Abhigyan Kaustubh AI. MR. UX.

Blog Archives


A HoloLens application for disaster response teams.

Introductory video that briefly describes the primary use case of the application.


The main inspiration behind this project was to empower disaster response teams to quickly triage and respond to an emergency, rebuild faster and restore affected areas more effectively, and at the same time take care of the most critical pain points that are faced by the response teams.

DisastARcons allows responders using Microsoft HoloLens to assess damage as needing to be addressed for safety concerns, and to triage sites affected after an emergency event by visually inspecting and marking areas that need attention, or that are health/safety risks. This information is synced via the cloud to the Incident Command System that will use these data points to decide and lead deployment of skilled teams to the area. Subsequent responders will use DisastARcons to find and resolve areas which were tagged by earlier teams in a more efficient manner than conventional methods.

The project was born at the SEA-VR Hackathon IV in Oct 2016, for which we won the Best Humanitarian Assistance Award. Since then, a subset of us have been working on this developing it further for a client.

Role: Project Lead/Product Manager, UX Researcher, Designer, Presenter

Key Activities: Research, Ideation, Prototyping, Design (Environment + Interaction + Key Features Hierarchy), Data Visualization, Coding, Demoing, Presentation and Evangelization, Client Support

Initial Team (at Hackathon): Abhigyan Kaustubh, Amanda Koster, Alicia Lookabill, Steven Dong, Tyler Esselstrom, Drew Stone, Evan Westenberger, Jared Sanson, Sebastian Sanchez

Final Team: Abhigyan Kaustubh, Amanda Koster, Alicia Lookabill, Steven Dong, Tyler Esselstrom, Drew Stone

Timeline: Oct’2016 – Present

Tools: Tableau, AWS, Unity, Balsamiq, Blender, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Premier, Visual Studio, Hololens + its SDK, Asana

Website: http://disastarcons.com/



Process Flow - Page 1 (1)



Ground work + Research

Our process started with high level analysis of the problem space – why did we care? We realized that it was a space that didn’t have optimal solutions, and solving for the problems in this space meant saving several lives in areas that were affected by natural disasters. This allowed us to inform our emotional motivation, which got our team fired up to develop a solution.

Secondary Research

The second part was defining clearly the actual problem space and our value proposition/ solution, and to gauge its viability and short term and long term adoption. For doing this well, several things needed to be done (in series and in parallel):

  1. Research organizations in this field in terms of their needs, focus, specialties, customers and pain points.
  2. Identify the target customer whom we will be designing our product for: what will be their big problem that we will be fixing with our product?
  3. Identify scenarios in which you see the target customer using our product. Identify one main scenario where our product will be indispensable to them, and understand the frequency of such a scenario occurring.

Meanwhile, in parallel,

  1. Envision how could an organization help out in a disaster affected area?
  2. What are the top 3 things that need to be done in such a scenario, and what is the best way of doing that – be completely agnostic to any technology or process. Understand the need at the most fundamental level, and then reason how best to solve this.
  3. Are we developing a mixed reality solution just because it is a VR hackathon, or is there really a strong need that can only be met by Mixed Reality application at the highest level of efficiency?

We started with the users for whom we were going to design our application. After considering several organizations that were involved in this field, their needs, focus, specialties, customers and pain points, we decided to narrow our target customer to FEMA.

We believed it was vital that we were clear about the above aspects of the projects before we dived into design and development. Hence, we iterated the above exercise a couple of times to gain clearer comprehension.


Primary Research

We used two methods for this from the resources that were available: Interviews, Observation through Role Playing

The purpose of the interview was to gain (and cross check) a deeper comprehension of our secondary research, and to get a sanity check from people who were closest to our users, Additionally, none of my team members had been a in the scenario of the intended user before (and had no way of doing so with the resources and time we had), and had limited experience in the field of mixed reality.
Hence, we interviewed experts from the fields of Disaster Management, Accessibility and Mixed Reality.

We interleaved this process with Observation methodology, which we implemented via Role Playing. This enabled us to find more pertinent questions to ask experts as we understood the scenario in the context of a potential user.

We gained the following insights:

  1. A lot of people might be initially enamored my the mixed reality application just because it was “cool” and there was a Hololens involved. This would bias the users feedback on how useful they would find the app, especially if they are using it when in a disaster affected area.
  2. Movies like Iron Man which depict augmented reality and are a significant initial motivation for people experimenting in this field focus mainly on appealing to viewers rather than usefulness to the actor using it. For eg., the field of view should should be as minimalistic as possible to reduce the cognitive load.
  3. The scenario where the application will be used will be hostile and might limit accessibility for users. There should be multiple modes of interacting with the application for critical features.
  4. Along with focusing on minimalism and accessibility, the interface should be as universally comprehensible as possible to understand

The above process allowed us to come up with the following outline for our project (described from target user’s perspective):

