Category Archives: Workshops

Beyond Engagement

Last month I ran a workshop at the univerCities one-day conference on urban innovation and entrepreneurship organised by MA/MSc students from the urban design, sustainable cities and planning courses at Kings College London, LSE and UCL’s The Bartlett School. The event was billed as “a unique inter-university and cross-disciplinary conference on the topic of solving today’s urban challenges”, and featured panels  of speakers from a range of different backgrounds to address questions of equality and inclusivity in housing development; humanising the city though urban design; and trends and challenges in urban futures: citizen engagement, digital participation and tech innovation.

I was asked to devise a workshop for the afternoon session to bring focus on engagement and the future in urban design and planning. I decided to adapt the methods I used in a previous urban futures workshop I ran back in 2015 (Peeking over the Horizon) – which aim to push people further in their thinking than just talking about whatever innovations which already exist are at the forefront of their minds. The workshop was titled, Beyond Engagement, to address a signature problem in fields such as planning and urban design – namely that citizens are often subject to engagement and consultation processes and exercises which rarely report back to them or offer any real agency in the process. So many consultations and engagements are simply hollow, ‘box-ticking’ attempts to provide a veneer of transparency and democratic involvement, often to mask decisions already taken. This workshop aimed both to build upon the themes and talks from the earlier panels and to inspire the participants to think beyond just engaging or consulting citizens, and to try to anticipate the impacts and outcomes of innovative practices in their fields, and their intersectional effects on society more widely. Thinking about the future not just to describe trends on the horizon, but to anticipate what ‘next practices’ and effects might be.

The workshop had two exercises – “Vectoring the Future” and a StoryCubes experiment to finish. “Vectoring the Future” uses large worksheets with 6 ‘vectors’. Participants chose which vectors they wanted to think about (themes such as, Public Benefit, Private Profit, Infrastructure, Health & Wellbeing, Work & Leisure, Housing, Equality, Inclusivity, Privatisation Public Realm, Private Space, Sustainability, Resilience, Planning, Regulation, innovation, Enterprise) and worked from the outside of the sheet inwards. The outer section providing a space for describing the state of the art or cutting edge innovations in each vector. The next section providing space to reflect on what potential impact or consequences they might have, with the next section for imagining what the next directions such effects would suggest. In the centre is a space for anticipating the ’emergent’ qualities and effects that might arise from the intersection of innovations, effects and next directions across the various vectors chosen by the participants.

At the event, we had 6 tables, each with 5 or 6 participants who each completed one of the worksheets. Once each group had completed the process, they reported back, giving a summary of what vectors they had chosen and how the conversation had flowed towards the space of emergence. Interestingly, each group found a unique perspective even when they shared similar initial vectors and the quality and range of the discussion across topics of technology and innovation in particular was significant.

After a short break, we returned for the final StoryCubes exercise – a simple and fun way to bring things together and open up the discussion even further. Each participant was given a StoryCube and asked to write 6 things on it that they thought were most interesting or important to them from the whole day. Then I asked a first participant to put their cube on a table in the middle and describe one or two things they had written down. From there, then next person came up, placed their cube next or on top of another and linked it to one of the themes on someone else’s cube. Eventually building up a structure of connections between issues and ideas people felt had inspired or motivated them, as well as revealing gaps and other issues that were still to be explored.

I was really impressed  by the energy and focus of the event and its participants, as much as by the ambition of the organisers : a brilliant initiative by students from different universities to come together to learn from each other and value their different disciplinary perspectives on shared problems and issues.

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Engaging Patient Perspective

In 2014 I was commissioned by Professor Helen Dawes of the Movement Science Group at Oxford Brookes University to assist her team and partners in devising how to engage patient perspective in the creation of a new rehabilitation feedback tool for survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). The project was a small part of the huge CENTER-TBI project funded by the EU and composing over 120 partners in 27 different countries.

The team wished to create a tool that would both generate useful data for clinicians and researchers as well as being useful to the survivors themselves. I was asked to help devise a strategy for engaging patient perspective and exploring its potential for the researchers who would create the tool. To a degree this was a matter of introducing the concept and some processes associated with user experience (UX) into a medical context. Whilst it might be assumed that this would be a natural fit, it was shocking to discover how alien the concept actually is of engaging patients in designing the process for monitoring and evaluating their own condition. It seems that it is a much more standard practice to ‘design out’ patients from the business of gathering objective data about their condition in case they contaminate it in some subjective way.

What I found exciting about this project was its leader’s desire to do something different, to approach the problem of gathering data about survivors’ experiences of rehabilitation in a more nuanced and engaged way, whilst still aiming to acquire ‘clean’ data that could be used by clinicians. For this to be the case we would have to negotiate a space that the tool could occupy which would satisfy the motivations of clinical researchers at the same time as offering some return that could engage the ongoing motivation of a TBI survivor to use it to regularly contribute data.

