa will not be so serious,” Ommeh said.

“Chicken is a small livestock but I believe it has the capacity to have a big impact.”

For female scientists working in agriculture, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) (http://awardfellowships.org/) is seeking researchers looking to boost their technical and leadership skills. It is hoped that supporting more women researchers will have the effect of turning research priorities towards the needs of smallholder farmers, who make up the majority of  farmers in Africa.

Published: May 2012

Resources

1) Artificial chicken: The contest to create artificial chicken meat offers a US $1 million prize. Website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jan/21/artificial-chicken-food-prize

2) Poultry Hub: “Poultry Hub can help you learn more about the amazing world of poultry and your place in it. Poultry is one of the world’s most technically advanced agricultural industries, offering rewarding career paths to talented young people in hundreds of countries.” The Hub includes the excellent “anatomy of the chicken” learning resource. Website: http://www.poultryhub.org/organisations/rural-industries-research-anddevelopment-corporation-rirdc-chicken-meat-program/

3) Poultry Research Centre: From the University of Alberta, the website offers resources and contacts on poultry sciences. Website: http://www.poultryresearchcentre.com/

4) Chickens: Basic information on chickens and their origins. Website: http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Chicken.aspx

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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CASE STUDY 5: GOSH/ICH Child Health Portal | 2001 – 2003

Expertise: Strategy, vision, team leadership, managing suppliers, design vision, digital strategy, content creation, editing, project management, innovation, child health, public health, modernising large institutions. 

Location: London, UK 2001 to 2003

Project Manager: David South

Charity Content Coordinator: Ramita Navai

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 5: GOSH/ICH Child Health Portal | 2001 – 2003 Images

Abstract 

In 2001 I was hired to project manage and deliver a Child Health Web Portal for the prestigious Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital NHS Trust (GOSH)/Institute of Child Health (ICH) based in London, UK.  

The project was intended to lead on innovation at the institutions and in the wider National Health Service (NHS) and was delivered in three phases. Screen grabs can be viewed below:  

Phase 1 

Phase 2

Phase 3

About

From the start, the project begged the question: Could we take a complex (and complicated) mandate and successfully achieve it in just two years? All under great public and media scrutiny (London being a world centre for media)? And how do you innovate for the 21st century in a major health care institution and build on its already high reputation?

Britain’s best-loved children’s hospital and charity, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust (GOSH), contracted me to lead a two-year project to modernise the hospital’s web presence and take its brand into the 21st century. GOSH is both Britain’s first children’s hospital and a pioneering child health institution (along with its partner the Institute for Child Health). The hospital’s outstanding reputation meant the project was carried out under intense public, media and professional scrutiny, and required a keen awareness of new media developments and the needs of the hospital’s patients, their families and the public. It drew on an extensive public consultation and the NHS Modernisation Plan and the Information for Health strategy – which had identified strong demand for services and information to be made available online – to develop this innovative online offering. The NHS had also set the goal of having 25 per cent of all its services accessible via the web. 

From the start, the project represented a new phase in how the institutions communicated. An announcement in PR Week in April 2001 acknowledged this, declaring the role will deal “with what is increasingly becoming an important part of the press office and the hospital”. Prior to beginning the two-year project in 2001, the existing website was an amateurish affair and not suitable for an internationally renowned centre for paediatric treatment, training and research. 

The UK had become out of step with wider web developments at that time and had to do a lot of catching up. But there was a ready audience for better web content already established in the country. By 2001, data showed 3 million children in the UK were using the Internet and 33 million UK citizens could access it through work, school or home. 

By 2001, the Internet offered an estimated 100,000 health-related websites (most based in the United States, leaving a gap for high-quality information based on UK research and experience). Trust was key and this was a crucial part of the content strategy that was developed. 

As lead staff member for the website, I was in charge of recruiting and managing staff and suppliers, liaising with stakeholders inside and outside the organisations, planning work and seeking opportunities and partnerships.

The project was developed in three, distinct phases. Screen grabs from these phases are available for download and evaluation. They also include web traffic statistics. This unique snapshot of a complex project as it unfolded, should prove useful for other e-health practitioners. 

