Workshop Design at FoV

Any questions? Ready? Let’s begin!

It’s a familiar setting – Chart papers, post-its, groups of people, sketch pens. If not all, most of us have  been through some kind of workshops in our lifetime. I remember in school we would have these team building sessions which in retrospect I can only imagine was some form of a workshop for our class to work through our interpersonal issues and resolve differences (if any). Wasn’t as much fun as I thought. We didn’t do much except maybe sat and listened to our facilitator’s lectures, looked at a few slides, nodded along and then went home. Needless to say these were just ways to fill time while the real work of correcting papers and filling out the report cards went on. Also this is an example of a bad workshop.

What is a workshop?

A workshop is essentially a space where a group of people come together and ‘work’ through a certain topic through a set of guided activities. There are lots of different kinds of workshops. There are writer’s workshops, theatre workshops, Management workshops, training workshops and so on. The idea is to gain some insight into the subject matter by anchoring discussions through a set of activities. The first time I got introduced to any real form of workshop was in Design school. There they took us through something that we call a design thinking process. By the end of the workshop you come up with something tangible, all the while your thinking has been guided by a predetermined set of activities. It’s fun.

The activities are timed so you have to think on your feet and you are always required to work in teams. The design thinking process that we were put through was somewhat derived from the Stanford d.school’s design thinking methodology that follows this particular trajectory Empathize-Define-Ideate-Prototype-Test. We were taught a lot how to think about the ‘user’. Since design is always about making products or services for the end user to solve some problem that they were facing, we must begin by putting ourselves into the shoes of the user in order to gain insight into what they may want. The workshops were always centered around ‘a’ problem and we had to work around that problem to come to some form of a solution. Now this would be easy if everyone involved in the system had the same problem and through one simple solution that problem would be solved.

Working through ‘a’ problem or through multiple perspectives?

Social problems are complex. And they are complex because there are many stakeholders involved in asking that particular question and each stakeholder has a unique perspective on the problem itself. Together all these elements may pose a daunting challenge as to where can one even begin? So then how do we bring together all these perspectives and truly design in an environment where not one but many solutions exist with varying trade-offs.

Workshops at the Fov playground

At Fields of View, we have crafted our own design methodology that helps us enter this problem space in a way that by the end of it we have a way forward to tame the beast (well maybe just parts of it). We unpack the several issues that are related to the topic. In our constitution project workshop we provided certain cue words to the participants to help them anchor their inquiry around a mammoth document such as the Indian Constitution. During our workshop participants tackled a plethora of ideas from the constitution through the timed activities and the constraints and objectives of creating a tool. Resisting the urge to look up an expert’s opinion, each participant brought to the table their own unique disciplinary perspectives and engaged in dialogue around the Constitution.

We cluster, break apart, discuss then cluster again and finally arrive at the exact problem space we are looking to tackle. We then proceed to map the actors (not users) in the problem ecosystem. We map their place in the system according to their Individual-Institutional, Formal-Informal, and influence characteristics. We then move on to chart out the relationship between the actors. Once these relationships are mapped we then move on to ideas and questions that will be worth exploring in the context of the problem space and the target audience.

The FoV workshop helps us not only in tackling the problem space and but also in data collection. We have conducted workshops with a variety of audiences such as Administrative services officials in Sri Lanka, Government officials working on land-use, water and waste in Chennai, Changemakers from Ashoka Youth venture, school children at the Maker Faire Bangalore. It is a tool that can also be used in gaining information from the target audience for the project. So if you remember that design thinking chronology that I had mentioned earlier, well it’s not always so sanitized in the real world.

All things visual

The workshops that we conduct (for ourselves and others) have a heavy visual component to it. Those guided activities that we talked about earlier, well the workshop assets as we call them, are manifestations of it. Infact all the content that is generated in the workshops is guided by visual cues on these large chart papers provided to the participants.

Just the other day, my colleague and I spent a considerable amount of time discussing and exchanging notes on why a certain sheet should or should not have arrows. Why it should be horizontally laid out and not vertically. Or why we should not put the word organisation in a circle. Now how does it even matter whether we put 3 connecting lines with arrows or not put any lines at all. We just need to give them specific instructions that’s all.  Well, that’s precisely where some may get it wrong.

