Position in relation to the Sustainable Design Agenda
From a communication design background, there is wide availability of campaigns and initiatives focused on spreading information and awareness in relation to sustainability issues.
When access to such information is a problem, it is in the sense of accessibility (poor dissemination or strategy), problems of availability (especially for the least privileged or isolated individuals/communities), or lack of clarity of the messages (poor delivery).
There is yet a bigger problem concerning the value-action gap: even though information is out there, awareness is not leading to action, especially in the higher societal layers.
The most privileged customers, or those who have the ability to choose from wider ranges of products, adopt "greener" attitudes to consumerism, but that doesn't result in a noticeable impact - it is often a minority within that stratus. Moreover, ‘greener’ is a synonymous for better. ‘Green-washing’ is a common type of attitude that serves as a mask mostly; on top of this, ‘organic’ products don’t necessarily have less negative impact on the environment and society.
It has been recognized that there is a need for bigger societal changes that relate to consumer behaviour, possibly leading to the reshaping of a whole new culture - attitudes and behaviors need to change.
Much work is being done to address behavior change within the product design sphere, on the products themselves or on adopting new ways of engaging with objects and goods. However, other approaches beyonds the material sphere (services and experiences detached from materiality) are only starting to be explored. There is an opportunity to tackle behavior change if understood and linked to cultural and social values, focused on experiences and services, rather than objects.
In relation to the opportunity for addressing sustainable design issues from an environmental and social aspect, food and eating habits represents an area that hasn't been explored thoroughly from the aforementioned viewpoint. It is an area that holds massive potential for GHG emission mitigation that could slow down the effects of climate change. Changes in eating habits inevitably result in changes in societal values, addressing inequality and exploitation at the same time.
In relation to diets, reducing the global over consumption of meat and dairy products has been identified as the single approach with the biggest potential for effective change, as the effects of livestock production are one of the biggest culprits of CO2 and CH4 emissions. Currently, global trends and population growth indicate that there will be a big stress on food systems and diets will need to change by reducing their dependability on meat and dairy.
Changing diets, or reshaping food cultures (especially those in the north) although necessary, proves to be extremely challenging. To do so, the problem needs to be addressed from different angles, understanding its complexities and taking a holistic approach that relates to the degree of complexity of the issue. This approach needs to account for social, cultural and emotional values just as health and environmental ones.
The problem: present + future
Current diets and eating patterns have been linked to many environmental and social problems. The rate of consumption of resources associated with eating habits in the north is causing havoc on ecosystems as a whole, and is responsible for species extinction, soil erosion, water stress, social and economical inequalities and one of the major culprits of greenhouse emissions causing climate change (Martine Padilla, Roberto Capone, Giulia Palma, in FAO, 2010). It has already been acknowledged by many scientists, organizations and international bodies such as the UN, that, in particular, meat and dairy consumption needs to be reduced if we are to try and reduce carbon emissions globally - as agreed on the recent COP21 meeting in Paris (United Nations, 2015 and http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/, no date).
At present, tackling dietary changes is the area that holds the biggest potential for emission mitigation. In the UK alone, studies suggest that the mitigation potential that can result from limiting the consumption of meat and dairy while still fulfilling nutritional requirements is between 35% to 50% (depending on diet type), whereas adopting changes in terms of energy and transportation (food miles) could only reduce emissions by 5% (Hoolohan et al., 2013 cited by Boer et al., 2016). The latter is the area that has been mostly addressed by international bodies and governments so far, but it is clear how this focus needs to shifts to diets for larger and urgent results.
On the other hand, the health aspect in relation to dietary choices has fortunately been gaining ground lately. Some initiatives have started working on the promotion of fruit and vegetable intake and the reduction of processed foods (Rekhy & McConchie, 2014). Many of those initiatives have been targeted at children and focused on the health benefits, especially with the intention to reduce the spread of obesity. Lack of consumption of fruits and vegetables in diets has been associated with nutritional deficiencies in people (even leading to deaths) and responsible for large costs to the NHS. From the perspective of quality of life, health and public services, reducing meat and dairy is also an area for major improvements.