As an innovator, the project became a catalyst for numerous online and offline initiatives across the institutions. The website made enormous strides, winning a number of national and international awards and leapfrogging to become one of the best NHS-linked sites in the UK. Areas radically improved included the design and navigation, patient information for families, press office, and the development and launch of the award-winning children’s website. 

Phase 1 

Phase 2 

Phase 3 

Each stage was transparently communicated and accompanied by high-profile publicity campaigns: a necessity because the hospital relies heavily on public trust and funding to function. 

The first phase involved getting buy-in on a new design vision, assembling a team, extensive work on migrating the very large legacy website into the new template, and exciting colleagues on the potential of the new child health portal vision. It was launched in September 2001.  

Ask Dr Jane Collins, a regular column written by the Chief Executive Dr. Jane Collins for The Times newspaper, was one of the more popular features of the child health portal. The portal was also directly connected to the NHS Direct service with its extensive online health encyclopedia.  

In 2001, the project launched an interactive Christmas child health advent calendar offering top tips from health professionals on how to have a safe holiday season. It showed what could be done with the improving web design and production skills of the team. The PDF can be viewed here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/44905926/Christmas-Advent-Calendar-for-GOSH-Child-Health-Portal-2001.

As another example, the hospital’s 150th birthday celebration on 14th February 2002, attended by Her Majesty the Queen (and celebrities, including Madonna), was accompanied by an online interactive history prepared by the project and was used to inform the wider public about the child health portal.  

Phase two involved the launching of new content developed by some of the world’s top child health experts and scientists, substantial new resources for sick children and their families, an online awareness-raising campaign to drive traffic to the health portal as a trusted and reliable resource, plus a wider media campaign. Based on user experience testing and user feedback, changes were made to the design and content structure to make the portal more user-friendly and to follow best practice in web design at that time.  

The overall child health portal also gave birth to a highly successful new resource, the award-winning Children First website in May 2002. This resource was a year in development and was calibrated by age to provide relevant resources to guide children through the hospital experience. It used high-quality animation and partnered with BBCi and BBC Science to create resources that would resonate with children and youth. It included high-profile elements such as the Write4GOSH children’s writing prize, attracting entries from around the world, with winners receiving prizes from Cherie Booth QC, Dannii Minogue and children’s writer Jacqueline Wilson.  

Children First attracted an average of 700,000 visitors each month with over 800 children in its first year contributing to the site. It addressed a gap in the online marketplace for health resources written for children rather than for their parents and families. It also gave birth to its own project: The Virtual Children’s Hospital (VCH). Funded by the PPP Foundation in August 2002, it worked with a team of psychologists to meet the social, psychological and information needs of ill children. 

In March 2003 the Commission for Health Improvement (CHI) in its review and assessment found, in answer to the question “What, if anything, did CHI find that the rest of the NHS can learn from?” at the hospital, it was the child health portal, because “The trust’s website has different sections for children and families as well as for health professionals. The website also has sections for children of different ages and a broad range of information leaflets is available to download. The website has 3.5 million hits per month.”  

In 2003, the UK’s Guardian newspaper called the Children First website one of the “three most admired websites in the UK public and voluntary sectors,” and a UK government assessment called the overall GOSH child health web portal a role model for the NHS. Children First also won the prestigious Cable and Wireless Childnet Award that year as well. And was short-listed for the New Stateman’s New Media Awards. 

In 2006, The Times of London called Children First the Top Child Health Website in its Wellbeing on the Web: The Best Portals survey (November 11, 2006). 

Phase three saw online traffic growing at a steady clip, the portal gaining accolades, awards and positive reviews; it also helped the hospital to gain the highest rating in a government review (5*), and Children First was awarded significant further funding so it could expand its resources. The award-winning team also re-developed thewww.gosh.org charity website (one of the highest profile charity brands in the UK) and launched it in 2003 as well.  

A great way to track the historical development of a web project is to use the Wayback Machine’s Internet archivehere (https://archive.org). By typing in the web address (for example, http://www.gosh.nhs.uk, and http://www.gosh.org), you can see a chronological history of the website by month. 