  1. Situation:
    1. An 8.8 earthquake happens causing a devastating tsunami
    2. 1st responders have performed search and rescue.
    3. You are a member of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), responsible for the coordination and response to a disaster that has occurred in the United States and that overwhelms the resources of local and state authorities.
  2. Problem Statement: A Government Accountability Office (GAO) 2015 audit report found:
    1. Response capability gaps through national-level exercises and real-world incidents
    2. Status of agency actions to address these gaps is not collected by or reported to the Department of Homeland Security or Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).–Anthony Kimery, Editor-in-Chief, Homeland Security Today.
  3. Proposed Solution: DisastARcons
    1. DisastARcons uses the Microsoft HoloLens for damage assessment by visually inspecting and marking areas that need attention or that are health/safety risks.
    2. DisastARcons increases efficiency in capturing and sharing accurate data AND measures the time between identification and resolution.
  4. Why Hololens?
    1. Always in front of you: The HoloLens utilizes the user’s entire field of view vs. most devices, such as a cell phone that uses a limited rectangle of view and is dependent on the user’s way of holding the device.
    2. Example use case: For the second shift of maintenance workers, all data will always be easily accessible when relevant.
    3. Hands free
    4. Highest fidelity: HoloLens can do 3D, 360° (4π Steradian) construction of its surroundings.

Gaining Product Clarity

Integrating the above, we get the following high level scenario:


High Level Scenario - Page 1




Following the above process, we scoped our project in terms of main goals and extension goals, as follows.

Main Goal:

  1. To build a Hololens application that has the simplest possible interface that allows the user to mark hazards and assign severity ranking to them with accuracy and precision based on the user’s inspection of their surroundings.
    1. The marking of hazards will take place through tagging, where appropriate holograms will be attached to the affected area.
    2. The severity of the hazard will be indicated by the color of the hologram.
  2. Safety mechanism: Since the user will be using this in a dangerous area, there should be a way for the user to call for help (911), easily & intentionally.

Extension Goals:

  1. Establishing a connection with the ICS (or a remote server) to populate data collected from different field agents.
  2. Update the information points on every hololens in the field
  3. Send the information to ICS for analysis
  4. Craft an interface for the ICS to analyze the data quickly and give out directives to field agents.
  5. Add to the existing backend of ICS that allows them to utilize the hololens data points along with others in a seamless fashion.


The ideation process involved condensing data from results from different research methods/activities like roll playing, using custom hologram app in Hololens, 3D construction, expert interviews, concepts in accessibility, etc.

We used this to play around with different interface ideas and interaction methods while trying to refine the use case to utmost leanness.

Based on our results, we came up with the following flow:

The Disasters - Phase 1 - Page 1


Phase 2- ICS + Maintenance Personnel POV - Page 1



The ideation process was translated into a UI flow for the app’s interface – with special emphasis on simplicity and ease of access.


 UI Flow - Page 1


We build a Mixed Reality Hololens application that allows the user to apply persistent tags to different things in their real environment and rate the severity level, while recording and transferring the most accurate set of data points describing hazards (that can be later located by other FEMA agents and attended to) to the remote Incident Command System, which is analyzing all the input data streams and giving the users prioritized and relevant information on their field of view, enabling them to restore the most critical affected areas while remaining safe and keeping a track new potentially hazardous developments in their neighborhood.

Next Steps

We are currently working on our primary extension goals (which is now are main goal):

To build the interface for the ICS and establish efficient data transmission in-between field agents, and with the remote Incident Command System.

The process for that can be best represented by the following flow chart:

Building a functioning Dashboard for SC (Front end + Back end) - Page 1 (1)


The prototype for eventual incident command center’s interface to get an overview of various things happening in the affected area is as follows:

FINAL preso

Maternal and Infant Mortality in rural India


Improved UX of PATH’s video tutorials to reduce maternal and infant mortality in rural India.

Team Members: Trevor Perrier, Abhigyan Kaustubh, Abhishek Gupta, Richard Anderson

Roles: Research Assistant

Key activities Literature Review, Translation, Tagging, Data Organization, Paper writing, enriching the UX of the end user.

Timeline: July 2013 – Sept 2013 (3 months)


Worked on Digital Public Health (DPH) – a partnership program in rural Uttar Pradesh, India, to locally produce public health messaging videos. This was an ICTD (Information and Communication Technologies and Development) Research Project at the CSE Department at UW, funded by Path and NSF.

DPH extends the work of Digital Study Hall and Digital Green to the health domain targeting maternal and infant health based on reactions to videos shown during midwife sessions.

– Performed translation and data extraction, co-developed metadata schemas and ontologies (dendograms), carried out data analysis, and performed A/B Testing (where applicable), with the aim to improve the target audience’s comprehension and adoption of the key message.
– Analyzed, and recommended enhancements in content & its delivery for 14 Tutorials.
– Co-authored a Note for the International Conference on ICTD 2013.


(from the Note)

This note explores methods of analyzing questions asked during public health video showings. The goal is to provide feedback to content creators and session facilitators based a limited subset of the audience’s questions. We analyze five videos produced in the first year of Digital Public Health focused on maternal health issues in rural India. We demonstrate a prototype web based tool to collaborate on the qualitative analysis of questions and propose mechanisms for systematically improving future videos based on this analysis. Initial results show that it is possible to extract useful information on how the target audience perceives the messaging in a video exclusively from questions asked. Based on these results we explain how Digital Public Health can integrate this feedback into an iterative review process for quality assurance of messaging.