“In the UK, current average diets fail to meet multiple UK dietary recommendations and do not contain the recommended daily amounts of many micronutrients. (...) Diet-related ill health in the UK is estimated to cost the National Health Service (NHS) around £6 billion annually. (...) In order to conform to the WHO nutrition recommendations, the UK diets would need to contain less red meat, dairy products, eggs and sweet and savoury snacks, but more cereals, fruit and vegetables.”(Milner et al., 2015)
Macdiarmid, Douglas & Campbell (2015), in a study carried out in Scotland last year, concluded that an approach to try and change dietary habits so as to increase health and reduce environmental impact would need to acknowledge the complexity of eating as an activity that involves cultural, social and personal values. Without a more holistic approach to eating, any messages discouraging the consumption of meat will most likely be met with reluctance and scepticism, and prove ineffective.
When considering the future projection of current trends, the problem takes an even more dramatic dimension. Some studies carried out linking population growth expectancy versus resource availability (Sakschewski et al., 2014), suggest that food systems could undergo dramatic stress. This would potentially lead to a larger gap in the carrying capacity of the earth resulting in an increase on the number of malnourished people worldwide.
“Our results indicate that current population projections may considerably exceed the maximum number of people that can be fed globally if climate change is not accompanied by significant changes in land use, agricultural efficiencies and/or consumption pathways. We estimate the gap between projected population size and KC to reach 2 to 6.8 billion people by 2100.”(Sakschewski et al., 2014)
In terms of land usage, population growth and current mobility trends suggest that in the future, most people will live in cities (70% of population by 2050, according to Kiss et al., 2015) and therefore food production will likely be affected, both in terms of lack of space, and also in terms of availability of food production areas (coupled with energy crisis, resource depletion and a challenging climate). In this light, alternative food-production techniques are being considered, studied and tested (especially for horticulture).
“A solution to many food-related problems (land area, water use, food security) is controlled environment agriculture (hydroponics), which consumes one-tenth the amount of land and one-twentieth the amount of water as field agriculture today.” (Kiss et al., 2015)
On the other hand, if we consider meat production in this context, the future looks uncertain and challenging, Scientists have, however, been inclining to look at alternative solutions using biotechnology. In-vitro meat has been proposed as a possible alternative source of meat for the future. This technological approach has already been developed but is not viable in its present form yet - especially in terms of costs and the fact that until now, it is not possible to produce meat 100% in the lab, without the use of animal tissue and blood. This technology is very controversial and has a massive ethical weight. It is often not welcomed with great acceptance from animal-welfare-concerned individuals (although some organizations such as PETA have promoted this approach as a less-cruel alternative (Simonsen, 2015)) and specially the general public. Nonetheless, judging by the figures, it represents an optimistic solution to the future of meat production.
“Dr. Mark Post (...) in 2013 produced the first in vitro hamburger. The burger was served up at an event in London and cost about $325,000.8 Although, the production of in vitro meat products is clearly not economically viable at this point compared to contemporary standard meat production, 'cultured meat involves approximately 7-45% lower energy use (only poultry has lower energy use), 78-96% lower GHG emissions, 99% lower land use, and 82-96% lower water use depending on the product compared.'”(Simonsen, R.,2015)
Approaching the problem from the design field
If we are to focus the work surrounding the idea of sustainable diets, it is necessary to define what this means. In broad and simple terms, a sustainable diet is one that is good for health, the environment and social justice (Lang and Heasman, 2015). Different organizations have been working on and developing this idea. Sustain, the Alliance for Better Food and farming has “determined seven main areas of work if we are to tackle the issues revolving around food. I have found this definition of the scope of action to be extremely useful, but have adapted it to rename the aspects for clarity and contextualization, and have included an additional area that I have named: Community and Wellbeing” (Juri, 2016). The reason for extending the scope of the problem is to include the more subjective and cultural aspect of the problem, which cannot be ignored. Taking into account the Community and Wellbeing elements in relation to diets means considering commensality and the actions and contexts in which food is consumed. Moreover, it includes the health aspect that is involved in the action of eating, both as nourishment for the body, but also in a more spiritual way, for the ‘soul’ (in relation to values, traditions and emotions behind food itself and the action of eating).
Lang and Heasman have discussed and explored the problem behind food in an exhaustive manner. They clearly adopt a more holistic approach to the problem with which I identify. Accounting for the complexity of the problem is that they reach the conclusion that what is needed is an overall shift in our Food culture, one in which all of the actors involved have a role to play, especially governments and policymakers, but consumers as well. The have coined the term ‘food citizenship’ which I find very useful and will adopt on many occasions. This term implies the idea that consumers have a powerful voice and vote which can shift the direction of the courses of action depending on the choices they make. Everyday food choices become an exercise of global citizenship, one that is political at its core, one that has many effects and implications both at a personal, local, and global scale.
