Digital threads: Towards personalised craft production in Malay cottage industries

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Computing & Communications

Abstract

The Digital Threads project addresses the challenge of poverty for rural Malay women and its risk for the cultural heritage of traditional weaving practices. Cottage industries across the entire region of South Asia are considered beneficial both for economic growth and as accessible means to alleviate rural poverty. The Malay Government has invested significantly over recent decades to revitalise weaving practices such as songket textiles. However, there has been limited success since these initiatives have adopted a traditional product-centric business model and made limited use of digital technologies.

In this project we will engage in ground-breaking interdisciplinary research to promote sustainable economic development and welfare in Malaysia by radically changing the business models of cottage industries. The project will explore more sustainable and innovative business models flexible to integrate cutting-edge technologies that place customers at the centre of personalised production. We propose the design of digital applications which could be built upon distributed ledger technology for the management of the demand chain. These in turn will be able to support the hand-making of unique individual artefacts rather than mass-production commodities.

The Digital Threads project has the potential for significant economic and social contributions. We draw expertise from HCI, computer science, and information management to deliver:
(i) new knowledge about the cottage industries and their decentralised handmade modes of production;
(ii) innovative customer-centric business models for the management of the demand chain; and
(iii) novel designs of digital technologies for shaping these business models through fresh approaches to designing for provenance. Such approaches will enable the transparency of the hand-making process, the maker's experience, and the value of cultural heritage embedded in it.

These outcomes have the potential to bring the Malay cottage industries into the 21st century and its worldwide Digital Economy whilst honouring and leveraging their cultural heritage. They will also leverage the less explored potential of blockchain technologies for social impact and for addressing the global challenge of poverty.

Planned Impact

The Digital Threads project has the potential for strong economic and social contributions across several communities. It will generate (i) new knowledge about the cottage industries and their decentralised handmade modes of production, (ii) innovative customer-centric business models for the management of the demand chain, and (iii) designs of new cutting-edge technologies for shaping these business models. These will address not only the transparency of the supply chain, but more importantly the transparency of the hand-making process, the maker's experience, and the value of cultural heritage embedded in it.

Rural communities of Malay women weavers.
We will work with at least 50 rural women weavers across Kelantan and Borneo, who will provide direct input into the process of designing both the business models and the technologies enabling them. In addition, they will experience first-hand our digital prototypes through participatory workshops and evaluation studies. Through their engagement in the research project, we expect that these women will specifically benefit through increased awareness of the economic value of their craft's cultural heritage, unique to each woman as it is exclusively transmitted from mother to daughter; stronger digital and creative writing literary leveraged to develop beautiful online presence and stories of their making process; as well as increased awareness of the importance to engage directly with buyers to co-design personalised, unique products. We expect that these benefits will strengthen these women's entrepreneurial knowledge, skills and values. This in turn will empower them on their journey through economic independence through increased customer base (mostly national and potentially international) and increased income through more marketable products. These social and economic benefits have been also identified by the NGOs partners in our project.

Malay NGO and Governmental organisations.
We will be engage with NGO and Gov organisations which have foreseen clear economic and social benefits for our target user groups, as described in their letters of support. This project's outcomes can also be beneficial to the Malay NGOs and Governmental organisations, which have invested significantly to revitalise songket weaving. There has been however limited success since these initiatives have adopted the traditional product-centric business model and made limited use of digital technologies. If successful, Digital Threads has the potential to radically change the Malay Government's strategy for prioritizing funding allocation towards programmes focusing on our proposed customer-centric business models, and digital literacy for engaging with the digital technologies such as the ones which we will be designing.

The Digital Economy of Malay cottage industries.
Through our integration of innovative business models and digital technologies, we will indicate new ways in which Malay cottage industries can be brought into the 21st century and its worldwide Digital Economy whilst honouring and leveraging their cultural heritage. If successful, the evaluation of our business models and digital prototypes on two types of weaving practices, will suggest their potential to generalise across weaving practices and ultimately to other sectors of cottage industries.

Larger society: innovative applications of blockchain for social impact.
We believe that the successful completion of Digital Threads project will contribute to the ongoing discussion on the untapped potential of blockchain technologies for social impact in general, and global challenges in particular. For this, we will organise workshops with the public sector to explore the potential of distributed ledger for supporting entrepreneurship at the bottom of the pyramid, and expect that we will build a momentum that future UK initiatives may build on.
 