Here’s the full note that was published at the International Conference on ICTD 2013 at Cape Town, South Africa.

MyPS Bank

Formulated a business concerning public access to stem cell technology. Won scholarship to the Kick Incubator Seattle.


This is business project focusing on providing the value of utilizing an individual’s Stem cells to fabricate various components of the human body (organs, bones, different types of cells, etc.) which can be used for the individual as needed.

Team Members: Jasmin Chen, Abhigyan Kaustubh, Alex Jian, Greg Uratsu, Maryelise Cieslewicz


Lean Canvas

In this phase, the various aspects of the proposed project are researched and analyzed for evaluating the viability of this business. This is structured using the Lean Canvas model, which is populated as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 9.18.43 AM

Validation Experiments

The Lean Canvas model is followed by the Validity Experiment to understand the scope of the market and evaluate the business value further.

This is done by generating surveys and designing experiments to obtain feedback from the probable target consumer base.

Customer Personas

During this phase, the target customers are refined to the following 4 types. This is done to build empathy and to understand their needs, perspectives and the possible use cases associated with them at a much higher detail.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 8.27.48 AM Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 8.27.30 AM Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 8.27.11 AM Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 8.26.53 AM

Lean Deck

The results from the previous steps are synthesized, and a plausible plan to ensure a return on investment is generated. This also enables in clarifying our understanding of the market and our position in that market.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 11.18.28 AM Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 11.18.42 AM Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 11.18.53 AM Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 11.19.07 AM Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 11.19.22 AM Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 11.19.36 AM Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 11.19.54 AM



myPS bank is a proposal for the first privatized, public induced pluripotent stem cell bank. As it is a biotechnology start up rather than an application or software, the capital needed to establish myPS bank initially would be more than most other start-ups, due to equipment costs, reagents, and employee salary. However, due to the medical and research potential of myPS bank, there are also many avenues of which to recruit fundraising.

  • Solicit government and translational grants (SBIR Phase 1)

Government and translational grants offer the advantage of non-dilutive funding, as well as a fair amount of capital. The amount of capital required for myPS bank would actually be lower than would be required for many other grant-funded biotechnology ventures, as there is no experimental aspect to myPS bank – rather, we are using established techniques simply to collect, transform and store cells. As a result, the equipment and reagent costs would be easily covered under most government grants, and a government grant would allow for the establishment of the feasibility of commercialized stem cell transduction and storage. However, the downside to grants is delayed funding. This could actually be an advantage for myPS bank, though, for two reasons: first, delayed funding could allow for navigation of any regulatory agencies which may be responsible for oversight of myPS bank (the FDA), and two, delayed funding may also allow for the establishment of safety for pluripotent stem cell clinical trials (several of which are ongoing), which would further add to the value of myPS bank.

  • Work with a biotech/life sciences incubator and securing more translational grants

Once grant funding is secured, we will then use the delay in funding to prepare myPS bank for working with a biotech or life sciences incubator. Although competitive, we believe the unique value of myPS bank, the use of cutting edge medical technology, and the preemptive solution to future medical problems would make us a solid competitor. An incubator would offer us the advantage of professional advice which could be used to learn about regulatory concerns or soliciting more capital. Additionally, the exposure of myPS bank in an incubator could significantly increase valuation as well as attract investors and new customers. Additionally, during this time, we would look at further translational grants which could assist in any costs associated with ensuring regulatory compliance for myPS bank.

  • Secure venture funding

For the expansion of myPS bank, venture funding is required. The initial capital from grants and incubators may be enough to establish the first myPS bank and navigate regulatory concerns, but as a physical bank is needed to collect, transform, and store cells, expansion of myPS bank to other locations would require significant capital to expand storage space, hire more staff, and purchase more equipment. However, with the establishment of the myPS bank, we believe we can secure enough customers and revenue which would make myPS bank a feasible and low-risk proposal. Additionally, establishment of myPS bank in new cities would not require a physical bank but rather a “clinic”, which can specialize only in cell collection and shipment to a centralized bank location. As a result, significant capital from venture funding may support the establishment of “clinics” in many other cities, rather than necessitating the establishment of an entire bank in a new city.

MyPSBank: Specific Investors

This section deals with isolating and targeting specific investors.

Initially, MyPSBank would target grants as a means of funding, specifically Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants and grants by the Department of Defense (DoD). The purpose of SBIR grants is to support scientific and technological innovation though Federal research funds which seems to apply very well to the concept of MyPSBank. The first phase of SBIR grants is to establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed R/R&D efforts and to determine the quality of performance of the small business awardee organization prior to providing further Federal support in Phase II. Although SBIR Phase I awards normally do not exceed $150,000 total costs for 6 months, it will provide initial funding for MyPSBank. Phase II and III funds will increase to $1 million or more. The specific DoD grant we would seek after would be the Technology/Therapeutic Development Award which supports the development of new technologies or therapies that have a potential to make a strong clinical impact. Maximum funding would be about $1.5 million.

