Temporary Expert – Reflection

Here is my final reflection on my Temporary Expert project!

What It Is

My final project took the form of a Conversation Map about climate change, meant for myself and a Brooklyn resident I meet at the Brooklyn Central Library. The map is inspired by the recent 12 year deadline that the United Nations’ panel of scientists recently reported back to governments and citizens around the world.

Together, my partner and I talk about climate change by asking ourselves if the work to limit climate change within 12 years might actually might be exciting, moving, a relief, ordinary, or astounding?

To me, this is how I feel about the 12 year deadline, after reading the UN report which says that global goals such as poverty, hunger, and education are shown by research to limit global warming. This message sounds like a deal of some kind… 2 for 1! (… if I can reduce the message that much!).

The conversation with my partner is prompted by a map and physical objects that I’ve designed to use no digital technology and only biofriendly materials when possible, such as mycelium and bioplastic. At the end, I invite my partner to write down an action towards limiting global warming.

You can find my final presentation deck here. This describes my process in a more linear way, and is perhaps the clearest description of my journey.

 

You can see my conversation map design files here. This along with three cups made of glass (next time out of mycelium), a block and bowl made of mycelium, and titles (next time made of mycelium of bioplastic) make up my project. I also experimented with natural ink from plants as a way to stencil text onto my mycelium.

Jonathan, who I met at the Brooklyn Central Library.
The beginning portion of my conversation map.

 

 

 

My documentation of my process is over here. There you can find my research on climate change, interviews with experts, materials research into biofriendly materials, and user testing during my 7 day practice.

 

 

My Reflection

I began this 10 week project by asking: How I might address climate change using the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, to help people tackle huge problems in the next 12 years?

  • At the same time, can I make stopping climate change seem approachable to people?
  • Can I give people more ways to be motivated to stop climate change?
  • And can I do it with relevant materials?

I stayed close to this question during my research. I found it to be straight-forward and action-oriented from the beginning, which ensured my final project would definitely engage the public with my question.  For the most part, my question still allowed me to research bigger concepts. I will admit, though, that I was a little jealous of some of the more philosophical or conceptual research that others did as part of their projects. With more research under my belt, I can draw a much wider systems map that might take my project in additional interesting directions.

As for lessons learned, becoming a temporary expert on a topic within a whirlwind timeline will go on to influence my future projects. I will be bringing a much larger lens to any of my projects, whether short and fleeting, or long and permanent. Setting aside time to do systems thinking grounds creative intuition and inspiration in real context. This context provides a necessary structure upon which to hang the semiotics, epistemologies, and visual communication tools you choose to create your projects with. Do your chosen materials and metaphors actually support your concepts? If not, think again!

Because of this class, I now attribute the suspicion, disregard, or just plain disinterest by people who interact with a creator’s work to the disconnects between the maker’s ideas and their chosen form factors, materials, installation space, etc.. Systems thinking sets the ground work for creators to make rigorous and informed decisions about the physical forms they choose for their ideas. Ultimately, people need to perceive the links between your ideas and your project’s physical form. This connection is what allows people to trust and engage with your work’s form factors, and ultimately your ideas.

I accomplished some of these rosy goals, but not all, which is reasonable considering a 10 week timeline and the endless form factor possibilities we are capable of using at ITP.  Choosing the right materials and visual communication tools is biggest challenge of the class. Most other ITP classes give you room to pick the idea but the medium is already mostly decided. In this class, we pick the idea and the medium. Time consuming!

In my case, before I knew it my project called for no digital technology! On one hand, this ensured my ideas of climate change were not compromised by using materials that were an antithesis to my project, such as hardware, plastic, automation, and instant gratification. On the other hand, it was a very slow process to grow or cook my own materials, such as mycelium or bioplastic.  In the end I found myself wishing I had researched pop-up books, origami, and other paper-based interactions. These might help create interactive objects more quickly that later can turn into mycelium or bioplastic.

