Design Hack for an alternate tourism ecosystem in Panchgani

Network of Creative Thinkers
Published in
9 min readMar 18, 2020


A case study of a hackathon (or noctathon as we call it) for a cause

Panchgani is a picturesque hill station in Maharashtra that attracts dozens of tourists from all nooks and crannies, all year round. Unfortunately, the spike in popularity of this region has had devastating effects on the natural environment; with an increase of air pollution, overcrowded spaces, and littering. Locals have seized this opportunity by building more restaurants and hotels to attract and accommodate travelers, causing an increase in the pressure placed on water and other resources. The visitors flock to the typical touristic attractions, such as designated view points, restaurants, shops and wax museums and are not conscious, aware or eco-sensitive. The lack of conscious travelers feeds back into the cycle of catering to a crowd that does not truly appreciate nature.

Like many of its neighbouring towns, Panchgani has so much more to offer than the typical spots it is known for. In an attempt to promote ecotourism in the entire region (with Panchgani as a base), the NOCT design team collaborated with some members of the local community to conduct an event to help solve this problem. The workshop challenged participants to find new tactics to tackle tourism in Panchgani & Mahabaleshwar. The purpose was to explore and ideate new alternative approaches for this evolving tourist landscape that are relevant, exciting, and sustainable.

Why a hackathon

We decided to approach this predicament with a hackathon as it provides the perfect environment for intense problem-solving. The concentration of resources facilitate the creation of innovative ideas and concepts that participants can transform into tactile prototypes. These solutions can be shared with stakeholder in an attempt to bring the concepts to life.

The aim was to coordinate an event where participant had the needed space, resources, and guidance to formulate a feasible project that can be implemented in collaboration with local stakeholders to promote ecotourism in the area.

Time & Date: 22– 23 Nov (2 hrs Friday + full-day Saturday)

Team size: 15

Design Facilitators: Kunal Khanna & Neha Shrestha


“How might we develop an alternate tourism ecosystem within Panchgani by inspiring and aiding tourists to engage with Panchgani’s natural heritage, unique biodiversity, rich culture and the need to conserve it?”


Participants, coordinators, and facilitators all gathered at the NOCT studio for an introduction to the workshop. The problematic nature of the tourist industry in the Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar region was described, along with the purpose and relevance of this hackathon. The facilitators introduced the problem statement and the role they would play throughout the event. They were there to lead the teams through all the steps, provide insights, and help them when obstacles arose. After covering some admin points like the prizes and the judging criteria, they explained the Human-centered design (HCD) process which was the approach contestants were advised to take. A quick icebreaker helped them loosen up a bit before they were assigned to one of three teams; they were divided into groups of four based on their skill sets, ensuring a complementary combination of team members. Once the groups were settled in and their team names were chosen, it was time to get right into it.


Understand and learn about your audience

Empathy is a fundamental aspect of the HCD. It was important for the teams to get a better understanding of who this project was aimed at.

Who are you designing for?

What matters to this person?

What are their needs?

We wanted them to uncover how tourists make decisions; what might their thought patterns and perceptions be. Since each contestant has been a traveler at some point in their life, we asked them to conduct the research interviews with each other. After the first set of interviews, the facilitators discussed the concept of foresight; this was to guide teams to adopt a future-orientated view to ensure the sustainability of the solutions they formulate. With the second set of interviews, the team members were encouraged to dig a little deeper by setting a more emotive tone for the type of questions they ask.

Before wrapping up the first day, the facilitators took a moment for the context setting. They discussed the unique aspects of Panchgani that are under-acknowledged by the tourist industry, providing teams with points they had to incorporate into their design.


The day’s events were kicked off with an interactive game, followed by a motivational discussion to stimulate the teams’ hacking and ideating mindsets. The first topic was creative confidence; to believe in possibilities and use your imagination. The aim was to make teams realise that:

Creativity is a choice

Failure is part of the creative process

Action always precedes great creative works

We encouraged them to embrace ambiguity; to allow each other to activate their imagination and explore different possibilities so that the right answer can reveal itself.

During the planning stage, teams seemed to get stuck on the finer details, which was why the facilitators stressed the point of “making it done, not perfect”. Once they selected a concept to work with, they could build on their ideas, revealing opportunities and complexities that they wouldn’t have been able to anticipate.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.

- Abraham Lincoln


Shape your questions according to the insights gathered

In this stage, teams worked on refining and focusing their questions based on the insights gathered in the previous phase.