MyPSBank would seek venture capitalists in the biotech community. The concept of MyPSBank is most similar to the start-ups like 23andMe, therefore, the most logical venture capitalists to reach out to would be investors who were interested in 23andMe and similar novel technology and medicine based start-ups. The two prominent biotech venture capitalists that funded 23andMe included MPM Capital and New Enterprise Associates. MPM Capital has over $2 billion in capital, in which approximately 80 percent of the investments are in the drug industry. The company invests at all stages of development, and in rare occasions has started companies from the ground up. Fund managers of MPM Capital are currently very interested in stem cell advances which places MyPSBank as a high contender to be invested in.

New Enterprise Associates (NEA) invests approximately 40 percent of its money in technology and 40 percent of its money in healthcare, both categories of which MyPSBank belongs. NEA is looking particularly for novel, not just incremental gains in therapeutics or platform funds, and MyPSBank fits in this category. The ambitious concept of proposing the first public stem cell bank as “insurance” for customers’ organs is a unique concept that currently does not exist. With MyPSBank, we are opening doors to future regenerative and therapeutic medicine – ambition that NEA is looking for.

                  Aside from these large VCs, OrbiMed is another possibility to consider. They invest in the health sciences industry and support companies at all stages of development, including large pharmaceutical companies, private start-ups, and even university spinouts.

                  Angel investors would also be of interest as a means of receiving money at a faster pace despite the smaller amount of funding compared to VC’s. Specifically, MyPSBank would be interested in biology related angel investors, such as Life Science Angels (LSA) which scope out companies which are focused in life sciences, such as pharmaceuticals, diagnostic agents, and cell tech (in which MyPSBank would fit into the third category). The people that LSA look to fund are those with experience in the space being proposed, in which our team consists of three highly competent bioengineering graduate students with skill sets related to stem cell research and two MBA students with engineering backgrounds.


Co-developed a business model for a product to reduce health insurance premiums with CEOs in the health sector.

Team Members: Aarti Bindlish, Abhigyan Kaustubh (AK), Brijesh Sharma, Justin Warren, Raksha Viswanatha, Yi-ming Wen

Executive Summary

Healthcare cost in the US is everyone’s concern. Despite rising premiums, profit margins for insurance companies are not increasing proportionally. Future changes in health care regulations will have a multifaceted impact across the industry. Thirty-three percent of university students either do not have insurance coverage or have minimal coverage. Hypothesis testing suggests that university students are interested in participating in preventive care through maintaining their physical fitness if such acts are incentivized.

Business study and market research were conducted to analyze the feasibility of running a platform to incentivize university students to maintain their physical fitness and provide them with a better health insurance policy.

In doing so, key resources, key partners and key activities were identified that will allow the company to achieve economies of scale, reduce risk and acquire resources. University students between the age of 18 and 26 were identified as the target market that will be reached directly through sales representatives.

The first phase of the business starts with bootstrapping from six of its founding members and focuses its efforts on Website & Platform Development, Marketing & Sales, and Administration & Compliance. In the second phase, subscriptions to better insurance plans are provided to customers. Revenue in the first phase will be from transactional fees each time members purchase discounted consumer products.  The revenue in the second phase will come from the commissions the company earns each time customers purchase a new policy. Research shows initial revenue projections in local markets could reach as much as $449,400 to $674,100.

By leveraging the founders’ expertise in platform development, marketing and sales the company seeks to motivate a healthier lifestyle while considerably reducing health insurance costs.


To incentivize a healthier lifestyle for university students and offer lower health insurance costs, better coverage and easy access.

For the Business Plan, please click here.

Slide Deck


Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.07.58 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.08.14 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.08.53 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.09.30 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.09.59 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.10.18 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.10.37 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.11.01 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.11.15 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.11.31 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.11.49 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.12.01 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.12.12 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.12.41 AM

MRD for Leukemia

Enabled the company to gain market traction for its new product by designing a diffusion plan with an interdisciplinary team.

Executive Summary

Our objective for this project was to provide guidance on how to get Adaptive’s clonoSEQ diagnostic test into the clinic for minimal residual disease (MRD) detection of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia patients. We gathered data from Dr. Kirsch, and from secondary research and interviews with doctors and scientists. From our data, we identified customer segment classes, discovered the process of diffusion to each customer segment, and developed several recommendations to address potential customer concerns.

Team members: Jeffrey Staples,  Abhigyan Kaustubh(AK), Wei Tang, Scott Underwood, Alark Patel, Erez Yonker

For the entire report, please click here.

Product page: http://www.adaptivebiotech.com/clonoseq


Learn More

Crisis Clinic Project


This project explores the different methods used to analyze the calls received by the Crisis Clinic across geography and time in order to find useful insights in terms of discovering important trends, correlations and possible causations.  We analyze the call trends of 4 different lines: Crisis Line, Teen Link, Recovery  Line,  and  211,  and  specifically  focus  on  the  most common problem areas and needs, which we have analyzed with respect to geography in terms of ZIP codes and cities, and with respect to time from January 2010 to May 2014.  Our  exploration  with  the  data  shows  that  it  is  possible  to extract  useful  information  on  the  call  behavior  of  the  callers across  geography  and  time  through  visual  analysis.  Based  on these results,  we  explain  how  managerial  decisions  specifically relevant  to funding  of  the  Crisis  Clinic  can  be enhanced, and also focus on the aspect of increasing public awareness through hosting the final set of visualizations as a dashboard on Tableau Public.

