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.

Game Session of ‘Made to Order’ at UWC Mahindra College, Pune

Four students stood in a large multimedia hall with masks tied around them and there were eight more students sitting down on the wooden floor. The walls of the hall were lined up with fans, cuboid black speakers, tube lights and switch boards and neatly hung flags of different countries. The participants were students of the Theatre, Gender, Identity and Film summer program at UWC Mahindra College in Pune, between 14-18 years of age. The participants had been initiated into the conversation about intersecting identities the previous day as part of their course and had pondered over the questions of class, race, gender, privilege and power. At 10 a.m. on a Friday morning, the Made to Order session commenced.

Made to Order is a game developed by Fields of View that looks at the intersections between caste, class and gender. The purpose of the game is to give the player an immersive understanding of the intricacies of these three aspects of one’s identity. The game is set in the garment industry in India. The game was first developed for Gender Bender 2017, a production of Sandbox Collective and Goethe Institut Bangalore. The game draws from real-life qualitative and quantitative data.

The game session involved 15 mins of briefing, 50 mins of game play and another 45 mins of debriefing.

People understand gender better than they understand caste

“My caste is Bestha, so does this apply to me?”asked one of the players. The game involves the players to make certain choices based on the profile that is given to them. These profiles are stated on the profile cards. While four players play the roles of garment factory workers, the others play the role of the upper management. The above-mentioned question is a common occurrence in a game of Made to Order. People more often that not are unaware of which caste is Scheduled and which is not. In the game those who play the role of garment factory workers have to achieve 5 goals. One player who managed to achieve all his 5 goals in the game, expressed happiness over the fact that he had made some good decisions during the game. He also however acknowledged the fact that his profile being that of a male, didn’t involve any of the impediments women had to face. His profile also entitled him to an SC/ST certificate because of which he could get free eye surgery for his parents. Sometimes your caste in the game held you back while sometimes it helped you move ahead.

Where some perceived caste and gender as labels affecting their movement in the game, for one of the players there seemed to be a disconnect between her perception of the profile she was playing and the life of that very person in the profile. While playing the role of a transgender person employed in the factory as a helper, she decided very consciously to apply for vocational training even though it required her to dress up as a man – “I had to get money for gender reaffirmation surgery and that was a lot. So I had to save and I couldn’t achieve a lot of goals because of it. I thought getting more money was more important for me than to dress up as a woman if I ever wanted to achieve that particular goal”. Would someone struggling to express their gender to the world actually go through with such a decision like that? How much would a person compromise in order to make their ends meet? Speaking from their own personal experiences, one of the participants talked about how gender and sexuality are not understood where he comes from and why he needs to hide his sexuality from his own family because of the trouble he might face if he discloses it.

Power as a process and not an event

During the debrief one of the participants said “As a woman I think it’s not just that instance when I feel threatened or violated, but I can do something about it after that instance has passed. And my caste and class support me in that.”For another player the act of making choices was just about survival as he pointed out. He was making the least amount of money as a sanitation worker, that combined with him playing as a woman who belongs to a scheduled caste, made it extremely difficult to achieve anything in the game. In the game the players are required to respond to certain questions and make choices. And the very labels of one’s caste, income and gender tend to weigh in on all these choices throughout.

Does Industry and development go hand in hand?

“We had no consequences whatsoever for ourselves. And there was nothing to stop us from making the choices we made. I think we had a lot of power in the game”.Turning to the participants playing upper management, there was a unanimity in how much power they felt in making the decisions they had to. On being asked about their choices as the management another one said “I made the decision of moving out the factory to a rural place. Because as the employee turnover is high in the city anyway and the workers are more likely to switch jobs in the city, I thought they could easily find a job even if the factory shut down here. Instead we could take it to a rural area and set up there. It would not only generate employment but also develop the area, schools etc would come up.”On questioning further, discussions emerged on whether such development models even function in the real world and how much do industries that are setup in rural parts of the country actually contribute to the education or overall growth of the people in the rural areas.

Claustrophobia and decision making

Some participants pointed out that “the game was mentally exhausting and having to constantly think about the decisions was tiring. I can only imagine having to face that on a day-to-day basis.”One of the girls playing the role of a transgender helper at the factory mentioned how restricted and stuffy the mask and the impediments made her feel in the game. “The impediments felt very real for me. It became more and more difficult to move. I am somewhat claustrophobic, so the masks were also a difficult thing for me.”

We wound up the session, thanked each other for their time and participation and left for the day to do other things. I saw those four students leave, the participants who played the roles of the workers, with smiles on their faces like the rest of their classmates. And here I was packing their very masks with labels defining the caste, gender and income stuck on them repeatedly. Those masks had managed to make them feel suffocated in this air-conditioned hall. The impediments had restricted their movement so much that even a 10 feet distance had become a struggle to tread. The questions and decisions in the game had drained them enough for that hour if not the rest of the day.

But I guess that’s how it is in real life, for some the claustrophobia lasts an hour and for some it is their lifetime.