A ‘how might we…’ question is a tool that human-centered designers use to turn problem spaces into opportunity spaces. It enables them to think more openly about obstacles and all the possible ways that they could overcome them.

The facilitators advised them to use their vision of how they want to change the visitor’s experience in Panchgani, as a departure point. Asking themselves “what problem are we trying to solve?” and “how might we go about it?”. Throughout this process, they were urged to keep their target audience in mind.

Defining the “how might we…”


Brainstorm and come up with ‘out of the box’ solutions

The purpose of this phase was to brainstorm and come up with creative solutions. It was important for teammates to work together on generating a high quantity of possible solutions instead of spending time evaluating the quality of a single concept. We initiated the brainstorming process through a game of Round Robin:

  • Each team member got a piece of paper where they had to write down a possible solution they came up with.
  • They then handed the page to the teammate on their left, who had to add to the concept written down.
  • The pages were circulated until every person had the chance to contribute to their teammates’ proposal.

It is a common occurrence in group activities to find members that are reluctant to share their thoughts and some that struggle to accept the ideas of others. This activity allowed each member to state their point and contribute to the shaping of their teammates’ proposals. After this exercise, the facilitators took a moment to discuss the importance of flaring instead of focusing to remind teams to generate not evaluate. They also elaborated on the importance of doing research and looking at the work of experts to find inspiration.

After lunch, it was time for them to filter through the pages, bundling and categorising the ideas and select the most suitable solution. We did not anticipate how challenging this phase would be. Teams were struggling to narrow down the options; they created communication barriers by talking past each other, making it difficult to reach an agreement. Throughout this phase, the facilitators were moving from one team to another helping them bridge the gap to ensure convergent thinking. After facilitating them through this obstacle, teams managed to pick their end projects. To assist them with formulating a solution hypothesis they were provided with a concept canvas where they could create a rough draft of the idea they selected.


Build and test a cogent representation of your idea

There is often a bit of hesitation when it comes to the transition from formulating ideas to building a prototype. Teams had to gather their thoughts and make their concepts tangible in order to share it with the facilitators and other teams. The creating of a prototype was a preparation exercise for their pitch and did not have to be perfect; teams also had the freedom to choose the medium they wanted to use to convey their concept. Feedback Capturing Grids were handed out to the participants to efficiently structure their comments and critiques. After sharing their prototypes, the teams made the final changes to refine their projects based on the feedback they received. Once the finishing touches were added, it was time to get ready for the judging process.


It’s show time!

The teams were given some time to prepare and practice their pitches. Their task was to gather up all the elements of their projects and create a coherent representation that could be presented to a new audience. The facilitators helped the teams with the flow and structure of their pitch and urged them to use the judging rubric as a guideline.

The judges selected for this event was leadership coach Alka Shesha, and permaculturist Mona Patrao. They are both Panchgani locals that play an active role in the community and have a passion for environmental sustainability.

After a productive day of problem solving, the groups took the stage and presented their ideas to create an alternate tourist industry in Panchgani & Mahabaleshwar.

With much deliberation, the champions were chosen. The winners of the 2019 NOCTathon was team Sai Tama with their catchy and creative concept of ‘The Festival of Doing Nothing’.

‘The Festival of Doing Nothing’ is all about savouring the precious quiet moments. People come to Panchgani to break free from their routines, blow-off some steam and recharge. Instead, they often end up rushing from one spot to another and before they know it, it’s time to head back. This week-long festival concept encourages a more mindful way of exploring a space by taking the time to observe and respect the environment instead of mindlessly consuming on a binge. Instead of hopping between consumerist spaces, the festival promotes spending peaceful time amidst nature reading, writing, sketching, walking, thinking or simply being at ease. So the next time you’re in Panchgani, remember to forget about making plans and take in that beautiful view, indulge in the tranquility…and do nothing!


It was amazing to see the creative concepts flow as all participants put on their thinking caps and zoomed in on the problem. The hackathon served as an effective method for collaborating efforts while concentrating all resources towards formulating a solution. With the guidance of the facilitators, each group managed to come up with innovative ideas that were relevant and realistic, all in the span of one day. We also plan to take forward the winning concept of “The Festival of Doing Nothing”. It was great seeing the positive reaction we received from our Instagram followers regarding the possibility of this event. It seems like this might just be what Panchgani needs ;)