Core77 Design Awards
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"Talking Mechanisms" is one part of a European Union project, CoHERE, to explore the differences in how people across Europe represent their heritage and identity. The projects explores how heritage can lead to common ground with others, but in the increasingly hostile and tense climate - from religion to EU exit politics - heritage and identity can twist, undermine and break relations between culturally diverse audiences.
Specifically, "Talking Mechanisms" highlights unique and alternative approaches to design research on how to spark, stimulate and nourish dialogue on heritage-identity among different people. Can new kinds of creative interventions facilitate conversational behaviours and dialogues among culturally diverse audiences?
As part of our primary objective of Year 1, we explored processes for designing creative-practice interventions that foster and sustain dialogue on heritage and identity. In order to understand better how heritage-identity is expressed and how meaningful dialogue can be opened and sustained, we conducted people-centred design research - with an especial focus on mechanisms for talking, on mechanisms for talking about heritage and identity, and finally, as we will share in full depth - on a workshop experience ofmechanisms for talking about heritage and identity among different people.
We began our work by focusing on the most inner piece of dialogue (1), then applied that focus to designing tools for dialogue on heritage-identity (2), finally creating a full experience to engender dialogue on heritage-identity for a specific audience and topic (3).
Our goal was to gain clarity around the principles of dialogue we had found in our experiments and interviews, and to try to put them in practice in regards to a specific topic.
The workshop's topic was chosen with the following goals:
The workshop's experiences were designed to support:
The small workshop was held on February 24, 2017, for 8 participants in Copenhagen, Denmark as shown fully in the accompanying video.
The topic of the workshop, as informed by the key points above, was about personal understandings of peace. We were curious to unearth how peace is defined and represented across generations - specifically in Denmark, where each generation may have experienced notably different definitions and understandings of peace. The participants were recruited across two age brackets, where four participants were over the age of 65 and four participants were under the age of 40.
With this narrowed context and audience in mind, we re-designed, refined and iterated tools and concepts we had generated in earlier stages (when focused on dialogue and when making interviews).
We created a series of experiences, including the introductory exercises, where each experience focused on one or more of the goals we sought to explore and had the potential to be re-designed for a different location or physical context.
How can we encourage more open listening, taking perspectives, expression of different viewpoints?
In an initial priming, we asked participants to bring something that represents peace to them - something that could fit in a PEACE-ENVELOPE.
Next, they created alternative name tags - ID-NECKLACES that represent answers to a series of questions about each person's background and how they identify - such as whether they are "pure Danish" vs. "mixed Danish."
To get started, we spread across the room based on how peaceful or violent they find Copenhagen now as opposed to in the past. This first exercise quickly generated conversation between the two generations as to how the city has changed in their memories as well as how they define peacefulness vs violence. The physical motion forced participants to consider where they were placing themselves as opposed to those whom they were passing as they moved in the space.
In the OUTSIDE-IN experience, we consider the ways in which peacefulness is searchable in physical neighbourhoods as opposed to online. Are there differences in what we find represented about our communities online vs. in person? Participants document elements that contribute to or against peacefulness in CPH neighbourhoods - online and offline. One pair went outside and the other went online. Then they shared their findings and chose representative images to answer the questions - what would offend your friend? What makes you feel at home in Copenhagen? What do you both hope will always exist? They used Google Photos to document what they found and then share and collaged the end results of their decision-making.
FUTURE-PAST-NOW uses virtual reality, probing questions, discussion and then collaborative sketching to explore the past, present and future perspectives on the role of protests in Copenhagen.
Participants can take a look through Virtual Reality at another moment in time. They take turns to look through this porthole and compare what they see - discussing, imagining and sketching futures based on what they saw. How does collaborative vision-making allow people to express themselves and reveal tensions?
In OTHER-SHOES, we wonder: "How can we create structures for people to embrace disagreement and experiment with different perspectives?" We set a table for discussion where each person took on a randomly given character's imagined mindset and stance. A few "action" cards allow shifting and swapping among stances and roles.
Transforming perspectives is not necessarily just about changing one's mind. It's also about having structures in place to allow for talking and listening - and being provoked to consider something differently from how one might already.
We invite participants to join a CO-CREATION session where they consider design challenges based on our overall project's goals - such as "How Might We encourage deeper listening during discussion - through technology - in a playful way?"
In CO-CREATION, we hope to imagine and provoke ideas beyond the boundaries of that day's workshop, and engage the participants' collective creativity, experiences and knowledge.
4. UNDERLYING FOUNDATIONS
Each of the workshop's experiences is shown through the accompanying video, but three aspects of the overall day are relevant to highlight.
We designed this series of experiences with different compositions of groups - whether pairs or foursomes, full group or half group. Varying the composition meant the participants' feedback at the end of the day was not solely based on their personal experience of a positive pairing, but rather reflected the overall experience (though of course impacted by the social nature of the workshop).
B. Use of technology
Furthermore, we designed the flow of the day such that we were weaving between experiences that included technology or not. For example, the first major exercise, "Outside-In" asked participants to use their smartphones to collect images to answer a series of questions and then share, compare and curate answers as a small group. The second experience was face-to-face, with prompts and structured rules through cards. The third experience incorporated an intimate VR experience of a series of videos showing riots and protests in Copenhagen. The last experience was a co-creation exercise, using cards and paper.
In this way, we sought to use technology when and if it made sense. For example, the VR experience gave each viewer a focused and specialised sensation, space and time to consider a piece of audio-visual footage. This visceral experience would have been hard to communicate as effectively through photos or words only. We also tested the potential for question-based learning as well as "sensory-constrained" element as the non-viewer could only "see inside" the VR experience by probing questions and imagining visuals before they themselves could then view inside.
The "Outside-In" use of smartphones to document surroundings allowed part of the group to go outside and bring what they saw back inside to share and compare with what the "inside" group had found online - both were searching for answers to the same questions, but one searched online and the other searched "offline" - as in, physical outdoor space.
The participants - though varied in age - were able to use the technology-based tools for experiencing and expressing themselves. Their inputs - specifically for the "Outside-In" experience - caught their voice and decisions in the moment, serving as data for researchers to easily follow up on after the fact.
C. Insights from prior research
We used knowledge gained from structured conversational experiments, previous interviews and co-creation workshops - pulling out key inputs and feedback to design the workshop for February 24. We prototyped slightly more standard design research tools such as probes/priming objects, as well as unusual warm-ups, such as creating a necklace to represent one's identity based on a series of questions and pre-laser-cut pieces custom-designed by our team.
A few insights that drove these changes:
While objects and images from the past play a strong role in individuals' memories, they were also eager to remix or re-represent these elements in new ways (from interviews and co-creation workshop, led to "Peace-Envelope" and "Outside-In").
The involvement of participants in co-creation exercises itself is a tool in generating, nurturing and sustaining provocative discussion on heritage-identity (from co-creation workshop, led to "Co-Creation" segment).
Rules to structure body language, roles and sensory expression can enhance and sharpen a dialogic experience (from experiments and interviews, led to "Other-Shoes").
In each of these experiences, we sought to better understand the differences and similarities among individuals, how they brought their heritage-identity to the tensions in their different answers, how they negotiated discussion and answered prompts without necessarily knowing their interviewer, partner or group well. Going forward, we seek to design for and engage with topics and groups that would have a higher likelihood of experiencing challenging and tension-full dialogue, and to understand better the potential for digital-specific interventions in terms of asynchronous and off-site communication.