Peeking over the Horizon

When trying to imagine what’s possible how can we look beyond what we can already see on the horizon?

Yesterday I ran a workshop on Peeking over the Horizon as part of the Making London event at the University of Greenwich. The event invited participants interested in “making London a city where arts and innovation can continue to thrive” to take part in “a day of inspiring presentations and engaging workshops on how to make London better“. The theme of the day was to: “rethink the relationship between markets and communities in London. Do you have a different vision of work and life in London, of its communities and businesses? Do you have a project, problem or question you would like some time and some tools to explore? Do you just want some new ideas? ‘Making London’ is a day of workshops for designers and non-designers, to help rethink and remake our experience of London.

The workshop I devised aimed to encourage the participants to stretch their imaginations beyond what we can see on the horizon now; to think through potential impacts and consequences, to anticipate next directions and emergent themes and to aim at some uncommon insight into the kinds of creative and socially innovative interventions that could be possible. I cited our Urban Tapestries project as a model for this kind of critical and creative projection, specifically because I have recently reviewed the project’s final report (which was published 10 years ago in June 2005) to see how our ideas and policy proposals have held up.

In the first part of the workshop we used some large worksheets to address the event’s theme along a series of 6 vectors : heath and wellbeing; transport; work and leisure; housing; social behaviour; and communications. The exercise asks participants to identify current outliers : i.e. things which are causing change but which we do not yet understand the impact of. From there the next stage is to think through the potential impact these outliers may have and anticipate future directions that could result from them. At the confluence of these vectors the participants were asked to identify emergent themes.

In the second part of the workshop I introduced 15 critical concepts that underpin the way our our modern developed world functions : algorithms, chains, contingency, corridors, efficiency, energy, infrastructure, labour, logistics, parameters, protocols, standards, waste and zones. These were offered as specific lenses which we could apply to the previous exercise’s emergent themes. The concepts were inspired by those used in the Logistical Worlds research project. Each participant used a StoryCube to select up to 6 of the concepts and marry them up with the themes to distill their ideas. The resulting cubes could then be used individually or together to generate more ideas on the large map of London which the event hosts were using to coalesce outputs from the different workshops of the day on.

I was very pleased with the level and depth of conversations that the workshop provoked, participants told me it was challenging and rigorous, and that the way it helped to focus ideas and then make them transportable (via the StoryCubes) was inspiring.

Further Iterations
If you’d like me to deliver or adapt this workshop for other groups (academic, cultural or corporate) please contact me for prices and bookings. The workshop takes about 2 hours for groups of 10 to 30, is suitable for a range of abilities and levels of expertise.

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