Despite the vast scale of the CENTER-TBI project as a whole (around €29m) the bulk of the funding is targeted at acute care, with around just 1% associated with rehabilitation. This project was part of that tiny fraction and consequently very limited, with my involvement being one of the smallest parts. To use this resource effectively and impart human centred design principles into a development team unfamiliar with the practice I had to devise a method of engagement that would highlight the issues and problems of not engaging survivors in the design process, so that the development team would naturally arrive at an understanding of their own; so that they would appreciate the value of actively engaging users in planning the design of the tool to avoid unnecessary pitfalls and respond to the capabilities and capacities of the people intended to both use the tool and benefit from it in some way.

The process I devised involved facilitating an initial co-discovery workshop for project team members (clinicians and researchers), followed by a co-design workshop matching team members with people with TBI at a local Headway centre in Oxford.

The first day-long workshop took place at Oxford Brooke’s in April 2014. I had invited a colleague, David Sinden, to co-facilitate the workshop with me. David is a photographer and artist, as well as an experienced media producer and curator – more specifically he has direct experience of surviving a traumatic brain injury himself, having suffered a sub-arachnoid haemorrhage in 2002. We had worked together in the early 2000s and I knew that David would bring a unique understanding not only of the issues facing a TBI survivor, but would be able to do so within the context of the needs and requirements of media production. Also part of the project team was Dr Lizzie Coles-Kemp of the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway, with whom I previously collaborated on two other engagement projects.

Over the course of the day we explored the varying motivations of the different actors (TBI survivors, clinicians, researchers etc) that would need to be considered as well as their capabilities and capacities to engage with or use the tool. We tried to scope out what the benefits of using such a tool would be for the different actors in the system, and how this could inform the design process;

I felt at the end and that we had worked towards a tool that has the potential to be useful not only after traumatic brain injury but also after any acute onset disabling condition and indeed probably in all disabling conditions. … In terms of process, I felt that the meeting was well run with an appropriate balance between allowing conversations to continue and thoughts to develop, and moving on to the next stage. [participant DW]

The workshop was subsequently documented in a bookleteer book, including post event feedback from the participants, to enable its results to be more widely shared. The book included visual annotations of the day’s discussions drawn by Proboscis associate, Mandy Tang.

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The second workshop took place in late July at the Headway Oxford centre. I had devised a simple paper-based tool for the participants (five TBI survivors) to map their own rehabilitation journeys through a creative process, assisted by Headway volunteers and project team members. The aim of the workshop was to reveal the nature of the complexity and challenges for user engagement in the design of a rehabilitation tool by actually doing the task itself in a paper-prototyping fashion. Two of the Oxford Brooke’s development team took part and were able to experience first hand for themselves the kinds of capabilities and capacities that TBI survivors cope with.

The exercise was designed to be a simple as possible, asking the participants to just use words and simple drawing techniques to describe aspects of their rehabilitation journey. Yet not one of them felt confident enough to do the writing or drawing themselves and relied on a volunteer to help them. The group completed the tasks individually, yet openly discussed the questions and helped each other ‘remember’ things. The value of mutual support in recalling and recording individual experiences was firmly underlined. The workshop revealed to the researchers some of the considerable engagement and user experience issues which they would have to address before any tool – digital or analogue – could be used in the field.

For myself it was inspiring that the TBI survivors at the workshop found the exercise to be useful in itself, and could see the value in repeating it on a regular basis – both as a bonding exercise with other survivors and to help recognise and understand patterns in their own lives. Unfortunately I have been unable to find additional funding or resources to enable me to develop the paper-based TBI engagement tool further. I hope to find an opportunity in the not too distant future to create a version of this tool that could be used by TBI survivor groups themselves as part of their rehabilitation process, recording and reflecting on their experiences, helping each other discover or keep track of patterns that affect them.

Pop Up Publishing Workshops

Since launching bookleteer.com – a unique artist-created self-publishing platform – back in 2009 I have devised and led a variety of workshops to introduce people to the concept of public authoring and self-publishing using hybrid digital/physical formats. The workshops have gone under various guises and names over the years, the most recent being “pop up publishing”. In 2014 I led a series of such workshops for the general public in public libraries in 3 London boroughs for the LibraryPress project, and have subsequently given similar formal and informal workshops, masterclasses and training at other places and venues.

What are hybrid digital/physical formats?
Bookleteer allows people to create and share publications that are both digital and physical; publications can be read online via a book reader version [example] or downloaded as a PDF, then printed out on a standard home/office printer and hand-made into a physical book [example]. Bookleteer also offers the ability to have books printed and bound professionally at low cost [example]. It also allows people to create and share StoryCubes of their own designs.