Timeline 

2001: Initial design vision articulated and team assembled. First phase of content creation and ‘soft launch’ of portal in September 2001. Begin experiments with new graphic design, including an online interactive Christmas advent calendar with health tips.  

2002: Launch new content during the hospital’s 150th anniversary celebrations; begin development work on Children First content. Partnering with BBCi and BBC Science to improve quality of child and youth resources. Significant new content is launched throughout the year as the portal sees month-on-month growth in web traffic. Awarding of further funding for Children First and the Virtual Children’s Hospital. 

2003: Winning of Childnet Award; launch of new GOSH Charity website. Record web traffic to the website.

“Hospital unveils international website for children”: The Guardian, 8 October 2003.
“The kids are alright”: The Guardian, 5 February 2003.
“Web Projects For Kids Get Their Due”: CBS News, April 25, 2003.

Testimonials

“As a parent, I recognise how important it is to help your child understand all that they can about their stay in hospital and their care and treatment. Time spent in hospital can often be a very frightening experience. Making sure that your child has helpful, easy to read information will make a significant difference to their time in hospital. 

I am sure that this website will prove very useful for children and their families.” Prime Minister Tony Blair, May 2002

“A highly attractive website written by and with children at Britain’s biggest specialist hospital for children. The site is carefully segmented for different age groups and provides a powerful platform on which children can reach out from the confines of their hospital wards, share their experiences and learn about a range of medical issues as well as have access to fun interactive resources.” Childnet Award 2003

“I am glad you mentioned the web site. If you can access it and haven’t recently please have a look. It has vastly improved and both David Latchman and I (it is a joint site with ICH) are very pleased.” Dr Jane Collins, Chief Exec’s Corner, Roundabout newsletter, February 2002

“I never thought that GOSHKids would be so valuable to the hospital or, more importantly, to children and young people attending the hospital or simply interested in health matters. I think that this reflects my age, though!

“Many of us over 30, even if we use the internet ourselves, are surprised how much children and young people use it both as a source of information and for entertainment. 

“Even quite young children are using it routinely now and as an increasing number of families have access to it, either at home and/or at school or work, presumably more and more will do so. 

“There are over 42,000 hits per day (1,260,000 a month) on our GOSHKids website already. Of course, part of the success of the website is down to its design and content. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Gary Loach, David South and the whole team who have worked so hard to make it successful.” Dr Jane Collins, Chief Exec’s Corner, Roundabout newsletter, June 2003 

“The GOSH/ICH web site to date has been a notable success. Not only has it met a majority of its objectives as delineated in the PIN report of 2000 and achieved recognition as ‘exemplary’ among NHS resources, but it has also generated a number of spin-off projects, including Children First (as a successor to GOSHKids) and The Virtual Children’s Hospital.

“It has moved from providing a poor representation of the organisations, to above average for corporate web resources, and compares highly favourably with those of other NHS sites and departments. The most notable success lies in the resource it now provided for the public, especially GOSHKids.

“In a context in which less than 25% of all projects realise even 50% of their benefits, the satisfaction of 75% of the original objectives set out in the PIN report must rank as a significant achievement.” Website Project Audit by Passmasters Limited, 17 April 2003

“Great Ormond Street Hospital has launched this health site targeted specifically at childen, with a separate version aimed at young teenagers. The site aims to give young ‘uns information about health, illness and treatment in an easily digestable, non-threatening manner.” Internet Magazine, July 2002

“… it’s a good site and not just for those about to go into the hospital.” New Media Age, 20 June 2002

“The project was instrumental in pulling together a number of key strategies (including the NHS’s Modernisation Plan, and its Information for Health Strategy), and acting as a catalyst for numerous online and offline initiatives. Critical to these strategies is the need to provide information and services online and in an accessible way. The aim has not only been about serving the specific needs of the institutions, but also to become a broader child health portal.  

“The website in 2001 was an amateurish affair and a disgrace to an internationally renowned centre for paediatric treatment, training and research. Run largely from the Research Office it was focused on one particular audience, uninspiring in design, reactive in updating and made little use of the potential of the internet. We needed someone to take it forward …

David [South] was lead staff member for the website, recruiting and managing staff and suppliers, liaising with stakeholders inside and outside the organisations, planning work and seeking opportunities and partnerships. It is fair to say that the site made enormous strides under his leadership, winning a number of national and international awards, and leapfrogging to become one of the best NHS-linked sites in the UK. 

