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!

 

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.

Temporary Expert – Update as of Oct 30

As you read below, you can click links to read my in-depth notes in my website of sorts in google drive.

This last week was very busy doing the seven day practice. It is a very effective strategy. I see it almost like performing lab experiments, with the ability to control for different aspects or introduce new variables as I went.

Arthava and Beverly building a system to capture energy from tides in the Rockaways. Energy would be plugged into the grid for homeowners to use.

My seven day practice involved facilitating interactions with one person or people in pairs. I now can see I moved from concept testing to prototype testing. This may have led to two possible outputs for my project:  a workshop template and an installation.

For concept testing, I showed people the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals with a different physical or visual analogy each time.  I was testing how people responded to the goals, and if introducing a different analogy each time changed how they make decisions in my workshop activities. These felt like workshops that could possibly go fit into a classroom setting.

For prototype testing, I moved to more of an installation setting where people interact with what I’ve built but I am not necessarily there for every moment. I hope to do more of these. I’m trying to find out how people respond when I put my concepts into different forms, materials and epistemologies. This type of approach feels more like a pop-up installation or a more artistic installation at a UN event or local community affected by climate change.

Aletha interacting with a prototype that asks people to allocate energy between now and future generations.

When it came to user testing, I found myself unable to be so extroverted so many days in a row.  On the day I didn’t have a new visual analogies to test, I found a convenient excuse to skip testing with other people. This made me feel a bit bad but I did do a lot of research, which paid off with new visual or physical metaphors to pursue.

In response to my natural inclinations during Topic #1, I tried to put more effort into testing materials and visual analogies this week. In the end, I probably did more visual analogy and concept testing. But in my mind, this is the best order to go in? Once I settle on the concepts and visual analogies that people respond to, I can test different materials and epistemologies. This is me possibly putting of materials again, though.

I also filled out milestones and completed a significant chunk of research, including reading most of the relevant parts of the UN’s IPCC’s report and a bunch of other interesting articles. I followed up with scientists who worked on the UN climate change report and live in the US. I have a meeting with someone who worked on a new climate change installation at the American Museum of Natural History.

Temporary Expert – Topic #2 Blog Links and Updates

As for updates, you can read about…

  • How I’ve put all of my blog posts in online documents here. I find it a lot easier to manage this than my blog. Plus I can use the doc’s comments feature to write down next steps or unanswered questions.
  • Who I’ve asked for informational interviews.
  • My very full are.na mood board for content research.
  • My empty are.na mood board for materials research. I will work on this. But at least I have these two separate tracks set up.
  • My research notes. I reread Lakoff’s Metaphors We Live By and got myself oriented within the IPCC report.

I still need to do these things, but really want to…

  • Set my milestones.
  • Watch Donella Meadows video.
  • Make a crazy sketch.
  • Audio record a two-minute interview with a working participant / non-climate change expert and write two sentences on how what they said could affect/impact your topic, and to post both interview and your response.
  • Did I already did this part here, or this is something different?: State your intent, craft a question.

You can also click around my progress using this link or by clicking on the image below.

Temporary Expert – Topic #2 Intentions and Goals

The topic you choose should:

  • Identify a problem, to which your design is a relevant response (the problem can be grounded in /focused on a subject that is historical, political, social, physical, biological, climatological, economic, etc). From this problematic topic you will design a project that can contribute to change, or offer a participating public critical consideration and new insights.

Climate change is a problem that is tied to other major human concerns, such as racism, poverty, health, and decent work. I was inspired by the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and their climate change panel’s recent report about terrible climate change by 2040 unless we change all market economics at an unprecedented scale in the next ten years. The panel seems to be saying in their report that mitigating climate change can positively influence other Sustainable Development Goals. I found this framework to be helpful for some reason – it makes stopping climate change seem more feasible because people are going to be motivated by at least one of those 17 goals.

  • Start with a question (hypothesis) and design ways to test it

In what ways might addressing climate change from a lens of the UN’s sustainable development goals help people tackle huge problems in the next ten years?

  • Require a consideration of media, audience, and outcomes (theory of change)

By using research in my creative process, creating media and/or physical forms for a specific audience to interact with…

I will accomplish a set of outcomes, or a theory of change.  For example, an outcome might be I might hope to get people to engage with climate change longer than they do on a typical day. A theory of change might be that by engaging with my crazy ITP project, people are more likely to change how they think about climate change.

  • Engage actively with a public (participation, feedback, co-creation)

A public will engage with my piece some how, some way. My research and testing will lead me there!

 

You are required to address each of these points on your blog:

  • Set your intentions (what are you setting out to do?)

To see if I can make stopping climate change seem approachable to people.

To see if I can give people more ways to be motivated to stop climate change.

  • Set your goals (personal learning objectives)

I want to learn more about the UN’s sustainable development goals, and how the UN sees climate change interlinked with those.

I want to interview someone from the I.P.C.C. panel, or a similar group, about the IPCC’s report that just came out.

I want to research mediums and form factors that allow looking at one thing from different angles, revealing different layers depending on the tool you use, reshaping the same form.

Maybe my research will lead me to different approaches to mediums and form factors, too.

  • Hypothesis: what are you asking?

Can a research-based interactive project help people personally engage with climate change?

  • Method: How will you test it?

I could do an artistic-based baseline study, and ask people in different locations how often they think about climate change. What they do or don’t do about it.

And then ask people what they think after engaging with my piece, and/or a week later, too.

  • Epistemologies: what ‘ways of knowing” are you employing? How experimental and open can you be in your research of material and form?