They have also clearly listed the aspects (‘poly-values’) that relate to what a sustainable diet involves, basing the information on the framework devised by the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission in 2011.
I’ve re-arranged the elements to simplify the message under five main categories that conform a pentagonal lense which is the perspective I’m using to explore the problem:
Society - Ethical values, Animal Welfare, Equality and Justice, Transparency, International aid and development, Democratic accountability
Culture - Identity, Pleasure, Cultural appropriateness, Skills, Taste, Seasonality, Freshness, Authenticity, Cosmetic
Health - Safety, Nutrition, Accessibility, Availability, Affordability, Information and Education, Protection from Marketing
Environment - Climate change, Energy use, Water, Land use, Soil, Biodiversity, Waste reduction
Economy - Food security and resilience, Affordability, Efficiency, Competition, Fair return for producers, Jobs and working conditions, Circular economy
By looking at the list of values presented here, the complexity of the ideas behind each aspect of what ‘healthy’ might mean (in terms of the duality healthy people/healthy planet) are varied and take different realms depending on the area that we focus on.
Although many attempts are being made especially from the fields of Health and Social Sciences, studies in general conclude that any approach that looks into dietary changes has to be multifaceted and cross-disciplinary just as the reality of the problem is (Macdiarmid et al., 2015). There is no single area or approach that has so far led to tangible and effective results likely to be maintained by individuals over time. The common flaw of these unidirectional approaches, is that they do not account for that bigger spectrum of values intrinsically involved – such studies are not open enough. They have failed to lead to significant impacts or fruitful changes, which makes it clear that a different approach is crucial.
Designers hold the potential to be of extreme use when trying to untangle problems of this nature - the so called ‘wicked problems’.
“The world is becoming an increasingly complex place. (...) Multifaceted problems - often referred to as ‘wicked problems’ in the design community (see Rittel and Webber, 1973)- demand new solutions and unconventional approaches in order for us, as a global society, to improve or even maintain our quality of life as it is.” (Muratovski, 2016)
The value that design professionals with their skills and methods can bring to the table is very broad: from enabling the understanding of the problem from new perspectives, to providing a wide array of solutions using different approaches and techniques, exploiting creativity, innovation and the ability to adopt agile methodologies for developing products or services that are adaptable, testable, and user-centered. The duality problem/solution results in a more fruitful relation, with a massive potential for increasing speed, quantity and quality. Solutions that engage with stakeholders during the planning states (user-centered/collaborative), tend to be optimised for the intended audience and have better chances of success. The advantage for designers is that they can act as facilitators, enabling conversations and connections to happen, especially when exploring new grounds and connecting new or divergent fields. Designers work within the realm of the uncertain, and that blurry area is where most innovative solutions are to be found. Just like in real life, there is no single solution and no problem can be understood without seeing the bigger picture.
The problem that we are dealing with is a problem of changing values, of generating change in ways that we don’t know yet - it is a matter of embracing uncertainty and potentiality. The process that I’m using through the development of this model aligns with what Kees Dorst (2011) calls ‘Abduction-2’. This is a process for generating knowledge that is based on the development of a possibility (Steen 2013, referring to Peirce’s definition of abduction), instead of the more typical processes of induction and deduction. This means that the process moves from the 'What' and 'How' towards a 'Result' (Dorst, 2011). This process necessarily involves the step of ‘Framing’, that is, defining the set of values and focus to help untangle a problem where the only known variable is the outcome: the value that we’re trying to change. The set of ideas, working principles and tools that I’ll be using for the development of the frame conform the Ingredients that I will explain in detail later on. The model is the Frame (How -> Result) that will enable me to develop further solutions (the ‘Whats’). The outputs of the model is what Dorst calls Themes, that is, the set of values that enable the understanding of the problem by exploring both the deeper and bigger picture, to then re-define the Frame itself (in an iterative process). This is why this workshop has been developed to be reshaped by its outcomes.
“A ‘design process involves finding as well as solving problems’ so that ‘problem and solution co-evolve’.” (Bryan Lawson, 2006 as quoted by Steen, 2013)
As an evolving model, this flexible approach defines and supports the methodology used, and is intended to be a part of the way of moving from finding solutions to effectively generate change.