In terms of feedback from my conversation partners at the library, they responded positively and at times came up with really interesting climate change actions. They already had a lot of information about climate change, but in only one case (a vegan chef), seemed to be doing anything consistent about it. Mostly they were apathetic in the beginning of the conversation, but by the end, they were more engaged and interested in where the project would go. Other times, I could tell they thought the physical interactions were too simple. And I agree with them! It would be nice to make the interactions a little more surprising or clever. This would match my overall question, which is whether limiting global warming might actually make us feel better in unexpected, surprising, or delightful ways.

From our in-class critics, I received positive encouragement that I was going in the right direction. I agree with Nancy N that I can likely cut the overly specific U.N. goals and instead focus on the emotional switch of asking if stopping climate change can be personally interesting or make us feel better. I suppose said another way, I really actually do find a lot of the work that stops climate change to be interesting, and I wonder if that is a way to frame the conversation that way.

As I mention in my presentation deck, I had to take long breaks from this project because it IS depressing to learn the endless ways that humans are greedy, short-sighted, dangerously ignorant, or otherwise too poor or lacking the resources to stop harming the climate (… like as of 250 years ago when the Industrial Revolution started).

However, just today I came across this quote below from Eleanor Roosevelt, while I research what I else I might do about climate change to inform this project I’ve started:

“Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”
Eleanor Roosevelt  from You Learn By Living
 It is this kind of sentiment that I find the only option when facing something like climate change, even if every now and then dip in and out of despair. For me, I really respond to attempting to not live in fear and denial, even if I only do half the things I set out to do.
For example, at the moment I’m looking into joining the Citizens’ Climate Lobby or the Climate Justice Alliance organizations listed in this amazing article (in which Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson says “We need to critically analyze some of the shortfalls of the capitalist logic embedded in this plan [the New Green Deal].” – hear hear). Maybe between work like this and continuing with this project, I can learn more myself and continue to work with others.

I also mention in my final deck some of the next steps I have in mind. Certainly, my conversation map needs to be a little smaller to fit on a normal table. I’d want to research paper interactives, by which I mean pop-up books, origami, etc. This can also extend to any analog interactive… puzzles, Rube Goldberg Machines, scales, etc.  I also need to do more research into the psychology of climate change, so that I can better place my admittedly incredibly optimistic approach on a spectrum of known strategies and possibly pull from others.

In the end, I would like to continue with this, especially if I have a collaborator of some sort. This could be an equal peer, or specialists who can contribute a little work in one area or another. Of all the changes I can make, I’m most motivated by changing the last part of my conversation map, where people choose an action around climate change. This moment might be more genuine if people choose from each other’s actions, which are built up over time and begin with mine.

Open to any other feedback!

Thanks for a great class, Marina!

 

Live Web – Final Presentation

Here is my presentation on the Speak Out voice protest web app.

The concept is to use the devices we already have to amplify voices at protests. One person speaks into their phone. Other people’s phones amplify that audio over a wider space, without the need for a sound system.

I went to a Transportation Alternatives protest over the summer where there was no sound system for the event speakers or organizers. It was frustrating and uninspiring. What if we could amplify ourselves with our phones instead?

Temporary Expert – Project Description

1. A description of your project.

For now, I will work on one project.

  • A in-person project that social engineers a conversation between myself and either strangers or attendees at a community board group or participatory budgeting group. I begin the conversation with a interactive physical object that represents a definition of sustainability made of bio-friendly materials to set the tone. I ask people to pick a global goal and reveal how much their chosen goal connects to stopping climate change.

Later on, I have two more ideas that have come out of my research.

  • An interactive installation in which people explore the scientific concept of planetary boundaries, which suggests that we need to operate safely within the limits of planet earth. As you walk from the center of a sphere (safe area) to outside its perimeter (unsafe area), you experience positive to negative inputs.
  • An object in the form of a bio-friendly label that states Life Cycle Facts (instead of nutrition facts). This would be speculative or actual project that attempts to label every object around us.  I’m imagining it would state the original ingredients, leave a blank space for each user’s name and the ways in which it was recycled.  I came up with this during the last Temporary Expert workshop.

 

2. A concise project research question(s) and plan for discovery (i.e., which papers/books, which interview subjects, and what forms of experimentation)

A concise project research question:

  • How might I get people to think positively about transforming society at an unprecedented scale and speed within 12 years, to mitigate climate change?

