building a community of interest and practice in service design
Playful Triggers are commonly found objects used to access, interpret, visualise, articulate and communicate implicit knowledge through facilitated conversations. This method was originally developed by Daria Loi (2005) through her PhD, and subsequently evolved as a visualisation and communication tool through my PhD (Daria was one of my supervisors). This method utilises playful, tactile, everyday qualities of objects. The various objects I used were either found or bought in a craft, hardware or $2 shop - buttons, beads, nuts+bolts, toy animals, matchsticks etc. When these objects are placed in a specific context, the artefacts take on the meanings placed on them by the participants.
This method was used in a workshop for bushfire awareness with 20 residents from the Southern Otways, Victoria, 2010. This is an account of how Playful Triggers were used to visualise the ‘community of place’, and what came out of this activity. In terms of service design, this method was a stepping-stone for the community to ‘design’ their own neighbourhood plans in mitigating the risk of fire.
Overall, this project had multiple aims:
In the workshops, groups of residents living in the same geographical area were asked to use the Playful Triggers to visualise the collective knowledge of their local area. Each household and individual’s situation is different and they hold expert knowledge of the people, land and topography. Through facilitated discussion and interaction, the participants visualised the location and number of permanent and non-permanent households; holiday homes; those they thought were vulnerable; potential geographical, natural or structural hazards; any media and communication coverage; and likely direction of the fire. Visualising this catalysed numerous location-specific, bushfire related conversations, driven by the participants.
Many participants took to the visualisation method easily and intuitively, remarking that it was an informal, effective way of revealing and capturing and sharing collective knowledge. This process revealed insights that they were not aware of before. Some participants quickly realised that they knew little about their neighbours or their plans for bushfires. For example, one participant thought he knew his neighbours well and recalled that they had discussed their bushfire plans. Upon being questioned by his wife, he was unable to detail what they were. This lack of knowledge and awareness of others was more acute for non-permanent residents who only knew a small number of people living nearby.
We observed that there was immediate knowledge transfer among participants, facilitated through discussions during this exercise. The interaction and conversation among neighbours led to greater awareness and knowledge of others residing in their local area. Through knowledge shared among residents living in their area, they were able to increase their awareness of other households and the environment. The process of visualising ‘tacit’ or ‘informal’ knowledge made it tangible and concrete. Conversation with others enabled assumptions to be questioned. Casual, collective knowledge of others in a bushfire context became substantial, valuable and significant for mitigation and planning.
In another workshop context, it was used as a way for participants to visualise their social networks in their locality to understand who they communicated with, who they relied on in an emergency and what plans needed to be put in place to spread information quickly and reliably. The image shows a community engagement training workshop at the Australian Emergency Management Institute, Victoria.
This method has origins in participatory design, and is related to methods like a cultural probe (Gaver, Dunne and Pacenti 1999), concepts like 'boundary objects' (there are various people who can be attributed but I like Arias & Fischer 2000), and Winnicott's concept of 'transitional objects' (1974). This method is really a process of visualisation and social creativity (Fischer 2000). Visual disclosure can often allow the discovery of new meaning and engender possibility. There are some things that can only achieve visibility through representation (Corner 1999).
This method can be adapted for any other purposes, for example, visualising relationships, intangible processes, systems and interactions. Visualising and articulating the intangible is one of the strengths of a service design method.
By Yoko Akama, RMIT University
Arias, E., & Fischer, M. (2000). Boundary Objects: Their Role in Articulating the Task at Hand and Making Information Relevant to It. Paper presented at the International Symposium on Interactive & Collaborative Computing, University of Wollongong.
Fischer, G. (2000, May 2000). Shared Understanding, Informed Participation, and Social Creativity: Objectives for the Next Generation of Collaborative Systems. Paper presented at the COOP, France.
Gaver, B., Dunne, A., & Pacenti, E. (1999). Cultural Probes. Interactions, 6(1), 21-29.
Loi, D. (2005). The Book of Probes. Lavoretti Per Bimbi: Playful Triggers as key to foster collaborative practices and workspaces where people learn, Wonder and play. RMIT University, Melbourne.
Winnicott, D. W. (1974). Playing and Reality. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
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