Thesis – Domains & Research Questions

Idea Mapping

This week we were asked to start organizing our research interests into some domains that can guide research into both academic and artistic/design precedents for our work.

As part of this process and related research, I have changed direction a little bit, not abandoning my Grid of 9 interest mapping, but rather using it instead to think about what I am interested in overall, versus a specific project application based on those proposed. I decided that I’m fundamentally interested in the following:

  • People living in Cities
  • Public Policy regarding Technology and “Public Technologies”
  • Digital Literacy
  • Speculative Design as a Tool for Community Visioning & Critique
  • De-Centralization of Public Opinion and Neutral spaces for Communication
  • Alternatives to Technologies Derived from and Driven by the process of Capitalism and Consumerism

I was also asked to write an impetus brief this week, explaining what I wanted to be an artist/designer and how I would use my thesis to realize these desires. As I charted my journey from my career in government and nonprofits it became clear to me that many of my fears and anger regarding technology were actually motivated by an intimate acquaintance with how public and social programs are decided upon and rolled out. Just like my concerns with top-down infrastructures in technology, I was dismayed by the top-down passage of ideas into culture through foundations and elected officials, the only participative flexibility and critique coming at the point of implementation.

When describing how I thought of myself in terms of being an artist/designer, something I still struggle to do most of the time, I found that I wanted to become one  because I was tired of being an administrator of programs, my creativity relegated to implementation and marketing. Coming to MFA D+T itself was a major shift in my life, versus going for a much more logical choice such as Urban Policy or Planning. But I’ve always been a techie, seeking to take apart and understand all of the new things that permeate our world as I watch people adapt around me to new means of communication and living that arise as a result.

For this reason, I want to make my contribution to the public sector in a new way, as a curator, a maker and communicator of ideas regarding cities and technology.

As I said in my paper:

“I feel a sense of responsibility as an Artist/Designer, Creative Technologist (or what have you) to ask questions that can shift the system, not just inform solutions to problems that arise within it; as a technologist to understand how these systems work, as an artist to spark critical speculation about what futures they may create, and as a designer to provide people with platforms they can use to push their preferred version forward.”

Both the Grid of 9 and the impetus brief helped me to realize that I am really interested in how Artists/Designers and should work with or the public sector to help people build futures they actually want to live in, not those motivated by some anonymous benefactors belief about how it should look.

Art and Design are powerful tools towards this end and maybe it is time for governments to stop focusing on administering other people’s ideas (since it certainly isn’t everyday people’s interests getting pushed forward anymore, its corporations) and to start working with people to come up with some ideas of their own and get back to making those real.

Futurecraft

I started reading an excellent book during this time that helped me to imagine how this relationship might look. The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, Hackers, and the Future of Urban Life (The Future Series) by Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel, outlines an experimental approach to participative visioning through the concept of “future craft”. Born out of MIT’s Senseable City Lab future craft “employ[s] design in a systematic exploration and germination of possible futures.”  and is a process by which to “…posit future scenarios (typically phrased as What if? questions), entertain their consequences and exigencies, and share the resulting ideas widely, to enable public conversation and debate” (63).

Much of their work is inspired by Dunne & Raby’s concept of Speculative Design, which “…thrives on imagination and aims to open up new perspectives on what are sometimes called wicked problems, to create spaces for discussion and debate about alternative ways of being, and to inspire and encourage people’s imaginations to flow freely. Design speculations can act as a catalyst for collectively redefining our relationship to reality” (Speculative Everything, 2).

Another big influence for MIT’s Senseable City Lab was Buckminster Fuller’s idea of design science introduced in 1956 through their Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science (CADS), which they defined as a method to “ solve problems by introducing into the environment new artifacts, the availability of which will induce their spontaneous employment by humans and thus, coincidentally cause humans to abandon their previous problem-producing behaviors and devices”

By combining these two methods and using Dunne & Raby’s speculative design methodologies to inspire the creation of actual artifacts, MIT has built a process to allow creative debate about the multiple alternative futures that exist and which we might want to make real.

However, while this process has been tested by MIT and other groups in various ways, I’m also interested in taking it a step further. I want to know how the outcomes from these processes can be used by communities and governments to allow for critical public debate and policymaking in urban environments. It seems like we are destined to become further and further enmeshed in a digital city of sensors, wearables, algorithms, and communication platforms so maybe it is time to step back and take a critical look at how we want to exist in those systems, who is making them, and who they are really making them for. In my opinion, government should play a crucial role in this process, facilitating an open conversation between citizens and the makers of technology, especially that which is implemented in private/public partnerships such as LinkNYC, the subway Wifi etc.