For a quick look describing the process and results, click here. For the detailed report, please click here.

Role: UX Researcher, Designer, Data Wrangler, Presenter

Key Activities: Literature review, data curation, interviews, prototyping and user evaluation, data visualization, usability study, presentation

Team Members: Abhigyan Kaustubh (AK), Emily Greenberg, Lana Pledger, Rijuta Trivedi

Timeline:  Apr 2014 – Jun 2014 (10 weeks)

Tools: Excel, Tableau, Powerpoint, SQL


Crisis Clinic is at the heart of the Seattle-King County safety net providing a broad array of telephone-based crisis intervention and information and referral services. For many people in emotional distress or needing community services assistance, they are their “first call for help.” Every year, the Crisis Clinic receives a huge number of phone calls from King County residents in need of emotional support and community services. It has four main programs through which it provides its services:

  1. The 24 Hour Crisis Line offers emotional support to those in crisis or considering suicide;
  2. King County 2-1-1 offers information and referrals to community services based on its database of more than 5000 services;
  3. WA Recovery Help Line provides a state wide service offering emotional support and linkage to substance abuse, problem gambling and mental health services to anyone in Washington State;
  4. Teen Link offers emotional support and assistance to teens by providing a teen-answered help line.

As a nonprofit organization, Crisis Clinic depends on the financial support of local government, United Way of King County, corporations and foundations, and the generosity of donors to keep its doors open and provide services.  In addition, it also serves as a central point for crisis resources that includes training, outreach, and a bridge to other organizations that may provide specialized support.

In this project we investigate the different ways of making interactive visualizations of the callers’ dataset to gain insights into its presence in the King County area, and also explore and understand patterns and trends in the calls they receive across geography and time.  We envision that these visualizations and insights will allow the staff at Crisis Clinic to better allocate resources in a targeted way, more effectively communicate the impact of Crisis Clinic to current and prospective funders, and allow the general public to better understand and appreciate its work in the King County area.

Learn More

Ethnography in Tahiti

Conducted ethnography in Tahiti, French Polynesia, on its indigenous medical system and its impact on the cultural identity of the native population.


This project started off as a way of understanding the medical knowledge systems in Tahiti and the research question for this started with “how do people living in Tahiti and Huahine use the oral traditional medical knowledge and why”. This allowed in gaining pertinent data and understanding of the culture, at same time creating enough boundaries and yet leaving the scope open enough to carry out the secondary research to gain a better understanding of the new culture, so as to pose better / targeted questions and to eventually prepare the research proposal.

Author: Abhigyan Kaustubh

Supervisor: Chris Rothschild

Timeline: Dec 2013 to March 2014.
This ethnographic study lasted for about 3+ months, 10 weeks of which were spent living with the native population of Tahiti, Huahine and Mo’orea islands of French Polynesia.

Research methods used:

  • Experiment design
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Literature review
  • Ethnography

For the full report, please click here.

Research Proposal Process


Process Flow - Ethnography


Research Topic

How do people living in Tahiti and Huahine use the oral traditional medical knowledge and why?

Background and Justification

The world, in particular the developed nations, have undergone a lot of progress in many realms of information, medical being one of them. Many societies have flourished in the last three to four centuries. But this has, at times, been at the expense of some of the ancient societies like the ones in Tahiti and Huahine, and their indigenous knowledge, many of which have come close to the brink of extinction. These ancient societies have been in existence for over a millennia in their indigenous locations, and have as a result developed knowledge systems that has allowed them to live symbiotically with their environment for this long stretch of time (Clark, 1994).

But, their knowledge systems and, their entire cultures by extension, had been thought to be unrefined, primitive and inferior by the ones (the Western world) who invaded and eventually took ownership of their lands, mostly because the indigenous cultures didn’t fit the Western definition of being modern and developed (Clark, 1994). In addition, to assert authority and rule, it was seen imperative by the Western invaders to impose their own knowledge systems on the indigenous population, and to showcase these as being superior to the knowledge systems of the indigenous population. In doing so, many of the indigenous knowledge systems were suppressed forcefully, and many others almost went out of existence or usage due to the induced feeling of inferiority and shame, which has continued to this day, albeit less aggressively.

As a result, the vast amount of information pertaining to sustainably coexisting with the environment is in the danger of extinction. These chunks of information have been refined across millennia, and could therefore arguably be much distilled, and possibly not be available in any of the modern information systems. Further, the identity of these indigenous populations, which is rooted in this information, also gets dangerously threatened (Kihwelo, 2005). It is therefore important to respectfully restore and revive these indigenous knowledge systems as much as possible so as to reestablish the pride and true identity of the natives, and upon permission from them , use the wisdom therein for their wellbeing, as well as the rest of the world, with due credit to them.

Traditional medical knowledge is an extremely important aspect of the knowledge contained in the oral traditions of Tahiti and Huahine as it deals with the survival and longevity of the population there, which are of paramount importance in the sustenance of any community. Further, this knowledge has contributed to the successful survival of the indigenous population for over a millennia before the invasion, which substantiates its merit considerably.

