Compressing a lot: what happened in the workshop about co-creation in the cultural sector

Genealogies of Participation

Designing participation

(This is a long post, maybe you prefer to read it on PDF: PDFResumPost)

The workshop we co-organized this year with the CCCB was focused on exploring the field where different genealogies of participation meet. Because the way that participation projects have started in many cultural institutions, mostly  from the interest and drive of the communication department, there is a tendency to equate participatory projects with projects that use 2.0 technologies or are inspired by their procedures. With this workshop we wanted to go further and explore the terrain beyond the interactive/dialogical frontier between the public and the instituion.  So, we took as our departure porint a view which is more based on action that on dialogical interaction or the promotion of “social interaction”. We focused ourselves on production by identifying participation with collective co-creation.

However, as we discussed in the presentation of the workshop and their complementary activities (talks and conferences), there is an opportunity in recognizing the possibilites that exist in the connection of the participatory concepts and practices of Social Media, Open Source and participatory design.

The crucial question is not who are you designing FOR but WITH. Image: the self-managed center La Tabacalera in Madrid. Photo credit: CoCreating Cultures/La Mandarina de Newton

Key point: who do you design WITH?

The essential question is not who you co-create FOR but WITH. We stressed the importance, when you start designing a participatory project,  to draw very clearly with whom you are going to work together. We believe that this precision is essential. It is the touchstone for distinguishing participatory projects where users are actually builders of an object, activity or even an organization from those other projects where participation is aimed at creating “social dialogue” rather than a production process.

When one thinks of creating participatory projects and asks about who is the project FOR,  the mental frame one gets immediately in is that of an emitter (the institution, for example)  addressing a proposal to the receiver (the public). We try to explore other frameworks that, paying tribute to the importance of communication and dialogue, aim at building things together and acknowledges in the participants/public the ability not just to give feedback (the minimum level for 2.0 projects) but to actually work and build together. From our point of view, participation can create genuine communities of production.

The challenge is to find methods and platforms that integrate processes aimed at the autonomy of the participating public, in order to maintain a creative relationship of mutual influence between participants and the instituion or the group that initially leads a projec that asks for participation.

As long as the institutions think in doing projects “FOR”  the  public instead of “WITH” the public,  they  will be locked in  the “participation à la Facebook” stage.

These processes of collective creation level the entry point for everyone involved (participant public, project leaders, representatives of the institution ….). On the other hand, they do not intend to keep the initial roles fixed throughout the process. Instead, their design should require anticipating the mechanisms by which participants end up becoming the core leaders of the project. That is, each level of participation is associated with a level of decision-making. What level we want to take on a project?.

Participants can show great competence in design and implementation. Therefore, they expect recognition. This is correlated in large part to their ability to participate in decision-making.  Whe one starts a co-creative process (at least in the sense that we give to “co-creation”) one has to anticipate how the following dimensions are going to be defined and managed:

  • recognition of participation
  • inclusion of participants in decision-making and evolution of their roles as decision-makers
  • and, most complicated and hard of all, how to manage the possible perversion of the process.

Regarding the latter point, collaborative systems which are more or less open are exposed to “free riders” (those who do not contribute to the project but exploit the work of others without giving due recognition), those who impersonate others and appropirate their work and the groups that collude to do both of the two aforementioned thigns and subvert the whole project. Human nature, as much as the apostles of 2.0 may like us to think otherwise, sometimes has trouble with altruism and fairness.

Creating and respecting human complex systems

All this brings us into design scenarios of some complexity. This complexity comes from emerging interactions between different actors. The consequences of these interactions cannot always be predicted in advance but some of them can be designed and must meet a minimum of participatory fairness. All this seems terribly complicated but is a challenge that is worth taking.

Designing participation (in / for / with / from) the complexity“) seems a contradiction in terms. It is a little less so if we consider that the behaviour rules that are designed, microbehaviours so to speak,  the rewards and micro-processes can generate an environment where participants can evolve and create coherent collective action.

In large part,  the role of the promoters of these projects is to create conditions for others to co-design, co-create, co-learn, co-lead. A convenient framework to attain the creation of these environments  is to focus on the contributions coming form the school of design known as Meta-design that, among other things, connects community design and social innovation (see, for example, the work of Ezio Mazzini or his disciple and good friend of ours Massimo Menichinelli)

The contact point between Open Source, 2.0, and Participatory Design

From our perspective, a cultural institution is at the service of a community (“with” the community not only “for” the community). This point raises the level of ambition and the type of participation needed. It also shares some characteristics with other forms of action that call for joint collective building:

  • open source with its insistence on the recognition of the merit of the participants, with their sharing power in decision-making on the basis of demonstrated merit and transparency of information
  • 2.0 seen as collaborative social technologies such as technology platforms that facilitate the aggregation of behavior: at its minimum degree this goes no further than relational marketing but can evolve beyond the old support and  knowledge  communities and can be a real breeding ground for co-creative communities
  • design variants stemming from the user-centered design, or participatory service design, and design for social innovation (see the DESIS network initiated from the Parsons School of Design and with whom we have a certain contact).