As I begin to shape my thesis questions, I want to further research how the concept of “future craft” can be used to drive cooperative policymaking in urban areas by using the future as a neutral space for creative debate.

I think that the outcome of this investigation will be a series of experiments following the methodology of future-making and speculative design principles that seeks to create artifacts from speculative futures and publish them in public forums to spark debate. At the same time, I must investigate ways in which cities and governments have used similar participative methodologies to drive policy to answer how I can take the results from these debates and use them to actually tangible next steps a government or community organization could take in addressing concerns and desires. I hypothesize that futurecraft might make urban technologies feel less opaque and more addressable, giving people agency into imagining how they should or should not be deployed.

In order to identify these important questions I did some whiteboard brainstorming:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Research Questions

The future craft methodology has 3 parts: positing future scenarios, entertaining their consequence and exigencies, and sharing the resulting ideas widely to enable public debate.

Since I’m interested in exploring how designers can work with and within governments to collate debate around urban technologies using the future crafting process, I decided it was best to organize my research and design questions by the same steps.

Overall Questions (The “Thesis” Questions)

  • How can governments use future crafting  to better enable public participation and debate around emerging potentially disruptive urban technologies?
  • How can and should the results of these debates be used by the public sector to drive policy, public planning, and legislature?

1. Posit Future Scenarios (Using What If Questions)

  • What Urban Technologies are the most impactful in the immediate and far future (need to pick a scale)?
  • How can creative technologists spark public debate through speculative design principles?
  • How might we develop a process to teach governments and community organizations to utilize methods derived from “future craft” to inspire future-thinking among citizens

2. Entertain the Consequences & Exigencies of those Futures

  • How might we use “mutable artifacts” to provide iterative pathways (with points for debate at each iteration) to take steps toward desirable futures?
  • How might we create iterative artifacts as an output of the “future craft” process?

3. Share the Resulting Ideas Widely to Enable Public Debate

  • How might we create platforms, distribution methods or spaces that provide outlets for public debate?
  • How might we collect the feedback from these debates in the most constructive manner and balance competing criticisms?

4. The Policy/Public Project Connection

  • How can the resulting debate from this project lead towards policy, public project, or legislative outcomes?
  • What role should government play in the process, where should they join in – ideation, artifact testing and critique, the facilitation of the public showcase/debate, or just to hear and react to the ideas that have come out of it all?

Design Questions

While useful to explore the research questions behind this methodology, I also need to ask some design questions if I want to follow it, or alter it for my own purposes. I created a separate list of design or process questions to help inform a rough outline of what my process of ideation, prototyping, and showcasing the work might look like, organized by the same three steps outlined by MIT in performing future craft:

1. Posit Future Scenarios (Using What If Questions)

  • How should we decide which urban technologies should be used positing these futures?
  • What tools/methods are needed to facilitate the process of productive speculation?
    • Is there more than one tool or method we can use?
    • How many should we test?
  • Who is doing this positing?
    • What types of people need to be involved at this stage?
    • Should the community take part in this part or just designers/technologists?
    • What tools/prompts/training might we need if community does participate?

2. Entertain the Consequences & Exigencies of those Futures

  • How do we decide which artifacts to build from the speculated scenarios?
  • Should we test more than one?
  • Who decides which we build?
  • How many versions of these artifacts should be built as part of the iterative process?
  • Who should test the prototypes at each stage before release or should the whole iterative process be held with the public?
  • Should good and bad futures be explored through the artifacts?

3. Share the Resulting Ideas Widely to Enable Public Debate

  • Where (or in what context) should the resulting ideas be shared to best enable public debate?
    • Galleries, Public Spaces, Online
    • What do we mean by the “public”?
    • What if the public doesn’t have the digital or media literacy to understand the implications of the artifact?
  • How should the resulting artifact and/or ideas be shared?
    • Should the public interact with only the final artifact?
    • Should only a certain set interact with it and their ideas and criticisms are shared widely?
    • At what point in the process will we know that the final artifact/ideas derived from it ready for distribution?
    • What distribution tools should we use?
      • Which are most utilized by the public?