Hence, researching the usage of oral traditional medical knowledge by the people living in Tahiti and Huahine, and their reasons behind in doing so, would be instrumental in understanding the nature and intricacies of this information, and would help in addressing the aforementioned concerns regarding indigenous information.

Research Questions and Expected Findings

1. Among which demographics is the traditional medical knowledge being used/ not being used, and why / why not?

i. Hypothesis: Most of the people living in Tahiti with a comparatively higher standard of living would be the ones who use the traditional medicines the least.

ii. Justification:

  • First, most of the people living in Tahiti have been educated through the French education system, and hence are more familiar with the French aspect of things rather than the Traditional Tahitian ones. In addition, benefits provided by the French government to the patients (like sick leave, reimbursement, etc.) utilizing the French medical system would make them favor the French medicines more and the traditional medicines less (as both type of medicines can heal).
  • Second, the data from three of the interviews substantiates this (Mama Doe, Personal Communication, 25th February, 2014) (A. LePendu, Personal Communication, 10th January, 2014 to 9th March, 2014)(A. LePendu, Personal Communication, 10th January, 2014 to 9th March, 2014).

2. In which location is the Traditional medical system being actively used?

i. Hypothesis: Most of the people who utilize traditional medicines extensively would be the people who are living in “rural” environments – especially where French influence isn’t strong, like Huahine, and in very remote parts of Tahiti.

ii. Justification: the data from two of the interviews substantiates this (Mama Doe, Personal Communication, 25th February, 2014) (A. LePendu, Personal Communication, 10th January, 2014 to 9th March, 2014)

3. What are the different types of ailments / conditions that are being treated/ prevented by the use of this knowledge, and why?

i. Hypothesis: The main ailments that might be being treated or prevented by the use of Traditional medicines are the ones that have been indigenous to Tahiti and Huahine.

ii. Justification: The traditional medical system was developed to protect against or combat from those diseases or inconsistencies in the body that used to happen to the indigenous people before the invasion of foreigners, who brought a new set of diseases with them which the indigenous population had no immunity or cure against, and which had eventually resulted in massive deaths of the indigenous population. Thus, the traditional medicines would be more apt for the indigenous diseases, and hence would be used against the same.

Research Methodologies

  1. The initial step would be literature review on relevant topics and collecting basic background information like geographic spread, urban-rural split, the government, and other pertinent things. Armed with this information, the researcher will be able to make educated modification that could be required in the research, and would also come across as knowledgeable and interested (Phillips, 1998).
  2. To ensure in-depth information retrieval and to maintain good relations with the local population, involvement in their community and proving genuine interest are of paramount importance. This would require staying and getting involved in activities with different communities in Tahiti and Huahine for extended periods of time (1 to 6 weeks), and to prove your positive intent (Phillips, 1998).
  3. Next target or respondent groups will be formed so that the data that would be gathered from them would be easy to classify and analyze (Phillips, 1998). These groups would be based on demographic measures and behavior so that the data being collected from comparatively “developed” and “developing” parts of Tahiti and Huahine can be normalized and analyzed accurately. The best way to connect with these potential interviewees would be to ask them about this during community involvement activities. The contacts made here will soon provide other contacts for data collection, who will be interviewed later.
  4. The primary method of data collection will be mostly through interviews with people, the informality of which will be tailored to the interviewee’s demographics information, their current environment and their preference. This will help in determining the peoples’ perceptions of traditional medicine across all the pertinent occupations, while the chief demographic measures (mentioned below) will help in providing a “user-centered” perspective on these medicines.

a. The main demographic indicators would be:

  1. Old demographic (equal to or greater than 60 years)
  2. Middle aged demographic (between 30(included) to 60 years)
  3. Young demographic (from 16 to 30 years)
  4. Location : Tahiti or Huahine

b. The main occupations that would be considered would be:

  1. Priests or Tahuas (Spiritual healers)
  2. Traditional Medical healers
  3. Specialists in the field of Traditional medicines
  4. French medical doctors
  5. Educators/ teachers
  6. People who work in health administration and social security

c. Different people from the community.

Data Analysis Approach

Aside from the initial data that would be collected during literature review (which would be quantitative), the data collected during the research process from then on (through interviews) will be qualitative in nature.