“This double creative step requires designers to come up with proposals for the ‘what’ and ‘how’, and test them in conjunction.(...) Once a credible, promising or at least possibly interesting frame is proposed, the designer can move to Abduction-1, designing a ‘thing’ (object, system, service) that will allow the equation to be completed.” (Dorst, 2011)
Ecologically integrated paradigm (EIP):
The Ecologically integrated paradigm is a term coined by Lang and Heasman, (2015). The focus of this approach implies a worldview and an understanding of a direction to take onwards to solution finding. This approach, as opposed to the Productionist and the Life Sciences ones, focuses on the importance of preserving the environment and the built in capabilities present in humanity. That is, not relying on advances of science (genetic modification, etc.) to bring about solutions. The approach of the EIP, “conceives of health as something that is an outcome of even more complex interactions including within society (...). (It) is centered on ecology: understanding the interactions of systems and cycles that are characteristic of biological systems in nature. The emphasis is on process (...), to understand these processes and to work with them, rather to engineer, constrict and fragment them.” (Lang and Heasman, 2015)
I choose to contextualise the discussion from within this perspective, starting from the possibilities and resources that we already have (materials and tools, people, skills, knowledge, traditions, etc.) instead of relying on the future capabilities of something that is uncertain. In this sense, and using the example of ‘in-vitro’ meat, my approach promotes the adoption of changes of paradigms and values, rather than substitutions. It seems preferable to reduce meat consumption, than have to rely on ‘fake meat’ to be able to supply current demands. This derives from the understanding that resources are not unlimited, and having failed to address this issue earlier because of the productionist approach (growth and quantity as a goal), the time has come to deal with the consequences. However, the future doesn’t have to look dark, it is only a matter of perspective.
Understood as the group of skills and methods that define the nature of design work, design thinking is the overarching term that defines the approach to the practice. It implies that the work itself is detached from the specific category or area from within the discipline that is used or applied on. It represents a way of thinking and doing, not defined by its technical tools, that enables more openness and flexibility with further innovation potential.
“Design contains the skills to identify possible futures, invent exciting products, build bridges to customers, crack wicked problems and more.” (Neumeier, 2009)
Social Design / Design for social change:
Working towards a food culture change, means working towards societal change. Social design, or as I prefer to adopt, design for social change (Shea, 2012) is concerned with a type of practice that aims to “contribute to the needs of a larger society. (The) results that designers might aim to achieve: helping community members establish a common vision and strengthening their interest to work together toward that vision; clarifying complex information or data; helping community members improve their quality of life by raising awareness around safety, health, and environmental issues in a way that empowers them to take responsibility; (...) and improving the community’s social and human capital with better social ties, networks, and support." (Shea et al., 2012). It is a socially responsible practice that builds on empathy and collaboration with users, and the social participants that it will affect or touch.
Continuing with the previous idea, designing for people implies designing with people, that is using collaborative approaches between stakeholders. This approach fosters involvement across all actors in a holistic, intuitive, empirical, iterative, pragmatic and non-linear way (Fuad-Luke, 2007). Exploiting cooperation makes the whole practice richer and more favorable: “from improving processes of idea generation and service or product development, to improving decision-making and promoting cooperation and creativity, to improving users’ and customers’ satisfaction and loyalty over the long-term.” (Steen, 2013)
The multifacetedness of the problem requires a similar approach. When we consider the 5 sides to the pentagonal lense (described before), it is clear that we will be dealing with areas of knowledge and disciplinary fields that go beyond what designers do: cross-disciplinarity becomes a must. “The great benefit of cross-disciplinary research is that it can help designers to gain a keen understanding of various phenomena, people, cultures, and belief systems (…) Represents a willingness to look beyond the immediate concern of crafting a project” (Muratovski, 2016). As Fry (2008) puts it, it is time for designers to start talking to other people, other disciplines, if we aim to tackle the challenging problems facing society nowadays.
Adopting a sociocultural approach means taking both social and cultural factors into account. As the definition states (Cambridge Dictionary,2016), it relates to "the different groups of people in society and their habits, traditions, and beliefs". This equates to acknowledging the more humanistic aspects that make food and eating, something intrinsically connected to groups of people, determining knowledge, customs and values that define and frame those communities themselves.
“Since the 1960s, many studies have focused on foods as social constructions, and food has been studied as more than simply something to eat. Since Lévi–Strauss’s (1966) food triangle and Barthes’s (1961) intuition that food is not only a “substance”, but also a “circumstance”, it has widely been acknowledged that what we eat shapes and is shaped by social, cultural, anthropological, political and economic influences, and that it may be considered as a system of signs and codes that are deeply rooted in societies” (Buscemi, 2015)
A sustainable approach to food has to necessarily adopt this multi-faceted nature of food that relates it to culture, social norms, politics, economics, health, the lived experiences and nature, and that makes it a common expression of the state of the world.