 

 

 

City Game Session at Genwise

What do a bunch of adolescents between 12-14 years of age have in common? Capris, shorts and t-shirts when they don’t have to wear a uniform? Ask a lot of questions, are not afraid to say what they are thinking and have all seen the recent Black Panther movie. At least the group we conducted a City Game session for at the Genwise summer school had.

The City Game is designed to explore urban form and elicit a group/individual’s preferences about their city. The game also allows for its participants to reflect upon why we imagine our cities the way we do. The students in this group were a part of the course ‘Perspectives in Tackling Wicked Problems’ and they belonged to grades 7 to 9. As the ritual goes, we had a short round of introductions and then we proceeded to the session.

There were two parts to the session at Genwise. In the first part, the students were asked to silently reflect upon what they understood by a ‘smart city’.

The second part involved playing the City game.

“Do we build a democratic city? Are we placing social concepts or infrastructure?” asked one of the students. “It’s completely up to you”, I replied. “So then what kind of a city do we build?” “A city you want to live in”. With all the clarifications in place, the gameplay began.

Negotiations started early. The kids immediately jumped on to the blocks and started building roads, business parks, sewerage treatment plants, sports centre, foot over bridges, BRT corridors, a historic statue, airport and more. Some interesting highlights were that a jail was placed before a police station was conceived of. Road networks were placed around first in order to ensure easy mobility. A lot of blue, pink and yellow tape was ripped and stuck around to ensure that the BRT corridors don’t get confused by a highway or a metro line. Somewhere near the 5th round (or half time), one or two in the group began to panic as to whether the city has its basic infrastructure in place or not. As the group had started to break and move around and the energy seemed to dip a little, a list was put on the white board and a number of things were listed on them. “Now we can track what we are building and have something to reference in case we miss out”. Slowly fire stations, public toilets, schools, hospitals, a windmill field, a car showroom, five-star hotel, railway stations, a library, and even an orphanage showed up. By the 8thround, the city had been built and it was time for lunch.

“Would you like to live in this city?” “Yes!” said two, “No!”, said the others. “Why?” we asked. In the debrief session, the students reflected upon this city that was built. A city that despite being built around the roads and other transit systems, seemed congested. Where did the poor live in this city? Some expressed their disappointment that the city was not built for different kinds of people (especially the people they had listed on the post-its before the game). Some said that the city was too congested around the business park. One even said that the city is not the same as her home town Chennai, which is why she wouldn’t want to live in it. There were a lot of ways to move around in the city, but who all could move around was not clear.

What is a Smart City?

The Government of India has recently launched major initiatives for building a large number of smart cities all around the country. Discussions on smart cities in India are generating a lot of debate around what it means to be a smart city.

During such discussions citizens are represented as residents who live in the city, perform various activities and are passive recipients of the city’s services. The interactions between them and the city is often reduced to an economical or a transactional one, without acknowledging the complexity of the relationship. Everyone is assumed to be a homogeneous ‘user’, and thus it becomes easy for us to imagine new cities with infrastructure, autonomous and automatic systems, regional plans, lots of glass and sensors, landscaped gardens, and various portrayals one is familiar through brochures. We are then led to estimate and imagine how existing systems would operate better by reducing the amount of time, costs, size, complexity, etc. In the race to make cities more “efficient”, we have not considered the implications of working towards a narrow definition of “efficiency”.

We fail to take into account the diversity around us, despite the popular cliché quoted about India as a highly diverse country with a diverse set of cultures, languages, and aspirations. We are diverse in terms of scale of urbanisation,  geographic size, economy and population. We also face inequality across the dimensions of economics, social stratification, and gender.

The current rhetoric on smart cities lack discussions on one or more of the above factors. Furthermore, the question of inequality and hence isolation of the poor from the city’s services is one of the problems facing established smart cities.

As we are poised at the cusp of establishing smart cities in India, we are presented with a unique opportunity. We can collectively imagine what it means to be a smart city for the Indian context, and build on that conception to design smart cities for different local Indian contexts.

What we then need is a process to elicit from citizens what their requirements and aspirations are for a smart city, which will then give us the base to design the appropriate city for a given location in the country. We may be able to use this method beyond India to define smart cities in other parts of the world or to evaluate existing ones.

Anthony Townsend in his book, Smart Cities, envisions a smart city where citizens if they wish are able to participate in the defining, design and governing of their city. What we call for are technologies that create processes that enable citizens to participate meaningfully in their city’s future.

The question then is, how do we collectively imagine what it means to be a smart city in the Indian context?

At Fields of View, we are designing initiatives for citizens to participate in defining, designing, and governing their city.

In an effort to understand how the current discourse on smart cities has shaped our understanding on Smart Cities, we have created a quick survey. The aim is to understand how we visualize a smart city and if we have a certain visual definition of the smart cities we would like to live in.

Please consider taking the survey here.

To know more, mail us at info at fieldsofview.in

References:

  1. Townsend, A. M. (2013). Smart cities: big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia. WW Norton & Company.