Early Insights

  1. The maternal and neo- natal health are not a very big issue in Tahiti, and most of the medical requirements of the people (especially concerning new born babies) are met through the French medical system in the form of vaccinations and required medications and tonics. Moreover, this (maternal and neo-natal health) was too narrow an area of focus and the broader aspect of traditional medicines needed to be understood first with respect to its effect in the lives of the people of Tahiti and Huahine, which is what the research question morphed into eventually.
  2. Pertaining to this, the Traditional medicines are mainly preventive in nature, though they can also be used to cure diseases in which case, the medicine woks directly on the cause of the disease (virus, bacteria, etc.) rather than only addressing the symptoms first (J.H. Bouit, Personal Communication, 25th February, 2014). The medicines are generally administered by two types of people: the Healers, and the Tahua (priest). The former deals mainly with typical diseases that are caused by usual reasons, while the later deals with curses/ “ghost” diseases which could be caused due to ancestral displeasure, ill will from someone, etc. Also, the former ones are generally only good for those diseases which are native to the islands, and not the foreign ones that were brought to the island at the time of invasion, and from the foreigners who have come since then.
  3. On the other hand, the ghost diseases are usually identified when there is no logical explanation for someone to contract a particular disease and yet they do, or if a disease doesn’t abate even though the required medical treatment (Traditional or French) for the disease is being given. Aside from this, the Tahua also performs various ceremonial activities like conducting religious activities, circumcision (seen as a rite of passage), casting protective spells on an individual, family or locality, or blessing people in general. In addition, the medicines that are prepared depend on the patient’s body type, diet, habits, and the disease they are suffering from. In terms of social order, Tahuas are much greater than Healers, and are also in smaller numbers compared to them (Healers).
  4. Besides this, there is a significant percentage of population that relies on the French medical system. French medical system is mostly free for all the people of Tahiti, and has a deep reach in the various regions of Tahiti by virtue of various clinics that are scattered throughout the island. Also, upon falling ill and consulting French medical doctors, any expense that may be incurred by the patient is generally reimbursed by the government, along with benefits like sick leave, which are not available to those who may solely use the traditional medicines for curing their illness.
  5. During the interviews in which the aforementioned data was collected, it was also observed that the information that the people (interviewees)share depended on the level of trust they had on the researchers, which was gauged by the interviewee by the researcher’s interest and quality of involvement in their community. In addition to this, it significantly helped in gaining deeper information when the interviews were conducted in English (when both the parties were comfortable in it) as it allowed greater understanding of the subject and higher maneuverability with the questions.
  6. Finally, revival of traditional medical knowledge is a definite possibility as there is still considerable interest among many people about this knowledge. Also, some of the interviewees in the field of medicine stated that the traditional medicines in combination with the French medicines, where applicable yield the best results. These, along with the strong efforts being put by people (specialists, healers, and educators) in the field of traditional medicines to teach their successors (their kids, other family members, students, etc.), and the feeling of its considerable importance that seems to be present among many people in Tahiti and Huahine could be powerful factors in revival of this knowledge.

Challenges and Considerations

1. Challenges

i. In getting access to people

  • Had very little prior notice of who I would be meeting where. So had almost no time for preparation for the interview. Hence, should know who is where and what their area of expertise is, instead of asking them that during the interview.
  • Language barrier – and the loss in information and flexibility in questioning.
  • For better quality of information, some level of cultural involvement and integration is important prior to interviews – which takes time.
  • Most people have different occupations that they attend to during the day, so scheduling an interview with them may get problematic if the researcher isn’t in contact (and in good standing) with a local.
  • Though the local people are welcoming and amiable, they may not have the time to go to extra lengths of involving the researchers into their culture and activities unless the researchers have an known and important brand (like UW), and are in contact with eminent people (like A-Dre Lependu) who have contacts and influence in the different localities of research. Further, the entire process of cultural integration becomes swifter as well.

ii. Time periods – ideal time

a. For concentrated fieldwork, 5-6 months should be enough.

2. Considerations

  1. i. Understand the background framework first, then decide on a direction and make educated assumptions to plan out the research phase. In addition, never proceed to the intervention phase unless the research has been adequately done. Also, every research project doesn’t need to end up eventually into an intervention project.
  2. ii. People and the language they use to communicate fluently plays a very important role when doing fieldwork research in terms of interviews. The researcher shall be able to understand better and ask much more pertinent questions to the people if they can talk in the same language with high fluency.
  3. iii. Though having a competent translator is incredibly helpful, getting to deeper questions is at times too time consuming, and there is often a lot of information loss and lack of clarity in the process.
  4. iv. For better quality of information, some level of cultural involvement and integration is important prior to interviews – which would require time, patience, and cultural adjustment and acceptance on the researcher’s part.
  5. v. Though the different activities like interviewing, surveys, etc. are very important and required research processes, the way in which they need to be carried out needs to be tailored depending on the audience. For instance, you are likely to get deeper information on an informal meeting over dinner rather than on a formal interview.
  6. vi. Have a team with 5-7 members. This is extremely helpful in seeing the various aspects of information that is being obtained, and in accurately deciding the future steps that need to be taken. Also, conflicting opinions about the assumptions being made as part of the entire process would help in making the end result as accurate as possible.
  7. vii. If the researchers are not fluent in French, Tahitian, and English, they should ensure that they have access to translators who are proficient in these languages along with theirs. Even if the researchers are fluent, having access to a person who is familiar with both the local and the researcher’s society’s norms and nuances could be beneficial in understanding the local society.
  8. viii. In addition, amount of data collected and work done increases by a factor of the number of team mates. Also, it is easier to stay motivated and determined when working in groups than working alone. The aforementioned insights, challenges and considerations have become apparent based on my fieldwork and research that I carried out with my translators and the interviewees.