Title Logo 
Description Hand-drawn illustration as logo for the weavers' group whose online presence is hosted on Provenance platform 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The impact is still to be determined as the online presence is acknowledged by potential customers. 
 
Title Weavers' stories 
Description Dr Zoe Lambert, an academic with interest in Creative Writing, has interviewed 10 expert weavers interested in having an online presence, increase their customer base, become entrepreneurs, while preserving songket' cultural heritage. Following these interviews, Dr Lambert prepared 10 stories, one for each weaver, showcasing their craft uniqueness, history of learning the craft, motivation and authentic values related to weaving. She also provided an insight into their individual lives and struggles, as well as achievements. These stories are part of the weavers presentation on the Provenance platform. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Online visibility of the rural weavers, who, as we know from our extensive fieldwork, are invisible workers. 
URL https://www.provenance.org/users/songket-terengganu
 
Description Our initial findings from interviews with 12 home-based weavers from four Malay villages, led to the identification of three types of weavers and their distinct motivations. Most of the weavers in the rural area work with a trader who controls the songket production and distribution in that area. The broker plays a vital role in the songket supply and demand chain. The village weavers face four key challenges which make women economic empowerment difficult. These include the challenge of finding or being found by potential customers, the disproportionate information and economic power held by the trader reflected in exploitative relationships with the weavers, the challenge of limited technical skills for customizing the songket design, and the challenge of protecting the authenticity of the newly made songket designs. Our rich fieldwork data allowed us to develop a range of empirically grounded implications for design and requirements that have been and continue to inform the design and implementation of our three apps. With respect to the use of blockchain technology to support capturing the authenticity of songket practice and songket design, we have done some preliminary work exploring the interest of this technology in Malay context. We have found that while the number of people involved in blockchain transactions is fast growing in Malaysia, there is a need for new tools to help them increase trust in each other, support the transparency of two-way and reversible transactions, and for materializing trust.

We also run contextual interviews with 92 participants including preparation workers, weavers, designers, merchants, and customers. Findings indicate that increased creative infrastructural actions are reflected in these actors' resourcefulness for mobilizing information, materials, and equipment, and for making creative artifacts through new technologies weaved within traditional practices. We propose two approaches to design in this craft-based infrastructure. First, we explore designing for the social layer of infrastructure
and its mutually advantageous exploitative relationships rooted in culture and traditions. Second, we suggest designing for roaming value-creation artifacts, which blend physical and
digital materializations of songket textile design. Developed through a collaborative and asynchronous process, we argue that these artifacts represent less-explored vehicles for value co-creation, and that both them and their sociotechnical infrastructure as emerging sites of innovation could benefit from HCI research.
Exploitation Route We have developed strong relationships with the NGOs helping us recruit participants. We shared our fieldwork findings with these NGOs, as they may act as policy influencers for informing government policies with respect to the preservation of cultural heritage and to women empowerment in Malaysia.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://www.digitalthreads.co.uk/publication
 
Description The mobile app has been made available to weavers with interest to become financially independent.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Title Malay songket motifs 
Description Our research team has digitized 38 popular Malay songket motifs by using our songket co-design mobile app. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The digitized motifs could be re-used by weavers, customers, preparation workers, government or NGO staff interested in songket design and its preservation, as well as by researchers. 
 
Description Collaboration with University College London, Dr Enrico Constanza 
Organisation University College London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We had a meeting with Dr Enrico Costanza and his team before conducting the fieldwork in Terengganu Malaysia to discuss how to elicit weavers' views on collective buying of songket threads, possibly through IoT devices. A lightweight technology probe was explored in terms of its value for engaging people with limited digital literacy in interacting with IoT.
Collaborator Contribution The UCL partners contributed to the workshop design in terms, and in particular to the design of the scenario for collective buying of materials for songket weaving.
Impact The data about people's opinion on collective buying was collected through fieldwork. This data is yet to be analysed.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Handcraft Centre Malaysia - National NGO supporting Malay crafts 
Organisation Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation
Country Malaysia 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Our outcomes and insights from this rich empirical work have been shared with the partner.
Collaborator Contribution We contacted the Kraftangan Malaysia and received permission to visit and video-record the songket design process. The Kraftangan Malaysia also invited the Malay Academic Partner to Songket Carnival and provided information about songket/basket traders and weavers. Our research team also received the list of the songket traders and factory owners. From these traders, we accessed the information about songket designers and songket weavers in rural areas. Therefore, we succeeded in building a database of songket stakeholders.
Impact From this collaboration, we collected information consisting of: 1. List of local Handcraft Centres tailored to support songket and basket weaving 2. List of traders and their contact details 3. List of songket designers and their contact details 4. List of handicraft sellers and their contact details
Start Year 2017
 