Let’s consider this scene: You have explained the activity, provided all the necessary instructions and now the activity has begun. You see now the participant is left alone to complete the task. Alone, in a world full of possibilities and her head full of ideas in the company of that sheet which says ‘activity mapping’ the mind can often go blank. And then suddenly in those moments of quiet doubt, those arrows that you had put in the sheet start gleaming almost with a soft halo around them. They subtly nudge the participant to put 3 activities down (one for each arrow). They feel relieved, they have filled the sheet with the required number of activities.

What has happened here? The visual cue of 3 arrows led the participant to put down only 3 ideas, whereas there could have been more or even less. Was that something that the arrow intended? No! In my experience of fixing alignments and setting type and making squares and circles and putting words into them, I have to constantly question what message is the visual giving out. Is it intending to do what the exercise requires or is it adding another layer of meaning to what the task intends to do. Is that meaning something we require? Those visuals must justify their purpose – whether it’s in anchoring a spectrum, listing under categories, illustrating directional relationships, such that if that participant is left alone with that same sheet again, the sheet does what it’s supposed to do, anchor responses in the way intended.

More on this later. For now, I have to go roll up those chart papers, put the sketch pens back into the boxes, and get back to fixing those wretched rags in the paragraph.

Constitution Project workshop at FoV

What does it mean to be citizens? To have a vision for our society, to build a democracy for the people, of the people, by the people? The constitution of India is that social contract that binds us as citizens but it is not set in stone. So what would it entail? To get people to engage with it as a living document, with both the letter and the spirit, with how the constitution forms the social contract and the basis for identity and citizenship in the country?

In order to start the conversation, we decided to hold a day-long workshop at FoV house, where people from diverse backgrounds could come and work in interdisciplinary teams to build tools that will facilitate discussion, debate, and dialogue with the Constitution.

On March 17th, a mildly humid Saturday morning, the front porch of the FoV house was lined up with 30 odd pairs of shoes. Inside, the room was packed with lawyers, academics, policy researchers, designers and artists. A few sips of tea and coffee were followed by a round of introductions. It was 10 a.m and the constitution workshop had kicked off with great enthusiasm.

The participants were divided into four groups:

Group 1- Apurba with a background in Law, Uruj from Green Peace, Ambika from CIS with a background in English literature and Media studies, Mehul Kanodia from Quest Alliance, Shreyan Acharya a Lawyer currently working at Centre for Law and Policy Research, Shruti Kabo a designer from Icarus and Simar from Lifetide.

Group 2 had the following participants: J. Mandakini from Centre for Law and Policy Research, Vinod Ravindran, a freelance theatre artist, Sophia Chung with a background in Education, Tushant with a background in Game theory, mathematical and theoretical economics, Priya NM from NIAS and Samhita, a law student, Darshana from Alternate Law Forum.

Group 3 had the following participants: Guru Aiyyar from Takshashila Institute, Nishtha Sinha from CIS, Niveditha Menon from CBPS, Srijan Mandal, Faculty at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, and Ragini, Designer from Quest Alliance.

Group 4 had the following participants: Parth Sharma, an engineer from ISRO, Malvika Prasad, a lawyer by practice, Sushma with a background in HR, Anirudh Kanisetti, a researcher at Takshashila Institute, Ana with a background in political science and Siddhanth, with a background in conservation ecology and local governance.

The deep blue sea

The participants were given 2 cues to begin with a) Concepts from the preamble / Citizen-Person, and b) What goes into making of the Constitution of a country such as India. Participants could also choose an entry point of their own to guide their inquiry for the day. The exercise began with each group mapping the ecosystem of their chosen target audience and then further refining the audience they would like to build the tool for. By the end of session one, each group had to identify a) the objective of their tool, b) who is the tool for and c) what will the dissemination of this tool involve.

Minutes into the exercise one could see, the participants breaking away from their mild hellos and diving into ardent discussions around equality, fundamental rights, democracy. They could take many directions and the possibilities seemed endless. They were caught many times in the tug of war between the theoretical and the actionable. At last after a few nudges here and the participants committed to an objective, an audience and an idea.

After lunch the participants had fueled up and rolled up their sleeves to dive into the next phase of the workshop – building concepts and iterate over their tools. There were conversations around empathy, role plays and games. By the end of the second session the four groups had come up with working prototypes of four different games.