 “A number of areas were drastically improved, including design and navigation, patient information for families, press material, and the award-winning children’s site, which is now an international project with many different partners. David [South] project managed many projects in this time including linked sites for London IDEAS Genetics Knowledge Park, and the hospital charity site …” Stephen Cox, Chief Press Officer, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust and the Institute of Child Health

Impact 

Micro

  • took public consultation and consultant’s report and crafted and developed a strategy to implement the GOSH Child Health Web Portal
  • assembled team across two institutions
  • set clear milestones and brought project management methodology previously deployed with the United Nations
  • led on teaching new ways of project management for results
  • took GOSH brand forward for the digital age
  • advised colleagues on digital publishing and design
  • awarded additional funding

Macro 

  • role model for NHS and government/charity sector. Awarded five stars in government review
  • Childnet Award
  • launched major milestones with well-known figures, including Her Majesty the Queen, Madonna, and pop stars
  • significant media coverage of project
  • attracted funding not only for the GOSH Child Health Portal but also for other projects at the institutions
  • grew web traffic month-on-month, becoming one of the top online child health resources
  • website cited in many other resources. One of the goals of the project was to increase access to high-quality child health resources and to have them cited in books etc.

Citations

The Great Ormond Street Hospital Manual of Children’s Nursing Practices by Susan Macqueen, Elizabeth Bruce and Faith Gibson, John Wiley & Sons, 2012

Help! My Child’s in Hospital by Becky Wauchope, Marbec Family Trust, 2012

Oxford Desk Reference: Nephrology by Jonathan Barratt, Peter Topham and Kevin P.G. Harris, Oxford University Press, 2008

Research Review 2001: A Year of Excellence and Innovation, Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust, 2001

Research Review 2002: Building on Success, Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children NHS Trust, 2002

Other Resources

GOSH Child Health Portal Phase 1a

GOSH Child Health Portal Phase 1b

GOSH Child Health Portal Phase 2a

GOSH Child Health Portal Phase 2b

GOSH Child Health Portal Phase 3 

GOSH Project Launch Brochure and Screen Grabs, 2001-2003

GOSH Child Health Portal 2001 to 2003 Resources

Further Reading:

Embedding Young People’s Participation in Health Services: New Approaches edited by Louca-Mai Brady, Policy Press, 7 October 2020

“There is increasing interest in young people’s participation in the design and delivery of health services. But young people’s views are not consistently sought or acknowledged, and they are still often marginalised in healthcare encounters. Drawing on original research and a diverse range of practice examples, Brady explores the potential for inclusive and diverse approaches to young people’s participation in health services from the perspectives of young people, health professionals and other practitioners. She presents a practical new framework, embedded in children’s rights, that shows how young people’s participation can be integrated into services in ways that are meaningful, effective and sustainable.”

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© David South Consulting 2017

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CASE STUDY 2: Watch Magazine | 1994 And 1996

Expertise: Editing, start-ups, youth media, content development, art direction, design and layout, investigative journalism.

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1994 and 1996

Editor-in-Chief: David South

Click here to view images for this case study: CASE STUDY 2: Watch Magazine | 1994 Images

Abstract

In 1994 I was hired by start-up Youth Culture to be Editor-in-Chief of Toronto’s Watch Magazine, a bi-weekly distributed to the city’s high schools and to all youth hang-outs. In 1996 I was hired again to help with preparing the magazine for its national launch. 

About

In 1994, the Internet had not arrived in any great form (though Watch Magazine was on top of its emergence as Internet cafes popped up in the city) and the digital economy was still minimal. There was no such thing as ‘start-up culture’ for youth. There was an urgent need to create opportunity for youth, to create new markets, and to change the business culture of the city of Toronto, which had been hit hard by an economic crash and austerity. 