“Lifestyles are not just individual, they are comunal (…)For sustainable lifestyles to become the norm, all of these levels of influence must be considered. (...) Design and designers have an important role to play in exploring opportunities for the development of lifestyle choices that allow individuals to meet their needs and aspirations, while also taking into account environmental and social impacts.” (Chick and Micklethwaite, 2011)
Current eating habits are unsustainable, food and diets are predicted to undergo major challenges and changes. Today, it represents an area with massive potential for improvement. However, changing dietary habits proves extremely challenging, it is a complex issue that calls for a holistic approach. Design is a promising tool that through cross-disciplinarity, flexibility and innovation, could bring about solutions and directions for effective societal change.
The model of sustainable design that I’m proposing is a Collaborative Table Laboratory. It is a plan for a workshop that revolves around the eating table and engages participants in varied ways. This activity could enable people understand the need for changes in eating habits (especially reducing the overconsumption of animal products), recognize the role each person plays in the global scenario and empower individuals to make better choices while motivating them to make changes to their lifestyles and communities.
The goal is to foster the discussion and motivate engagement through the use of different methods that are based on perceptions, experiences and reflection. After the conclusión of the activity, participants would have gained a deeper understanding of the problems, would have engaged with it actively and emotionally as a means to generate long-lasting knowledge, would have provided personal insights to add value to the shared understanding of the issues, and would have enjoyed new, shared experiences and gained new skills.
It is primarily aimed at middle-class busy individuals (especially in office settings and the educational sphere), likely to have higher levels of information and awareness but low engagement and action (value-action gap).
As a model of sustainable design that looks at the problem of food, consumption patterns and behaviour, it aims to exploit the potential of design-thinking and collaborative practices when working towards the challenging and complex goal of making changes to our food-cultures (value change). This open and flexible approach exploits the social, perceptual and cultural aspects of eating (food and commensality) in a way that is not commonly found in other fields. It represents an organic space for the exploration of ideas and values, and speculation with solutions leading to possibly further engaging, inspiring and innovative solutions.
Graphic representation of the model:
The laboratory / workshop format
I’ve defined the model as a collaborative lab. It takes the form of a Workshop as an activity where participants are invited to take part, be engaged and leave with a reward (knowledge, skills and experience). As Binder et al. (2011) clearly defined laboratory in this type of setting (collaborative design research), the emphasis is “on method rather than on outcome”. The most important value of this model is the process that it enables (and quantitative insights) rather than actual, measurable results in terms of effectiveness.
The workshop resembles the form of a focus group, in that it results in a gathering of people to discuss a specific subject, and a co-design laboratory (Binder et al., 2011), in that it represents a controlled environment for experimentation, for exploration of new opportunities and directions. The co-design laboratory is a space “in which the possible come into being (and) not the exclusive territory of design researchers, design research must in a genuine sense be participatory, mobilizing and joining forces with the many “living labs” of the everyday.” (Binder et al., 2011)
Goal and intended outcomes
The goal of the workshop and model is to serve as a research tool for further practice and engagement with the problems identified as the main interest area (problem definition and context).
As such, it is a vehicle to facilitate the discussion and to explore the potential directions in which the problem can be tackled from within the design field. In this sense, the methodology used to create the model is a combination of methods and ideas that draw from design research methods. The approach is based on cross-disciplinarity, openness, collaboration and empathy using a broad socio-cultural lense. The outcome of this workshop is to gain further insight and qualitative information based on personal perceptions and lived experiences of participants. It also relies on collective efforts to develop the discussion towards new values, action routes and possible solutions. In terms of tangible outputs, the workshop “results” are planned to be documented and shared through a report published online. The aim of this is to provide an opportunity for further development, study and evaluation of the method itself - defining it as an evolving living tool that necessarily needs to adapt to the context in which is used as well as to its participants.
The graphic above describes the whole process that relates to the model, from problem definition and research, to the expected outcomes.
Most of the ítems illustrated here have already been explained and will be, in the case of the ones pertaining to methodology and future development.