I’d definitely like to be more experimental with the material and form of my Topic #2 than my Topic #1. I can build in milestones to have researched and tried different materials and forms at the same time I am researching about my topic.

  • Results: what goals will you have for your ideation

That people can engage and participate my project. That I prototype something that could be done at scale.

Maybe it’s something they can take and share with other people?

  • Contexts: where do you see this work existing?

Maybe in the mail or drop off points.

Maybe in a public space where a lot of trash is thrown out.

  • Public(s): who will you make this work for/with?

I need to think about this more. I could think of moments in the day when someone might be participating in climate change and poverty, but doesn’t know it. My project could intersect at this point.

  • Documentation: use the suggested template (on the student blog page) for tracking your work threads,  or design your own.

Temporary Expert – Reflection on Energy Field Guide

For the first project in Temporary Expert, we each created an Energy Field Guide on a randomly assigned form of energy. Mine was plant-based diet. Other people worked on nuclear energy, electromagnetic energy, human biopower, and tonglen breathing, among other topics.

You can see a draft of my field guide here. The overall message is that you can control huge energy systems with a more plant-based diet. You can eat less meat or no meat, and in the process, be part of using less land, water, and energy that otherwise unchecked is environmentally unsustainable.

We spent about three weeks researching, a week interviewing a working participant in our field, and a week or so producing the final guide.

Here are a few reflections on the process.

  • What did you learn?  What was inspiring? What parts?

I found it satisfying to go beyond the topic of plant-based diets to include many other kinds of energy, such as land, water and power. After discussing systems-thinking in class, I found it more intuitive to make this leap. It was also out of self-preservation of my personal interest in the topic, as I did not want to repeat common knowledge about vegetables being healthy for you. Expanding my topic helped me stay engaged, and I hope does the same for other people, too.

On a larger scale, I was inspired to find that my research is part of recently heightened conversation around climate change. Over the years, there have been many articles, reports and studies about food production and climate change. But in the last two weeks, two significant reports came out. One was published by the United Nation’s panel on climate change, and the other report by a group in the science journal Nature.  Taken together, they say that humans have 10 years to change how markets work to prevent catastrophic climate change by 2040, and that global food production is not environmentally sustainable unless people eat less or no meat. I was more prepared to read the reports without feeling depressed because of my field guide research.

Coincidentally (because my energy topic was randomly assigned), I had also recently stopped eating meat myself, after reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer (a book that influenced me and many others to rethink eating so much meat). Therefore, my topic found me to be a receptive candidate for further research into diet. I also felt optimistic about whether people would really change their diet based on what they read. I had done it.

As for creating the field guide itself, I had two minds about it. Either I felt like a natural, or I felt trapped by myself.

As a natural, I could feel my years of professionally honing language for non-profit programs quickly come back to me. What can be said to invite someone be part of something they’ve never done before? You can’t make people care for a reason that’s totally new reason to them. But you also can’t tell them something they’ve heard a million times. What do they already care about? What new perspective haven’t they heard yet? Another lesson came in handy from the past. You can’t make someone change. But what you can and should do is assume they are in a position of empowerment over their life, whether now or later, and that at any moment in the right circumstances, they can choose to see something in a new possibility for themselves and the group. All of these balance points played out in my mind as I structured the field guide and wrote down the copy.

In the moments I felt trapped, I felt like “of COURSE I would make something that looks like this.” The style, tone, and format were all within my comfort zone. I did not feel like I created something that intentionally used an existing genre or format outside my own personal taste, that made an interesting contrast or further supported the content of the field guide. I had considered using a women’s magazine travel guide checklist, like the one below. But with the time we had, and my existing skills and tools, I wasn’t sure marrying this structure with my research would land for the reader. It might work for a different energy topic.

In the end, I did make a field guide in which the genre or format does match the research I gathered and my organization of the content — it’s just something that I would totally make. I’ve created a handmade, collaged, coherent and comfortable jumble of text and visual hierarchies that come across as trusty, friendly, warm, cynical but optimistic, and open for the reader to think for themselves. I now much more admire people who are able to work within many visual communication languages.

  • How did you manage your time? Could you realistically improve that? What would you do differently in general?

I managed my time no better or worse than usual, in that I was able to pace myself the weeks leading up to it but also spent a good amount of time producing the final piece the two days beforehand. One thing that really mattered was being able to talk with someone about a couple conundrums in the moment. For example, I was stuck on which visual thread would tie together all of the pages. In hindsight it seems simple, but I really had to hammer out with someone else how there would be individual hands for the first three spreads regarding what you can directly control, and then increasing numbers of people for the energies you control together with others. I also had to talk out loud for a while about what the title of the field guide would be. I felt like I was in Mad Men, throwing around ad campaign copy ideas. Next time I would embrace that I’ll need to talk out loud about conundrums, and plan to be near people to do so.

  • What feedback did you receive?

Overall I’ve heard that people enjoy it, and want to share it with other people. But those are people who I know… when I have a final copy, I’ll share it with people who I don’t know. After talking about distribution possibilities, I’ll make a final user testing plan to get a last round of feedback.

  • How did you balance research and experimentation? Which is easier? How can you focus more on the areas that you shy away from?

I did not experiment with visual ideas until I had my research in a good place, as I felt more confident allowing form to follow content.  Also, producing images or fabricating physical forms can take a lot of time. Typically, I spend more time thinking, writing, sketching and talking out loud with others to consider or eliminate which images or form factors will best support the goals and message of a project. I don’t usually think through my ideas by producing more drafted images or forms.

However, looking back, I can see the brief moments where I could have practiced putting my developing research into different genres or form factors. This might have influenced the direction of my research in an interesting way.  I could make time to do this with Topic #2.