Description Provenance Ltd 
Organisation Project Provenance Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Our collaboration led to the online presence of 9 weavers with interest in increasing their customer base and becoming entrepreneurs, presence hosted on the Provenance platform: https://www.provenance.org/users/songket-terengganu. Here we also developed the branding of the collective weavers in the region of Terrenganu, and the journey of their songket weaving.
Collaborator Contribution The intellectual input of Provenance Ltd relates to the online presentation and branding of rural weavers with a strong customer-centric focus, and in their knowledge of Blockchain technology. The Research Associate worked closely with the company for exploring ways through which the Malaysian handmade certificate could be verified by leveraging the Blockchain technology.
Impact Given the limited duration of this project, the envisaged impact is yet to be captured. The weavers' online presence which the project ensured both on Provenance and Facebook platforms, as well as the developed mobile applications for creating bespoke songket designs hold potential for societal, cultural and economic impact.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Terengannu Handicraft Centre 
Organisation Kraftangan Malaysia Cawangan Terengganu
Country Malaysia 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Our outcomes and insights from this rich empirical work have been shared with the partner.
Collaborator Contribution By visiting this Malay NGOs, our research team received the list of the songket traders and factory owners. From these traders, we accessed the information about songket designers and songket weavers in rural areas. Therefore, we succeeded in building a database of songket stakeholders.This collaboration enabled us to interview 30 weavers, 10 songket designers, 3 factory owners, and 2 NGO staffs.
Impact From this collaboration, we collected information consisting of: 1. List of rural weavers and their contact details 2. List of traders and their contact details 3. List of songket designers and their contact details 4. Book on songket and information on songket design
Start Year 2017
 
Description UiTM 
Organisation Universiti Teknologi MARA System
Department Faculty of Information Management
Country Malaysia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We, at Lancaster University, supported capacity building for research for our Malay academic partner. In particular, we provided input into the development of interview guides and participants recruitment. We have also led the data analysis and academic writing, while involving our Malay PI in paper co-authorship. Lancaster University also designed and developed the mobile apps. In summer 2018, Dr Min Zhang and Dr Zoe Lambert from Lancaster University have visited the Malay partner for a 2-week research study. Dr Min has run over 5 workshops with weavers and NGO staff, for co-designing and initial evaluation of our lightweight technology probes. These workshops have been organised with support from our Malay partner. Dr Zoe Lambert run interviews with more experienced weavers with interest in entrepreneurship activities and passionate for preserving songket's cultural heritage. Dr Lambert's stories have been leveraged on the Provenance platform for introducing these weavers to the word. In December 2018, Lancaster University hosted two Malay researchers: Dr Masitah Ahmad and Dr Yati Hussin. During this 3-week visit, we worked closely on digitizing songket motifs, discussing the impact of the project and additional funding for future collaborations, and analysing the qualitative data from design workshops. We also ensured that our Malay researchers meet key people at Lancaster such as Dr Amy Gibbons, our Faculty Impact Manager and Dr Lola Dada, expert in Entrepreneurship and Strategy in Management School.
Collaborator Contribution The first year did not progress as smoothly as we would have liked due to the bureaucracy embedded within the Malay partner institution. This has considerably delayed our Malay PI to receive the research funds which in term delayed the fieldwork. Contingency plans have been put in place so the Malay partner has successfully completed the fieldwork in both urban and rural areas, i.e, over 80 face to face, audio-recorded interviews completed, and over 30 of them already translated and transcribed. Another positive contribution is that the Malay partner has worked closely with partner NGO to recruit study participants such as rural weavers, songket designers, traders, and factory owners.
Impact 1) This collaboration resulted in a collaborative late-break-work paper at the top ACM CHI'18 conference (acceptance rate 39%), and an interdisciplinary full paper at ACM CHI'19 conference (acceptance rate ~ 23%) which received an average score of 4.5/5. 2)The Malay partner successfully developed a database of different stakeholders, levered for our collaborative design workshops. 3) Capacity building for research for the Malay partner.
Start Year 2017
 