What is relevant to comment on here is the iteration process that saw the development of the model from Problem to the Workshop definition. The work started with the identification of the position, values and ideas from which to build the discussion from. The nature of the problem that is being looked at, called for a complex, multi-faceted approach which emerged as a Collaborative lab / Focus group type of activity. In order to define the model itself, the work involved the definition of the main goals to attain, and the processes that could facilitate that. This work, developed graphically, helped understand the design interventions and decisions needed for the workshop to be ‘constructed’. During these phase, it became clear what the single elements, actions and ‘moods’ of the activity were likely to be. It became necessary to develop a very clear plan for the whole activity, as the model itself mostly intangible until it takes place. In a way, it was necessary to créate a model for the model. The next phase saw the development of the plan to include: a timeline, a description and definition of the elements and objects of interaction (triggers), and the understanding of the likely effects on participants so as to predict how to manage them. This plan was developed and expanded over the course of 3 weeks, and included the final revisions and changes after the first test of the model.
As a tool to gather insight and as a framing tool to be used during design research and work, the workshop is predicted to lead to the following outcomes:
Report: After each workshop session, a report should follow to document the experience and communicate the main findings as well as feedback. Information presented here is both quantitative and qualitative, the focus is, as the whole activity, on the latter.
Dissemination: The report is planned to be published to the Workshop’s website. The website enables both the general public (those interested in hosting the workshop) and academics, as a point of reference and information.
People, institutions, groups or companies interested in hosting the Workshop would find the information they need to understand what the workshop is, and to arrange its planning and execution.
Individuals interested in running the workshop in distant locations and to possibly adapt its contents would could find a Toolkit including the Description and Instructions on how to set up and run the activity (plan, inventory required, templates for probes, etc.)
Academics that might be interested in building from this experience and develop further knowledge would find the ‘research’ portal even more helpful. This is a secondary and supporting side to the public website, as the information takes the form an essay.
The website can be accessed here: http://www.silvanajuri.net/WORKSHOP/landing/
Evaluation: Each session of the workshop leads to a questionnaire that aims, among other things, to gather feedback on the activity for further improvement. This feedback is recorded to inform future iterations.
Replication: It is very likely that this plan will be used in a future development of the workshop as a transferable and replicable activity. They would serve as instructions to help the workshop facilitators understand and plan the activity to be reproduced as accurately as possible.
In the light of the scenario previously described, the approach requires the use of a framework that involves an array of methods that, having being explored by design researchers before, drags from the social sciences and philosophy, and are combined to represent a new direction to be used in close relationship with the discipline of “Food Design”, as the area of knowledge that deals with Food and Eating and the intersections with Design, in all of their forms (Zampollo, 2015).
The decision to use different methods for gathering qualitative information is based on the fact that having participants be confronted with different types of triggers, the tint of the reaction is likely to be different, and therefore, the ideas can be analysed and understood from different perspectives. This acknowledges the fact that people engage with the world through the use of different senses and mechanisms, and therefore, different type of data or experiences is recorded or understood. Just as images are perceived differently from text (as from an evolutionary standpoint the former has developed earlier than the latter (Harper, 2002 as cited in Mannay, 2015). The process used to define the outline/structure of the activity is based on Dewey’s as it is explained by Steen (2013).
I’ve used the following graphic to explain the correlations between this understanding of the process and the phases that relate to the ones found in my model.
The model I’m presenting here bares a lot of resemblance with this framework and agrees with the ideas of ethics, collaboration and how people perceive and act in the world. As Steen claims, a collaborative and practical approach is what Dewey envisaged philosophy to be, and in our case, design can play that role.
“Dewey saw philosophy as a way to develop tools that people can use to cope with real problems in the real world. (...) It focuses on people’s concrete practices, their personal experiences, and the role of practical knowledge; it aims at promoting cooperation and at empowering people so that they can improve their situations.” (Steen, 2013)
The case that Steen makes, and with which I align, is that Dewey’s views are directly aligned with the processes that are intrinsically part of co-design. It is specifically relevant the the proposition of this model as a route to enable positive changes to happen by understanding the problem through a socio-cultural and open way, and explore the potential for future opportunities to be shaped and embraced today.
The experiential side to the approach also aligns with Dewey’s ideas of cooperative ideation and creative inquiry. “Inquiry but to bring people together so that they can jointly explore, try out, learn, and bring about change in a desired direction.” (Dewey cited by Sheen, 2013) In this way, the process of collaboratively work together to bring about a desired chance generates knowledge and practical outcomes. As Sheen (2013) concludes, this view of co-design “brings to the fore the importance of combining thinking and feeling, facts and values; it combines both doing and and reflecting, divergence and convergence.”