Watch Magazine had had a brief false start prior to my arrival in 1994. The previous format had not worked and the magazine needed a vision and somebody with the experience and dedication to see it through. It was also entering a competitive marketplace for readers, with already existing free magazines capturing most of the advertising spend for youth-oriented marketing in Toronto (though failing to offer a genuine youth content experience as could be found in Europe – the UK especially – at that time). As an example, Toronto lacked sharp and credible coverage of youth popular culture in the early 1990s. Drawing on my extensive experience as a journalist (including at Toronto’s established alternative weekly, Now Magazine) and editor, I assembled a team of youth editors and writers to work on making the content and magazine’s design appealing to the youth demographic in Toronto. The magazine needed to turn a profit in short order and become credible to advertisers, its main source of income (in Canada, 64 per cent of magazine revenues come from advertisers)*. The design and content needed to appeal to a youth audience but work with a tight (but increasing) budget. It was doing this in a tough economy with high unemployment, austerity, business failures, and a generally negative business environment.

By having an actual youth editorial team, Watch Magazine quickly developed an authentically young 1990s voice. The magazine also benefited from its youth team’s ability to spot trends bubbling under the surface ready to explode into mainstream society. As an example, they had this to say on the Internet in a piece on Toronto’s coffee shops, “Some mean places for bean”: “The powers-that-be think we should cocoon in our houses and rent videos, play with the Internet and order in food …” 

Youth unemployment was high in the early to mid 1990s in Canada. It reached 19.3 per cent for those 15 to 19 years old in 1993. “It should be noted, however, that youth unemployment relative to that of adults has worsened since the 1990-91 recession (Youth Unemployment in Canada by Kevin B. Kerr, 2000).”

The Canadian economy overall severely contracted and unemployment was at 11.4 per cent by 1993 (Statistics Canada), and as Statistics Canada said, “Because employment recovered at a snail’s pace after the recession of the early 1990s, the decline in the unemployment rate was delayed until 1994”.

As the Bank of Canada also said: “In early 1994, Canada’s economic situation was not that favourable—our economy was facing some rather serious problems. … the recession here was more severe than in the United States.

“Working their way out of these difficulties was disruptive and painful for Canadian businesses. Defaults, restructurings, and downsizings became the order of the day. With all this, unemployment took a long time to recover from the 1990–91 recession …” *

And the media in general could not avoid the crisis. According to the book The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000), Canada’s media was also in a crisis throughout the 1990s, as declining resources, staff layoffs and media closures reduced the breadth and depth of news coverage.

In less than a year, Watch Magazine had gone from being an unknown quantity, to being a fast-growing and profitable youth publication, significantly increasing its advertising revenue: a key metric for a magazine reliant on this as its main source of income. It had expanded in size and audited distribution and was able to make a move to new digs (the Watch Magazine “crib” – a studio and work space) at innovative “arts-and-culture hub” start-up space 401 Richmond Street in Toronto – at the centre of Toronto’s emerging media and design neighborhood in its former fashion district.  All the contributors were high-school-age youth drawn from talent across the city; many had already shown their ability by starting their own publications and media. They gained first-hand experience in investigative journalism skills, business skills in a start-up, and magazine and media production skills. 

“… thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.” William White

In 1996, I was hired again to help with preparing the content format for Watch’s expansion to a national magazine – further proof of its success as a publication and a business. 

* (Bank of Canada: Canada’s Economic Future: What Have We Learned from the 1990s?)

* The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000)

Brief descriptions of sample issues are below: 

Youth Gangs Cover

In 1994, with Canada’s economy still in the doldrums, Watch Magazine exploded into Toronto’s high schools. Staffed by talented youth, it shook up the staid publishing scene and proved young people did have something to say. This first issue still remains relevant, with its exploration of youth gangs and violence in the school system.  

Therapy Cover

After its successful launch, Watch Magazine was grabbing readers and getting the attention of advertisers and television. It was time to improve the design and introduce the latest in graphic design software. The results paid off: the magazine looked sharper and quickly ran from its cheeky launch, when we had basically avoided all traditional approaches to a launch (like actually having a designer).

For anoraks out there, this photo shoot with Irish band Therapy took place outside the former Wellesley Hospital emergency department in Toronto. And, yes, that is a genuine restraining ‘straitjacket’ used by psychiatric hospitals to restrain mental health patients. 