(M. Tang, Personal Communication, 20th January, 2014 to 9th March, 2014)
(A. LePendu, Personal Communication, 10th January, 2014 to 9th March, 2014)
(A. LePendu, Personal Communication, 10th January, 2014 to 9th March, 2014)
(F. Kataleya, Personal Communication, 17th January, 2014)
(Tameava, Personal Communication, 23rd January, 2014)
(Lady Hinano, Personal Communication, 4 th February, 2014)
(Tangaroa, Personal Communication, 7th February, 2014)
(Serge Dunis, Personal Communication, 11th February, 2014)
(Head Priest at Maroto Valley, Personal Communication, 15th February, 2014)
(Mama Doe, Personal Communication, 25th February, 2014)
(Pito, Personal Communication, 28th February, 2014)

3. Assumptions:

  1. The research question that was chosen initially was too specific. It was based on a prior experience in similar arena (in rural Uttar Pradesh, India) without performing any literature review in the Traditional medicine area of French Polynesia. This assumption was eventually proven wrong, and the research question was changed to the current one.
  2. It is assumed that the Traditional medical knowledge and the system employed to contain and transmit it is consistent across Tahiti and Huahine.
  3. It is assumed that a single person team for this proposal would be enough. This was a disadvantage as even though time was spent with research professionals and field experts, the time required to be put in for bouncing ideas of each other (team mates) and evaluating the next course of action by considering multiple opinions is critical.
  4. It is assumed that the amount of information loss due to language barrier wouldn’t be significant enough to derail the project or push the researcher in the wrong direction indefinitely. Also, it is assumed that the translator is competent and is portraying all information as accurately as possible, even though it might be of a sensitive or uncomfortable nature to them.

Areas for future research

Areas of future research could build upon this research and may lead into a specific direction pertaining to certain types of medicines targeted towards specific diseases, infirmities, or some specific bodily problems.

Research could also be carried on how can the knowledge in different medical systems in the French Polynesian environment be applied to yield optimal benefits to the people living there (and elsewhere in the world, by their permission and with due credit) without posing a threat to their cultural identity and loss of their traditions.

References/ Works Cited

1. Clark, S.S. (1994). Ethnicity Embodied: Evidence from Tahiti. Ethnology, Vol. 33 No. 3, pp. 211-227.
2. Kihwelo, P. F. (2005). Indigenous Knowledge: What Is It? How and Why Do We Protect It?-The Case of Tanzania. JOURNAL OF WORLD INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, 8(3), 345–360.
3. Cox, P. A. (1991). Polynesian herbal medicine. Islands, plants, and Polynesians: an introduction to Polynesian ethnobotany.
4. Phillips, S. (1998). An insider’s guide to conducting effective research on developing countries. CORPORATE RESEARCHERS CONFERENCE. Article ID: 19981107


Outline of the Trip


  • The entire program started with a lot of pre-departure planning, things from packing the right tools to learning about the new culture though literature review and establishing contacts with few well connected locals of Tahiti.
  • During this phase, we (My supervisor, other students with different research ideas, and myself)  also went though various orientations in which we got to know each other and the Tahitian culture better. This involved things from aquatinting with others temperament to effective and ineffective group behaviors in foreign environments.
  • We also took care of vaccines, and any other kind of training/preparation (swimming) that would be essential to know once we reached there.


  • Took a seriously LONG flight (~20 hrs). A useful thing that my supervisor did was taking sleeping pills in the flight – he woke up well rested when we landed.
  • In hindsight, this is incredibly good as at times the new environment is much different from the ones that the researcher is generally used to, and entering it well-rested helps one keep cooler temperament and higher immunity. (In our case, the temp at the Tahitian airport was close to 50° Celsius).
  • I used my flight time resting and chatting with my neighbors.

At Destination

  • We arrived at the Papeete Airport in Tahiti, and were driven to our accommodations, where we had another reorientation talk.
  • After this, we explored the city and it’s neighborhood as tourists – we turned it into a treasure hunt with many of the important sites/ places in the downtown area included on our route (with the generous help from our hosts). This neatly began our acclimatization process and allowed us to get a big picture of things, as well as in reorienting our expectations.
  • I then started with my ethnographic research to create my research proposal. This began with choosing a general area of interest (mine was medical health) and conducting secondary research to get more data and form a good research question. This then bled into designing the write experiments and choosing the appropriate methods for collecting and analyzing data.
  • During the entire period, I collected data on my project though interviews, focus groups, literature reviews (papers, videos/documentaries), and observing the cultural traditions and festivals/ ceremonies of Tahitians. We also consulted with several academics and several other different factions of the society (Head Priest, Healer, Doctors, Tattoo Artists, Dancers, Singers, Business Owners, Teachers, etc). The interesting part about the Tahitian knowledge system (which was mainly preserved though oral tradition) was distributed across many factions, each knowing the part that is most useful to them.
  • We synthesized all the data that we had and identified the next steps that would be required before we ran out of time and other resources.

Returning Back

  • Before my return, I analyzed all the data so as to tie up any loose ends and draw my conclusions.
  • We closed our relations with our hosts with utmost care and warmth, grateful for their generosity in terms of their hospitality and their sharing of their knowledge.
  • We also had a decompression orientation before our departure, so that our return back would be smoother.