“It is not experience, but our interpretation and understanding of experience that leads to knowledge. Knowledge emerges from critical inquiry. (...) a study of design based on profound knowledge embraces the empirical world of people and problems in a deeper way than purely self-generated artistry can do.” (Friedman, 2003)
Part 1: Probes
We could say that the pack of elements that each participant receives during the duration of the activity consists of a Cultural Probes. However, it is not closely related to the original idea of cultural probe as a kit to enable participants provide insights to the research from an often inaccessible contexts (Loi, 2007 on Gaver et al, 1999) through different media, but a broader and more flexible approach. Loi (2007), for instance, has explored different approaches to the use of probes and has re-named and classified different types according to their intended usage and outcome. I find these definitions adapt closely to the type of elicitation methods I've chosen to use for the workshop. Following Loi's line of thought, we could say that the problem used throughout the activity are as follows:
Playful triggers - food tasting (insights, elicitation through senses/perception)
Reflective probes (a combination of text, photo elicitation and questions) - elicitation leaflet
Making tools - ingredients and objects for food preparation experiment
Additional tools: markets, tablecloth canvas
Part 2: Brainstorming / Think aloud
For the second part of the activity, a brainstorming session is proposed for participants as a creative problem-solving technique. Participants are asked to focus on specific questions to promote imagination and suggest ideas to be listed in sticky notes as agreed between each other. The workshop facilitator doesn’t engage actively during this section to enable a fluid and non-critical flow of ideas. The session is recorded via audio so all thoughts shared are gathered, however, the group self-regulates the list of ideas that is going to be presented and shared openly.
At the end of this phase, the group (or groups if more than one table is active) share the list of ideas and are encouraged to provide further reflections on them. This results in the activity closure while participants are invited to enjoy the previously prepared food.
Closure and further steps
The list of publicly shared ideas is documented as participants relax and receive their reward (pudding) and a “Thank-You Pack” (*). This pack, as a brochure type of material, is provided to include further information and resources for participants to engage in the discussion and the problems in personal and deeper ways. This pack includes the recipes of the food involved in the workshop (to stress the skill-building side and encourage trying them at home) and a request to complete an online questionnaire. This questionnaire is structured as a personal interview intended to provide further personal insight, quantifiable data and feedback on the activity as a whole - to be used to inform and re-define the workshop itself for future iterations.
(*) At the moment of the initial test, the pack consisted of a url address. The final brochure form is not available yet.
Evaluation and Revision
Testing the model enabled to get a better understanding of how each element worked and where to make adjustments. A secondary test is planned to take place once final adjustments are implemented (in terms of polishing interviewing methods details).
In terms of the information gathered, the general insights from participant’s reactions are not surprising. Previous studies have usually gathered similar information in terms of challenges that people mention in relation to changing eating habits (time, price, availability, skills). It was confirmed that most facts were already known (value-action gap), they all gave different reasons on why engaging in real changes is hard or not happening. In general, those reasons were budget restrictions, personal preferences, culture/traditions, peer pressure and deeply-rooted habits.
Another point that arises and also confirms other findings is that marketing and corporations have a massive influence on people’s choices, that some sort of motivation is needed (economical for example) and in general, participants tend to talk about others, other people, other cultures (the American lifestyle is the most cited example) and avoid mentioning their own: the culprit is always kept at a distance.
On a more positive note, participants do agree that actions could be taken (despite they don’t truly mention an interest in directly engaging themselves) and are keen to suggest different actions and ideas, even though some of them sound too general and repeated automatically without much reflection. They all agree habits can be changed and they even share their own experiences on this. However, some participants feel that there is a need for general engagement on the issues and if not globally, they feel dubious as to the possibility for change.
In general, they don’t make the connection between Healthy people = healthy planet, so that is an idea that needs to be stressed throughout the workshop, to understand their feelings towards this statement. However, they all express an interest in leading healthier lifestyles and they are equally interested in learning cooking skills. They are also interested in including more fruits and vegetables into their diets even though they admit to be unlikely to make changes after taking part in the workshop but finding it useful food for thought.
It stands out that people think the problem is complex and they can’t help make the changes individually. Corporations and governments need to be involved.
The overall activity is very welcomed and enjoyed, including the food, even though some personal tastes arise. The fact that no animal products are used doesn’t prove to be a drawback at all. All participants rated the activity highly and would be interested in taking part in future ones. The elements that were mostly enjoyed were the social aspect of it and the discussions.