Digable Planets Cover

By this issue, Watch had hit its stride: we were the first to seriously review the ballooning zine culture, get immersed in the rave and late-night party scene, and dig deep into “chopsocky world”: Hong Kong and Asian film fans. But “Hip-Hop Comb-munism”? What were we thinking?

It was also the biggest issue to date. 

Beck Cover

Highly talented Beck gave Watch his eloquent thoughts on the media’s infatuation with Generation X and how it always desperately needs to sell young people more stuff. Watch took on Ontario’s film censors over the GG Allin documentary, Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, and let students across the city blow off steam on life in the 1990s. 

Bass is Base Cover

By October 1994 the magazine’s investigative powers were in full flow. Two investigations – a sex scandal at an alternative school, and whether the Battle of the Bands contests, a fixture at most high schools, are really worth it – joined a profile of the band Bass is Base and more coverage on the growing rave scene in Toronto. 

Oasis Cover

In 1994, Oasis were still an indie band with a lot of bottle and big mouths. Riding a tsunami of hype from the UK, they washed up in North America to face their biggest challenge: could they become as big as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Lead singer Liam Gallagher does not disappoint, as he gives me an expletive-laden exposition on everything under the sun.

This was the first published print interview with the band in Canada.

Sloan Cover

Canada’s answer to the ‘Madchester’ scene of the early 1990s, Sloan, played the pop game with gusto. In the photo shoot for the feature, it was pants down and prayer hands to an unseen religious icon.

Timeline 

1994: Hired to re-launch and expand Watch Magazine in Toronto.

1996: Hired to re-develop editorial content for Watch Magazine’s national launch.  

Testimonials 

“As one of those high school kids and the guy who wrote (most of) this article, I’d like to say thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.” William White

Impact

Micro 

  •  Toronto’s first youth culture media start-up. Introduced ‘youth culture’ concept to Canada
  •  oversaw two format re-launches of the magazine as it expanded and grew
  •  assembled talented youth editorial team
  •  grew magazine and its profile as the main media source for reaching Toronto’s youth
  •  writers trained and appeared on TV as youth commentators
  •  first profile in Canada of British band Oasis, among many other story firsts
  •  became first stop for anyone wishing to target the youth market, or seeking intelligence on the youth market 

Macro

  • created youth culture market in Toronto
  • first magazine to be based at new start-up hub in Toronto – pioneering concept at the time 

A sample of published stories is below:  

Freaky – The 70s Meant Something

Oasis Has Arrogance, A Pile of Attitude and the Best Album of 1994

Citations 

Other Resources 

GOSH Child Health Portal 2001 to 2003 Resources

Note: Complete issues of the magazine’s first year await professional digital scanning. This could be of interest to a library, scholar or university interested in archiving this authentic artefact of 1990s youth culture. Please send an email if you would like to get in touch or share a thought: mailto: davidsouthconsulting@gmail.com.  

Media

Youth culture magazine Watch goes national, Wendy Cuthbert, September 1, 1997, Strategy, Canada

“Free teen publication Watch Magazine is going national this month – promising to more than double its high school penetration. 

The self-described youth culture magazine, which last year at this time went province-wide – delivering copies to 350 high schools across Ontario – plans to send out 125,000 copies to 800 participating high schools across Canada. 

Going national only four years after its inception (the magazine started as a Toronto-only vehicle in 1993) could make national advertisers interested in reaching the elusive teen market very happy.”

Ryerson Review of Journalism, Page 34, 2003, Toronto, Canada

“Owned by marketing company Youth Culture Group, these gender – specific magazines attempt to construct a teen image that is built on spending.”

Watch Magazine Editor-in-Chief David South
Watch Magazine Editor-in-Chief David South photographed at Toronto’s Beaches neighbourhood in 1994. Watch Magazine was Toronto’s first youth culture media start-up and led the way on Toronto’s revival after the economic crisis of the early 1990s. Photo: Margaret South.

Note: Complete issues of the magazine’s first year await professional digital scanning. This could be of interest to a library, scholar or university interested in archiving this authentic artifact of 1990s youth culture. Please send an email if you would like to get in touch or share a thoughtmailto: davidsouthconsulting@gmail.com. You can also fund this goal through our PayPal account here:

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