Fall 2021: crowddoing BLOG POST

It was quite a pleasant surprise when I received the mail from SUMANI that I have been chosen as a Program Manager for the project “Nature Counter”. That mail was the beginning of one of the most enriching experiences I have had at Columbia University. From working on an intriguing project to managing a diverse and extremely talented team, I enjoyed every aspect of my association with SUMANI. 

“Nature Counter” was my first preference amongst the list of projects that SUMANI had shared with us. The problem statement shared by the client intrigued a lot of interest in me and I immediately knew that I wanted to work on this project. Nature Counter is a public health initiative by CrowdDoing that aims to create awareness around the health and nootropic benefits of spending time in nature and simultaneously, decrease the dependence on people on various medications. The project wants to utilize the research studies done on the subject for creating a mobile application that encourages people to spend more time in nature. 

The project scope shared by the client consisted of several research questions for which the client expected us to conduct a literature review. After multiple rounds of discussion with my team, we realized that given our bandwidth we need to limit the scope of work to a maximum of five research questions (each team member was to work on one research question). Once we had the initial level of findings, we presented it to the SUMANI Board and our client for feedback and to discuss the next steps. The mid-term presentations proved to be helpful as our client suggested certain new perspectives that my team could explore to further validate the health and social benefits of spending time in nature. For the next phase of the project, the team members were grouped to look into the direct health benefits, indirect social benefits, and propose the strategy for a mobile application. 
The final deliverable to the client consisted of a presentation that included the summary of our literature review, a synopsis on the various physical and mental health benefits and ancillary social benefits associated with spending time in nature, and a strategic framework for the nature counter mobile application.

One of the most challenging aspects related to the project was that the initial scope of work required skill sets that none of the team members possessed. However, once we clarified and communicated that to our client, he was very accommodating and tweaked the scope of work to suit our areas of expertise. Another area where we faced issues was doing the literature review for answering the research questions posed by our client. Many of the publications presented contradicting data that made it difficult for us to conclude. This was overcome by doing an extensive literature review to identify the conclusion that is supported by the majority of the publications. 

To conclude, being a part of SUMANI helped me and my team to use our strengths in adding value to a project which has the potential to greatly benefit our society.  As a project manager, I learned that despite meticulous planning things may not go as expected and one should always be prepared for the unexpected. I was fortunate that I had the support of my team members and Blake (Director of Projects) to help me navigate through this journey. 

– Sonali

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