It is acknowledged that having more social dining activities and opportunities would be a good thing and they all expressed their interest in engaging in such.
What is clear from these results is that more work should be put on how to engage people into real changes. Developing a secondary part to the workshop where people can explore simple solutions and actions seems relevant. It is important to identify which elements are mentioned to be the most difficult ones to tackle and focus a solution finding session on those, especially to try and make the connection more personal. It also arises from the comments mentioned that changes made in workspaces could have an important impact on generating new habits, so having the workshop take place in such settings would be advisable.
The full report can be found here.
The first test of the workshop provided insight on the methods used and informed the specified changes:
The initial duration of the activity was too long, participants can get tired during the process so the time length was reduced, by removing one of the ‘courses’ from the timeline.
When removing one ‘course’ from the initial plan, and after understanding the normal flow of discussions as they are triggered by the probes, the second and third initial courses were combined to produce a Leaflet. This leaflet replaces two steps represented by 2 arrays of cards, and now combines: Factual information (text), Image elicitation and Reflective elicitation (questions). This step now combines different triggers to represent the main block of discussion.
A clear introduction is necessary at the beginning of the activity, to help frame the problem for participants. Participants find the first step of course very interesting (food tasting) and this section is engaged with in an active, enthusiastic and creative way .Many notes and illustrations are added to the tablecloth during this phase.
During the food preparing activity, the table needs to receive a box with ingredients, tools and a recipe, and left them alone to self-organize and arrive to an outcome. During the first test, because of a faulty setting (location of a socket, etc.) many participants remained passive and only a few felt the call to actively take over and engage with the activity. This was also a problem on my side while giving the instructions and providing ingredients and tools. It’d be much more beneficial to have them engage independently - be left alone.
During the initial test, the brainstorming and sharing ideas didn’t go smoothly, as participants seemed too tired and their engagement was decreasing. Therefore this section was simplified. The resulting notes didn't add much to what had already been discussed earlier. Participants tend to say similar things, especially if tired, but it does spark reflection.
The workshop ended with a positive note after second food tasting. Participants express their enjoyment of the whole experience.
The follow-up questionnaire (designed to review general habits and ideas but in a personal way, and to provide feedback on the activity), resulted in a general confirmation of the main issues and challenges that have already been identified on different studies. In relation to the workshop itself most participants enjoyed the whole activity very much, although some of them mentioned the extensive length while others focused their comments on the actual foods involved. For the test run, I didn’t focus on producing the best-possible meals and was restricted by time on the day. It is clear that to properly reward participants and enable to experience a more enjoyable opportunity to engage with plant-based food, the dishes need to especially focus on flavour and presentation, so that these elements cannot be perceived as drawbacks and demotivate. It would be preferable to team-up with collaborators to help set-up the activity and make sure the food standard is very high.
Future development and testing of the workshop needs to engage other facilitators and collaborators, especially from different fields (food and nutrition, social sciences), so having access to funding would determine a more successful and attuned outcome.
The workshop proposed is not a closed model. It is defined to be re-shaped and adapted if necessary (contextualized), and in particular, to be re-iterated after participant’s feedback, to stay true to the co-design principle from which it derives from.
It is necessary to further test the model, especially focusing on the intended target audience. The next step is to establish a testing group and generate the necessary tie to be able to go back to them for a follow-up session.
Having engaged with complex and evolving design methodologies, I understand that further research and review needs to be carried out to be able to correctly position this work in the current academic context, and particularly, to be able to build on previous work and contribute to the field.
Additionally, I will be reviewing the specific questions used both during the activity and on the questionnaire. I noticed further research on how to conduct focus groups was crucial for a successful outcome - this is the current stage of the project.
Collaboration and cross-disciplinarity is crucial. At the moment, I’m trying to team up with fellow researchers and professionals from other fields that would be interested in cooperation and using the workshop for their own work as well. I’m currently in touch with the Brighton and Sussex Universities Food Network as they network with all the local researchers working on this subject.
For the next stage of my work, I will focus on the development of a Follow-up Session, that is what would represent the Third Part of the Research, which would move on from ideation to prototyping and testing, engaging the same participants that have taken part in Session 1.
My intention is to define, develop and test the second workshop session as part of the work for Studio 2. The final output will be the full Workshop (revised Session 1 and Session 2), it’s analysis and its application that will be available online through the Workshop's website. The workshop will likely be presented as a Kit, to enable replication by other facilitators in other contexts.
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Link to Initial Workshop test report here.
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