Why Pop Up Publishing
Traditionally the publishing of a book is the endpoint of a creative process, but we feel this does not have to be the case. One of the key ideas behind bookleteer is that publishing can be more like an evolving conversation, not just an authoritative statement or full stop. Our platform allows people to create and share publications with ease and speed, updating or creating different versions at will and at no or negligible cost. A bookleteer publication might be created simply to be read online, or it might be intended as a highly personal one-off handmade book as a gift to someone special. They can also be professionally printed and bound in editions of 25 copies and more. A publication could be a collection of stories, poetry or a photobook. It might document a workshop or group activity – helping retain the experiences and learning of the group in one place. It might be a personal travel guide or a manual, a notebook or sketchbook.

Whatever uses you can think of putting a book form to, bookleteer can help make simple and accessible. Our unique book binding format and hybrid publishing model is designed to facilitate publishing on demand – lowering the barriers to making and sharing for anyone, anywhere. I have used these books and bookleteer in countless projects with diverse communities across the world. From working with academics and researchers, technologists and scientists to grassroots communities in the UK, Canada, Europe, Brazil, Japan, Australia and with traditional villagers in the remote jungle of Papua New Guinea.

Requesting a Pop Up Publishing Workshop
This workshop is easily adaptable to different groups and contexts. It is relevant to all walks of life where there is a need or desire to create and share publications (corporate, academic, cultural or otherwise).  Please contact me for prices and bookings.

An introduction and practical session takes at least 3 hours for groups of 10 to 30 and can be run as a half or full day workshop as desired. It  is suitable for a range of abilities and levels of expertise – no previous experience of desktop publishing is necessary.

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.

Embodying Data Workshop

Last week I was in Edinburgh to run my co-discovery Embodying Data Workshop with 24 of Chris Speed‘s Design Informatics Masters students at the Art College. The workshop was devised a few months ago as part of my Creativeworks residency at Birkbeck College to introduce computer scientists to the possibilities of approaching the problem of data analysis and computation differently by manifesting data in tangible ways. Thus we may bring more of our human senses to bear on meaning making than merely relying, almost exclusively, on vision and hearing as with standard data visualisation techniques.

It is a hands-on workshop using paper-prototyping methods to explore manifesting data as physical objects – why would we do this? what sort of objects? how could it benefit data analysis and computation methods? – and is an opportunity to speculate on how we might discover new ways to generate insights into complex data sets to discern previously undetected patterns and make meaning.

The workshop starts off by engaging the participants in identifying 11 major human senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, hearing, temperature, balance, pain, time, proprioception and interception) and discussing other sensory factors. Then we begin to map how many senses we actually use in everyday activities and tasks. In this way it becomes apparent how reliant we are on multiples senses to interpret our experiences of the world around us. How much then are we missing in trying to analyse data using just our visual and occasionally auditory senses? What patterns might also exist that we are simply not able to perceive because the senses that would detect them are not being activated? The last part of this exercise asks the participants to think about data sources and types, such as different kinds of sensors or data feeds/streams as well as the kinds of data coming through – energy use, health, environmental, sales, traffic, communications etc. We then follow on by mapping how we might interrogate such data using additional senses to sight and sound. What benefits might we get from having new ways to explore big and complex data sets? What could happen when we take digital data out of the machine and into the physical world?

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This exercise is followed by a short presentation on Proboscis’ Lifestreams project: how and why we developed the life charms from biosensor data and what implications we believe it has for creating new insights into health and fitness data for wellbeing. Lifestreams provides both an actual context and talking point to discuss the difference that embodying data in the physical world – making it tangible to the senses – could have.

The second workshop exercise involves each participant using a blank StoryCube to imagine a data object of their own. I encourage them to use the 6 sides of the cube to indicate data types or streams that they might be using in their existing work or projects which could be used to generate a hypothetical data object. Then, placing their cube on a worksheet, the participants are prompted to consider how their data objects would connect with different human senses; how the objects might interact or connect with each other; whether they are personal or shared objects; what kind of conditions might people encounter them in. Participants are encouraged to consider what implications may arise from all these too.

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Finally we discuss the ideas that have emerged from the exercise and, more generally, the potential for new insights into complex datasets to emerge from creating the possibility for senses other than sight and hearing to be involved in analysis. The point of the co-discovery workshop is to allow participants to come to their own understanding of the potential and what might be possible, not to be didactic. It aims to plant a seed of curiosity by exploring the gaps and absences in our toolkits for creating new kinds of knowledge, hopefully to inspire entirely new ways of expressing data in physical or environmental forms such that we can move beyond the ghetto of the primacy of the screen.

Further Iterations
I am available to deliver the workshop to other groups (academic, cultural or corporate). Please contact me for prices and bookings. The workshop lasts about 3 hours, is suitable for a range of abilities and works best with groups of 10 and more. It has been designed to engage scientists at both postgraduate student (Masters/PhD) and professional staff level (lecturer/researcher). It works equally well with designers, artists and others who are also exploring the use of data as a creative material/medium.