Group 1 had come up with an activity-based game to communicate fundamental rights to offline adults. They designed a card-based game (like rummy) where players can match right cards to their profile (which described their particular situations). By playing the game, the player would understand which rights are applicable to the kind of situation they face.

Group 2 designed a game on right to life. The aim here was to keep the person alive. The game starts out with certain markers of identity of a person and with each round new markers are introduced. Certain situations that affect the right to life of the person crop up during gameplay. All players have to collaborate to keep the person alive. The game was designed for offline adults in informal spaces.

Group 3 wanted to create a tool that facilitates a breakdown of concepts in the preamble. Their intended audience were young adults (students in publicly funded universities/schools, disadvantaged youth, community colleges). They created a card-based game that dealt with the concept of equality. In the game each player held a profile that was endowed with certain privileges/disadvantages. The intent of the game was to generate empathy by evoking a sense of inequality that existed between the players themselves.

Group 4 created a card-based game around the functioning of a democracy. The objective of this tool was to explore how to use democracy in order to bring change. The game for designed for urban young adults. The players were assigned different identities and based on their respective profiles, they could negotiate with the system in order to acquire certain assets. The game tries to evoke the power of citizens along with the sense that not all citizens are equal.

When it comes to something like the Constitution or the Law, the urge to look up an expert’s opinion, for one right answer comes easily. But at the workshop our participants tackled a number of ideas from the constitution by working with the document. The pressure to create a tool in limited time, laid down constraints that a lot of the participants had never worked with before.  Each person brought to the table their own disciplinary perspectives and layered in their view of this document in order to have a dialogue.

With a lot many reflections, musings and laughs, we wrapped up for the evening, hoping that the conversation will be taken even to those neighborhoods where the rain hasn’t brought respite from the humid afternoon.

Workshop on planning methods for Sri Lankan govt officials

We were invited to conduct the FoV workshop in Sri Lanka from 5th to 12th November for Sub-National Planning officials in the regions of Anuradhapura, Badulla and Hambantota. This was part of training for Results Based Management for Planning organized by the Department of National Planning of the Ministry of National Policies and Economic Affairs with the support of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Sri Lanka.

You can read more about it here.

Day 1 of the Global Goals Jam at FoV

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a United Nations initiative and they came into effect from January 2016. The 17 SDGs form a set of Global Goals with 169 specific targets to be achieved before 2030. These 17 Goals build on the successes of the previous 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focusing on inclusion, collaboration and cooperation.

 

Global Goals Jam is a world wide jam being held across 15 cities across the globe where creative teams of designers, developers and jammers from the local community would come together and brainstorm over a two-day sprint to deliver innovative solution prototypes focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

For the India jam, we had 18 participants from different backgrounds, including arts, social sciences, technology, development and design.

 

1.       Pallavi Sharma Photography, design, art
2.      Mohit Varyani Development studies student APU
3.      Vaishali Rao Energy, livelihoods, social entrepreneurship
4.      Anisha Nazareth IT, Sustainable sities and communities
5.      Agam Arora Design
6.      Sucharita Eashwar Enabling women’s entrepreneurship
7.      Miguel Computer Science
8.      Arzu Mistry Artist, educator
9.      Subir Rana Sociology, Anthropology, Ethnography
10.  Madonna Thomas Architect, Urban design, public transport systems
11.  Olga Alexandrova Sustainability, agriculture
12.  Tejas Shah IIIT H
13.  Morgan Campbell Urban Planning, public policy, Gender, transport
14.  Brindaalakshmi K Marketing and communications
15.  Jayasimha K IT
16.  Tushant Jha Cognitive science
17.  Sabira Lakhani Waste management, circular economics
18.  Aakarsh Sustainable cities

 

The Jam began in the morning at 10:30am with a short briefing and introduction to the UN SDGs and the Global goals. The participants were grouped into 5 teams and they focused on SDG 1, SDG 5, SDG 11. They were also introduced to the Fields of View methodology to design for complex problems. The Fields of View methodology involves a guided process involving two phases — the problem articulation phase and the design phase.

The participants went through both the phases today with great success. The first phase, i.e. the problem articulation phase, involves participants working through different activities that lets them generate a common problem statement.

 

The problem articulation phase is then followed by the design phase, where the participants work together to imagine futures and figure out how to design for these transformations.

 

 

Day 2 will follow with prototyping and presentation of the same by the respective teams.