4. The Policy/Public Project Connection

  • How can we share results or process with government?
  • Who in government should we share it with?
    • Community boards, elected officials, office of technology?
  • What methods are governments already using to spur innovation already (even if they come up with the ideas behind the innovation themselves)?
    • Competitions, Design Briefs, Procurement, Public/Private Partnerships, Funding Educational Institutions and Labs, Supporting Entrepreneurial Activities in these Areas
  • Are there examples of cities that have utilized similar bottom-up processes to future-crafting, or processes that share some of the steps from future-crafting?
    • Which were successful and which were not?
    • What is the different outcomes that result from a more participative visioning process from the start, rather than a top-down approach (government/organization comes up with idea and puts out call to action for its realization)?

Identifying Domains for Research

From the research questions I have been able to start identifying potential domains for academic research into informing my impetus and the importance and history of studying this body of work:

  • Policy and Methods of Policymaking
  • Urban Planning & Smart Cities
  • Speculative Design, Design Science and related methodologies
  • Digital Literacy and Education

Similarly, I used the design questions both to inform further research, but also to make some choices about how the first prototypes might look.

  • Emerging Urban and Public Technologies
  • Methodology of positing “What If” questions as a part of Speculative Design
  • Tools and methods for working with diverse stakeholders in terms of technical/digital literacy regarding visioning
  • Urban Innovation Competitions, Calls to Action etc.
  • Public, Participative and De-Centralized platforms for debate and communication
  • Precedents for successful illustrative methods of showcasing ideas through art/design to public
  • Precedents for using public spaces to showcase tech ideas and hold resulting debate

First Round Research Domains

I started looking for research sources in each of these domains, but need to formalize these and do a bit more digging before Thursdays submission of our research sources in a bibliographical format.

  • Emerging Urban and Public Technologies
  • Methodology of positing “What If” questions as a part of Speculative Design
  • Tools and methods for working with diverse stakeholders in terms of technical/digital literacy regarding visioning
  • Urban Innovation Competitions, Calls to Action etc.
  • Public, Participative and De-Centralized platforms for debate and communication
  • Precedents for successful illustrative methods of showcasing ideas through art/design to public
  • Precedents for using public spaces to showcase tech ideas and hold resulting debates

Finding Research Sources

In order to begin my research, I searched for sources in each of the above domains as well as precedents to inform design questions.

  • Emerging Urban and Public Technologies
    •  The City of Tomorrow: Sensors, Networks, Hackers, and the Future of Urban Life (The Future Series) by Carlo Ratti and Matthew Claudel
    • Jeremy Rifkin – The Third Industrial Revolution also his podcast related to the book
    • NYC 2020 Plan
    • Projections About Future Big Tech
    • Weapons
  • Methodology of positing “What If” questions as a part of Speculative Design
    • Dunne & Raby, Speculative Everything
    • Dunne & Raby, What If
    • Sci-fi & Design
  • Tools and methods for working with diverse stakeholders in terms of technical/digital literacy regarding visioning
    • Gaver – Cultural Prompts
    • Holding Brainstorming Meetings
    • Storytelling & Design
  • Urban Innovation Competitions, Calls to Action etc.
    • NYC Big Apps
    • TEI 2017
    • EDC’s Media Lab and related initiatives
  • Public, Participative and De-Centralized platforms for debate and communication
    • Do any exist?
    • Platform Cooperativism Conference
    • Gehl, Jan. Life between Buildings: Using Public Space. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1987. Print.
    • Lydon, Mike, Anthony Garcia, and Andres Duany. Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print. 
  • Precedents for successful illustrative methods of showcasing ideas through art/design to public
    • Public Art/Design Project Precedents
  • Precedents for using public spaces to showcase tech ideas and hold resulting debate

Thoughts on the First Prototype

For my first prototype, I want to focus on the first step of the future crafting process, Positing Future Scenarios (potentially using what if questions).

For the next week, I will heavily research how MIT Senseable City Lab undertook this stage of the process, as well as other forms of speculative design, speculative fiction, and group visioning that could be explored.

I will then design a prototype to test out one of these methodologies, designing a short in-class prototype of how a visioning session might look in order to understand what exactly it should look like, who should be involved, and how concrete the desired outcomes should be.

Some ideas I have before doing this research are:

  • Working with class to come up with characters and settings for science fiction short story
  • Using What If prompts around a particular urban technology to organizing a brainstorming and perhaps voting session about the good and bad futures
  • Paper prototyping an online system to run this visioning process so as to collate a wider range of ideas (if public were to be involved at this stage)
  • Showing various clips from sci-fi movies and TV around a particular urban technology (both bad and good) and facilitating a guided in-class debate

I think the desired outcome of this prototype would be to how much and what information I would need to then move forward with developing potential artifacts from these speculated futures for the next round of prototyping.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s