The workshops

The type of workshop we propose, due to its duration, cannot exhaust the whole toolbox that may be needed to articulate the different variants of a co-creation process. Our approach is eclectic. We take tools and methods that can be combined like a puzzle depending on the type of project one is aiming at.

MetaDesign helps decide WITH participants which type of participatory project they are willing to engage in. Then, it combines the most adequate tools available from the rich design toolbox. Thus, open design tools can be combined with some of the  classic methods of service design, or with the proven and, one would be tempted to say, “veteran” user-centric methods that once brought fame to the design consultancy IDEO. Or, why not?, create new methods and investigate new combinations, new lifecycles. Things start to become even more interesting when one tries to explore the combination of design approaches with collaborative practices coming form Open Source and 2.0. In any case, the overall cognitive approach involves a very typical sequence of cognitive operations that are typical of any design process:

  • one, create a first approximate to the solution;
  • two, test it, try it with users, reflect about what happend and
  • three, introduce modifications to the first approach according to what you have learnt.

Add that in a participatory process you have to do this “with the others”. In order to help the workshop participants to eventualy work with other participants, ”their” participants, we seek above all that they fell what is it like to the step into the shoes of the audience/participants and invite “our” participants to start thinking of “their” participants as co-designers. To this end, we resort to different dynamics, which the participants can then later test themselves in their own fields and with their participating publics. Our goal is that they also feel comfortable and  autonomous enough to embrace the creation of these type of processes. It is a difficult  task since they must play during the workshop both the role of the designer, and  the user and always maintain a  participant stance. This requires certain personal ductility, a certain attitude to adapt oneself to the vision of the other, to negotiate and integrate different views. In general, these are scarce skills.

The simplest meta-design checklist that we can think of

This year we proposed to follow practically in the workshop a few steps of a process of  participation in (Meta)design:

  • Design the process to follow: here we cheated to the participants and we proposed straightaway a simple linear scheme ais described in the following steps. We hope the participants will forgive us for sparing themselves of this first step ;-)
  • Select the “what”.  All of us had to choose from over twenty projects that participants had already uploaded to the “site” of the workshop. Eventually three of them were selected: Hybrid Identities (on how to promote the fluidity of one`s own identity as a positive value), Arts Education (on how to integrate formal and informal learning in the Arts through open source technology) and Hypermedia City (a project for a ranking of innovative cities made by the inputs of the participants).
I+C+i // Taller "Disseny col·laboratiu per a institucions culturals"

Selecting the "what". Photo CCCB (c) Miquel Taverna 2011

  • Imagine the “who with?”: the participants have to be designers and users at the same time. We couldn’t go down to the street to recruit participant users (Or could we? What if we try it next year?). Nevertheless, it is important to specify the characteristics of would-be participants with whom our participation designers will work. These features, had to be as accurate as possible. Since we could not do proper street ethnography because of lack of time, we resorted to using  ”personas“, warning the workshop participants about of the difficulties of this approach and how it has been put into question if they do not come from actual ethonographic data. But we were ”locked  in” at CCCB!.
I+C+i // Taller "Disseny col·laboratiu per a institucions culturals"

Imagining the "with who". Photo CCCB (c) Miquel Taverna 2011

  • Specify the initial rules: of participation, merit recognition, remuneration, exit from the community, mechanisms of change in decision-making… All criteria can be expressed in easy and understandable ways to all participants. Ideally they themselves can specify these rules.
I+C+i // Taller "Disseny col·laboratiu per a institucions culturals"

Designing the rules. Photo CCCB (c) Miquel Taverna 2011

  • ¿”Merge” or ”Fork”?: Are the different versions of the same project complementary? Two teams who had worked separately on a version could work together and merge it into a single design? Or, conversely, each prototype has to evolve as the beginning of an essentially different project ?.
  • Repeat.

The initial deal with the authors of the selected projects was that they must accept that their project could be “hypermorphed” by the ideas of the rest of the participants/co-designers during the workshop.