Understanding the complexity of energy systems with a simulation game

This post is by Dr. Émile Chappin, Assistant Professor of Energy & Industry, Delft University of Technology, and a Visiting Researcher at Fields of View. Dr. Chappin worked with us on developing a simulation game to understand to complexity of energy systems. These are his thoughts about the complexity of the sector and how a simulation game helps in understanding it.

 

Vibrant Electronics City sets the scene for three weeks of intensive research on serious gaming. We are driven by the need for stability and affordability of our energy supply – they are essential for flourishing societies. That’s the reason to deal with the nitty-gritty of typical European electricity markets in which billions of Rupees or Euros are at stake but where megawatts and megawatthours are easily mixed up. The key is not only in the details: electricity markets are complex systems, of which the performance is the result of the transactions in the market, the responses to the influences from outside, such as (proposed) policies, the evolving institutions and rational or irrational expectations.

 

This is where we start: how can we really learn to understand the essential workings of this system? The pure nature of complexity tells us that we can’t, really. But that’s not a satisfactory answer. We should do something that helps us – students, researchers, policy makers and companies – to gain better understanding of these systems. We need to start learning how we can somehow manage the system as a whole throughout the coming decades. Not in the classical sense of management, which presumes that some form of direct control is possible. We need to find new ways of shaping the system in a (more) desired direction. How? Join us in the world of simulation games!

We would like to share four insights we learnt from complexity and developing and using simulation games and models:

  1. The notion of optimality is void. There is no perfect outcome of this system/problem. Such judgments of the system state are observer-dependent, time-dependent and cannot be predicted. One can only speak of trajectories that appear desirable or not, given a set of strong assumptions, a time-frame, a set of objectives and a delineated system.

  2. Simulation and gaming should be used as tools for discussion. Because the system we’re observing is complex, any model we make and any simulation we run is definitively wrong. That, however, does not make them useless: they can be used as a digital laboratory, our laboratory in silico. By applying many modeling and simulation techniques capturing parts of the real-world system and its problems, and using those in a variety of relevant contexts, we may get a glimpse of understanding what patterns may emerge and how we can contribute in shaping the system [1]. That is the approach for TU Delft’s Energy Modeling Laboratory [2].

  3. Experience and involvement leads to deeper understanding. The complexity in the real-world system works in counterintuitive mechanisms and leads to patterns that are hard to really understand. Our experience shows that grasping some of these patterns by experiencing them in a serious game really helps to build an intuition for the consequences of the system’s complexity [1]. That in itself implies that lessons learnt – or patterns observed – may well contribute to understanding the complexity of the real world system and any effort in shaping the system accordingly. An example in our game is the understanding that ‘simple’ economic laws such as the notion of marginal cost bidding really work (at least to a certain extent). Other examples are the irrational response to soft information of future developments, the almost unbelievable developments on world markets for fuels, the wicked trade-offs between short-term profit, market share and the reliability and affordability of energy supply in the long run.

  4. Managing is the art to use the mechanisms that drive change. Understanding and exploring what the mechanisms are that drive our societal system is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Let’s consider this management that, making use of that, an art, an “attempt to bring order out of chaos” [3]. How to know what decisions matter, what actors matter and what outcomes matter? How to measure performance? How to measure change? To answer such questions, we need to bring together theory from various fields (history, engineering, multi-actor systems, complexity, economics, policy, design, etc.) and knowledge from application domains (energy, water, transport, IT).
    We hope that simulation and gaming contributes to this process. By doing so, we make the theory operational in specific domains: we ask questions such as how we can develop and maintain an affordable electricity sector which is both decarbonized and in which supply is secured. It helps us to define what change and stability really means and how we can measure it. That way we hope to find out how we may bring about changes that put our systems on a more desired trajectory. If we can manage our precious infrastructures – the backbones of our society – that may be how.

How can a three week trip to Bangalore help gaining insight in the Dutch electricity sector? Which countries – including their energy sectors – are more different than the Netherlands and India? Well… despite the fact that the Indian and the Dutch culture are fundamentally different, both societies show many communalities. Both India and the Netherlands are quite busy: at least traffic is a pain. The fraction of the Indian population that resides in Holland may not be so far apart from the fraction of Dutch people that are in India. What Indian food is, is impossible to define, as it is for Dutch food (although for different reasons). It is easy to complain about the weather – umbrellas are a requisite in your backpack. Dutch and Indians can express themselves in peculiar ways in English. Indians like chocolate and ‘stroopwafels’ as least as well as the Dutch. And… more often than not, we can meet each other in humor.

These commonalities show that the complexity of our societies does not mean we cannot try to understand and improve them. It means we need to find new ways of doing so. The mechanisms and laws probably do not work as we expect them to! There is only one way forward: dive in the deep, experience new things, debate with an open mind, challenge all assumptions, indulge in to cultural diversity, and… embrace complexity!

 

Literature

[1] Chappin, E. J. L. (2011). Simulating Energy Transitions, PhD thesis, TU Delft, the Netherlands. http://chappin.com/thesis

[2] Energy Modeling Laboratory, TU Delft. http://emlab.tudelft.nl

[3] Stephen Sondheim, composor and lyricist, 2005.