Questions for discovery:

  • In what ways might a physical metaphor for sustainability change how people make decisions today that affect a distant tomorrow?
  • How might bio-friendly materials, forms, and metaphors for my physical object refresh or alter how people think about climate change?
  • How can I lead someone through a conversation that gets at their existing values? And as the final reveal, when they choose a United Nations Sustainable Development Goal that matches their values, they are shown how positive or negative that goal is connected to mitigating climate change?
  • How can I leave this person with something that lets them persuade other people, companies and governments to help realize this transformed world in 12 years.

A plan for discovery:

  • Follow up with Diana Liverman’s suggestions.
  • Use these to define an improved interactive physical metaphor.
  • Incorporate Sarah Kramer’s ideas when I meet with her on Friday.
  • Decide on a final interactive physical metaphor, and make a plan to produce it.
  • Decide on what I want people to do when I’m done speaking with them.
  • One of Diana Liverman’s suggestions was to focus on people who are already organizing around clear values, and then show them how they relate to the Sustainable Development Goals and mitigating climate change. I need to think about finding people who are already organizing.
  • Another suggestion from Diana was to find materials for my object that takes carbon out of the environment. What are these materials?

2. Who will engage with your project: how, where, and why?

I will either continue with strangers at the public library or put some thought into finding people who are organized around values. This could be people who work on participatory budgeting projects or attend community board meetings.

3. What do you want your project to DO?

I feel like this gets at it broadly?

  • How might I get people to think positively about transforming society at an unprecedented scale and speed within 12 years, to mitigate climate change?

Plus

  • How do I get people to understand a definition of sustainability in a physical way?
  • What medium or interaction do I use to show people how likely their chosen goal links to stopping climate change? (The UN report uses bars and graphs, what can I use?)
  • How to get people to walk away with something to talk with the next person about it. Is this another object?

4. Plan your remaining 4 weeks and schedule it.

Week of Nov 19

  • Go through Diana Liverman’s notes and interview Sarah Kramer.
  • Try to find more materials that take carbon out of the atmosphere.
  • Paper prototype physical object based on feedback from experts.
  • Finalize designs for producing physical object.
  • Prototype how to communicate UN goal linkages to climate change.
  • Thanksgiving Break.

Week of Nov 26

  • Produce 3D molds for physical object if needed.
  • Grow better mycelium if possible.
  • Make more bioplastic tests.
  • Finalize how to communicate UN goals to climate change.

Week of Dec 3

  • Make final prototypes
  • Do final interactions with people.
  • Document.

Week of Dec 10

  • Do the interaction in class?

Temporary Expert – Update as of November 20

Overall my timeline hasn’t lined up as I hoped because I am only just recently able to speak with topic experts, but I am making progress!

I’ve been able to prototype with bioplastic. And I finally was able to interview two experts, including one of the co-authors on the United Nation’s climate report itself! Soon I will speak with more one expert, and be able to update the final form of my prototype and related ideas. I will also finally be able to work with mycelium, and possibly materials that remove carbon from the environment?

See below for more updates and links to my project documents.


Above you can see the bioplastic I made at home. If anyone wants to replicate this, you can find the ingredients and recipes in my documentation here.

 

I also started the process of growing mycelium. I’m not sure if this batch will work, since I bought it from someone who didn’t refrigerate it. I’ll be documenting my work here, too.


 

In good news, I was able to speak with two experts in the last week.

You can read more about my interviews with them here.

Temporary Expert – Update as of November 6

I did material research, and need to speak with people at ITP who have made their own bio-friendly materials. I’m open to suggestions.

I also contacted the U.N.’s teams that manage campaigns around the Sustainable Development Goals through several channels.

I’ve been feeling under the weather for almost an entire week, so I have loose ideas of an audience and poster.

I’m thinking the audience could be found at a public library. I’m looking to meet people who are already open to ideas, and with just a little push, they might think differently because of my project, which afterwards may lead to different actions. It seems I can find these people at a library?? I’ve also found success there already.

As for a poster, if I had lots of time, I could make a set out of bioplastics. I wonder how plant dye behaves as ink on bioplastic? Beyond the materiality, the message needs to communicate that the changes we need to make in 12 years are sobering but actually exciting.