I am working on two major projects: Engineering Comes Home and Vital. Always environmentally focussed, broadly in care.
Engineering Comes Home ask the question of “How can communities of non experts be involved with infrastructure designers to make infrastructures that meet their needs?” It is in development as a co-design toolkit for new infrastructure design (food, energy, waste, water). It brings together ethnography, workshop practice and rapid prototyping. It is mainly aimed at citizens and infrastructure designers. The project is realised in collaboration between iilab, University College London and Newcastle University.
Among other things, we developed a prototype “calculator” to measure environmental impact to look at the possible resources people can steward in their neighbourhood.
The first iteration of the project was done with one community in London, with good results in terms of infrastructure outcomes and satisfaction and feedback from community stakeholders. We gained insights into involving citizens in a complex subject matter and increasing their over their stake in it. A first implementation of rainwater stewardship has been installed in collaboration with KloudKeeper, and during the final workshop we came up with a plan for increasing the scope of rainwater stewardship by the community that can move forward with minimal support from the ECH team.
Vital is a collection of processes to interrogate our relationship with food. Delivered as a series of workshops, techniques include DIY micronutrient analysis as well as mindful eating (eg. aesthetic experience), forum theatre and foraging. The process ends with participants co-creating installations and interventions for an exhibition that synthesises these perspectives on food, allowing participants to explore what sparks their interest to create something new and internalise the knowledge.
In the first iteration of the project, preliminary feedback shows that engagement with these processes has changed the attitudes of the participants towards food. The group of young people who participated started out caring only about the calorie content of food. After seven weeks their attitudes had changed and they were reflecting on their personal eating habits, cultural and aesthetic aspects of eating, as well as bringing to the fore social and financial inequalities that affect the availability of different food, which emerged from the participants’ drawing on everyday life experience. Next up is a collaboration with a DIY spectrometer project to measure better micronutrient content. The aim is not to measure toxins, but to make a deeper appreciation for food and the environment.
I’m a big believer in experiential and collaborative working to create change. This is part of the design in the projects and art work. All these projects are open source, with documentation being put online over the summer.
During a session I would share experiences and showcase these projects, and if there’s interest I can also demo a workshop from ECH or Vital.
If people are excited about it, we can adapt the infrastructure co-design toolkit during a longer workshop, so that it can be used for different communities to co-design their infrastructure/living environment. I’d also like to discuss opportunities to roll Vital out more widely around the globe.
Alongside the specifics of these projects, I’d also like to discuss strategies to make these kinds of projects self-sustainable. For instance, a few years ago I participated in an Edgeryders conference with the Open Droplet project. The goal was a device to non-invasively measure water flow. The data was owned by consumers, rather than companies. It led to lobbying for more open data and community stewardship of resources within UK water policy. The project is now on hold as it didn’t find a way to get the required funding, though it morphed a little into the Engineering Comes Home project. I’d like to explore funding more with others during the festival, drawing on discussions I’ve been having with other DIY science pracitioners.
Another issue is how to disseminate outputs of projects, like exhibits, conferences etc. It’s a lot of work and feels like a drop in the ocean sometimes. It’s hard to reach central actors like the European Commission or other government, who can create real change, which is the goal.