Title Songket co-design app 
Description The Android App allows weavers and customers to remotely collaborate for co-designing the motif and pattern of the bespoke songket fabric. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact With the songket co-design App, customers can easily and clearly indicate their requirements of songket design, such as colour, motif, and pattern. Weavers or preparation workers can work further on the customer's design to create a songket fabric with highly bespoke design. Android has been chosen as this is the common mobile platform in Malaysia that weavers already use. The apps has been installed on tablets provided to the weavers to use. 
 
Title The first app interation 
Description The following core functionalities have been designed and partially implemented, as described below for each of the three Apps intended to be developed in this project. 1. The weaver profile App allows weavers to build and manage their narratives as traditional weavers. It includes contact info, handwoven songket portfolios, most popular songket favored by customers. 2. Storytelling App promotes weaver's authentic weaving practice through beautiful narratives and media. 3. Co-design App allows customers and weavers to co-design together the bespoke songket patterns. This tool provides an easy-to-use songket design interface allowing browsing and searching for popular motifs and patterns, as well as modifying them. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact These Apps will be evaluated in the summer of 2018. Their requirements have been already discussed through our extensive fieldwork. This in turn has raised the awareness of our stakeholders and partner NGOs that cultural heritage preservation could be supported by introducing the ICT technology. Our Apps could help promote the traditional handmade songket practices. 
URL https://www.digitalthreads.co.uk/software
 
Description Article in The Conversation: Bitcoin's central appeal could also be its biggest weakness 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article in The Conversation (International media), 7/07/2017. The second most read Conversation article in July with over 40,000 reads.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://theconversation.com/bitcoins-central-appeal-could-also-be-its-biggest-weakness-80486
 
Description Interviews with stakeholders of songket market in Malaysia, completed by the Malay partner 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The Malay partner completed interviews with over 90 participants representing different stakeholder in the songket supply chain. These include around 30 rural weavers in four different villages in the state of Terengganu interviewed with the aim of understanding these their songket weaving practices; 10 designers interviewed to investigate the songket design process; 20 traders, 5 NGO staffs and 3 factory owners interviewed to understand the current supply and demand chain of songket industry; and over 20 customers interviewed to explore their needs for customizing and co-designing the songket patterns.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.digitalthreads.co.uk/news-updates
 
Description Sas, Corina (2017) Personal Values in HCI Research. In: CHI 2017 Workshop: Values in Computing. ACM. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Paper presented at CHI 2017 Workshop: Values in Computing. ACM. http://www.valuesincomputing.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/sas_personal_vic2017.pdf
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/85046/1/Personal_values_in_HCI_final.pdf
 
Description This activity was completed by Lancaster University team during their visit of the Malay partner in summer 2019, and consisted of running co-participatory design workshops, interviews, and ethnography, with help from Malay partner who recruited participants and facilitated discussion/translation. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr Zhang completed over 5 co-design workshops with over 36 participants, including 19 weavers, 6 entrepreneurial weavers, 2 local designers, 4 NGO staff members, and 5 traders.
In addition, Dr Lambert completed interviews with 10 experienced weavers with interest in entrepreneurship and strong passion for songket's cultural heritage.

Dr Zhang and Dr Lambert visited the local weavers' homes, the local market performing also ethnographic observation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Weavers' Facebook presence 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Creating Facebook business profiles for 10 experienced weavers interested in entrepreneurship activities. This activity was completed by the Malay partner to ensure weavers' engagement with a larger national customer base. The profile are in Malay.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Weavers' presence on Provenance platform 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Creating the branding of songket weavers in Teregganu on the Provenance platform (https://www.provenance.org/users/songket-terengganu). This targeted for 10 experienced weavers interested in entrepreneurship activities and passionate for preserving songket's rich cultural heritage. This activity was completed by Lancaster to ensure weavers' engagement with an international customer base. The profile are in English.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018