Some notes on projects and how they evolved


It was very interesting to see how the same project proposal generated two completely different prototypes:

  • The group where the author of  the Art Education project took part, changed several times his initial proposal integrating different points of view, slowly bringing in new actors and moving towards a network of teachers, schools, artists and technological infrastructure where art could be not a fixed course but its learning could be triggered from the interests of teeangers.
I+C+i // Taller "Disseny col·laboratiu per a institucions culturals"

Art Education: the author's group. Photo CCCB (c) Miquel Taverna 2011

Educación artística, grupo 1. CCCB (c) Miquel Taverna, 2011

  • The other group that worked on the same proposal, Art Education, focused on how to create educational content collaboratively by teachers, students, artists and technologists and how to exploit it in an open and economically sustainable way.
  • The group that proposed Hybrid identities, Something Good, created a first proposal which focused on the concept of ”personal history” to show how participants shared their experience of change in identity because of their professional, or geographic changes . They pointed to “social media” as their preferred platform to express these personal stories. This was the group where the author of the proposal was working in.
I+C+i // Taller "Disseny col·laboratiu per a institucions culturals"

Hybrid Identities, Something Good, author's group. Photo CCCB (c) Miquel Taverna 2011

  • The second group working on Hybrid Identities evolved towards a concept of community media hub based on community radio and set out to clarify  how participants would contribute and manage this media hub. They went on to specify roles, functions and decision-making rules. They sketched a pattern of participants progression in terms of learning and decision making
  • I+C+i // Taller "Disseny col·laboratiu per a institucions culturals"

    "Identisound": The community media hub for hybrid identities. Photo CCCB (c) Miquel Taverna 2011

  • The group where the person who proposed “Hypermedia City” was working, created a complex system in which participation was expressed mostly in the form of voting and contests, and it used an algorithmic component associated with the calculation of rankings.
  • The second group working on Hypermedia City gave an interesting and co-creative twist to the original proposal turning it into a project where participants could create almost any type of innovation indicator in response to some other people requests.They manage to do so by cleverly using a kind of combinatoris on Open Data: Data about  community trends and was open and available to creatin new innovation indexes. At the same time they explored how to create a sustainable business model for the whole system. Happily they changed the name of the orginal project to the “Internet of Goats”. In Spanish “to behave like a goat” is to behave crazily. Thus they used this title to stress the “madness” of the indexes of innovation that the system could generate.

From "Hypermedia City" to "Internet of Goats": creativity indexes based on Open Data. Photo CCCB (c) Miquel Taverna 2011

In the  joint reflection that ensued people saw:

  • that the two proposed ”Art Education” prototype could be merged into one
  • the same for “Hybrid Identities”
  • “Hypermedia City” seemed to be split into two different projects, but the discussion was lively when we had to finish the workshop.

Also there were interesting remarks for all projects. Interestingly enough they had to do with the role of the school, the business dimension of all projects, the ability of final participants to engage in creation, the doubt about which level of co-creation the different projects were exhibiting, etc. etc.

For now, we left the simple collaborative website ​​at the disposal of the participants. We will have to follow the evolution of their proposals!.

You can see some references to some of the issues we’ve discussed all along in the reference material we gave to the CCCB in preparation of the workshop and that it was offered on paper. They also appear at the end of the post that announced the workshops here. The CCCB was also kind enough to incorporate them into the ICI Delicious. Here you can consult them. If you are interested in learning more about these references, let us know.

For now this is our (long) summary of the workshop. We will be discussing other aspects of the accompanying conference. In particular:

  • Some aspects of the conference given by Bob Ketner, our regular collaborator at the TechMuseum. We were very happy to be able to bring him to Barcelona with the help of the CCCB. We will discuss what is really an open co-design community of people collaborating in creating those physical objects that are typical of museums (exhibits, for example). Also  the use of virtual prototyping of exhibitios and other possibilities based not on physical/virtual objects but on digital storytelling.
  • We also will talks about the presentation given by the working group “A + C + C Co-Creació,” which introduced a 0.1 version of the Working Contextopedia on Co-Creation. Also we will comment on how the CCCB presented their 2.0 guide. There will be detailed posts about it all.

As always be are grateful to the team of CCCB:

  • Juan Insua for his work on increasing the permeability and porosity of institutions
  • Maria Farrás for her organizational accuracy and insisting when appropriate
  • Eva Reixach to be permanently wiht her two-hands on Twitter
  • Eva Alonso because she turns herself into MacGyver II when it is most needed
  • Laura Moreno, for the speed with the PDFs
  • Miquel Tavern for the great pictures he always takes
  • Paco Perez for, as they say on the radio, to be at the controls
  • Lucia Calvo, to continue despite the fatigue ;-)

And certainly we always forget about someone, but please receive our gratefulness too!.

But above all things  we are very grateful to all workshop participants, who always make us learn more and look forward to continue.

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