A couple of weeks ago I sent out postcards to community groups asking what the key challenges are for them, how they see their community in the future and how they define "community". The word community is used a lot and the government defines it as a group of people within the same postcode in the 2016 Land Reform Act. When I have asked people what community means to them they usually answer that it refers to people connected by place or by a common interest. I look forward to seeing more definitions when my postcards are returned to me from various community trusts.
Yesterday I attended a sponsored walk for the Green Party to get Andy Wightman elected and draw attention to land reform issues. The day started with a crowd of Green Party and RISE party members, as well as land reform protestors, gathering at the Towns Gate in Dalkeith. We then went on a peaceful walk of protest in front of the Duke of Buccleuch's house and around his grounds. Fortunately, the sun was shining which made it a great day for a bit of walking, awareness raising and fundraising.
Dalkeith park is owned by the Duke of Buccleuch who recently decided to charge people £1 entry. Protesters I spoke to were concerned with the moral issues of charging people to enter this area of land, as well as relating this event to the wider issues concerning land in Scotland such as tax avoidance, lack of transparency and the inequality created by patterns of concentrated, private ownership.
It was great to see a member of the Berwickshire Granarchists join the walk with a sign asserting the need for land ownership transparency. this is particularly on topic considering the recent article by Andy Wightman about the Duke of Buccleuch's links with Cayman Island registered company Pentland Ltd. I also met Euan Hyslop who was filming the walk as part of his ongoing documentary project on land reform, which he is looking to co-produce with Commonweal.
It was fascinating to encounter the diverse groups and projects bringing to light their unique perspective on the need for land reform. It leaves me optimistic the momentum for change will continue through 2016 and beyond.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview to Mirian Calvo, a PhD candidate within the researcher training programme at Leapfrog. Leapfrog is a 3 year research project led by Imagination Lancaster in partnership with The Glasgow School of Art Institute of Design Innovation (GSA). Mirian described the goals of Leapfrog as; empowering communities using design, in particular the way communities and the public sector communicate.
I wanted to find out more about Leapfrog, the design tools they create and their unique approach to community engagement to help me reflect and refine my Master thesis project approach to designing with communities who have done buyouts.
I asked Mirian to talk me through the type of work undertaken by Leapfrog since it started. She described how the Glasgow based Leapfrog team mainly do projects with rural communities in Scotland whilst Imagination Lancaster situates projects in urban areas. Mirian spoke about ongoing work on the Isle of Mull, where Leapfrog have held two co-design workshops with citizens of Tobermory, to develop tools that meet their needs. I came to understand the challenges of life on Tobermory which Leapfrog needed to consider, such as the lack of public meeting places and the fact there is limited internet access, making it difficult to share any digital tools created.
I discovered that unlike other design agencies Leapfrog does not choose communities to design for, rather they negotiate with different communities to understand who would like to collaborate with them. In a sense Leapfrog is also "chosen" by communities and does not go anywhere which they have not been invited. This technique ties in with Leapfrog's point of view towards the community as the experts, rather than the researchers. I find this approach fascinating and truly innovative because so many agencies are instead sent to communities to empower them without first considering or consulting members of the community about what they want. I think this negotiation stage, described as the "scope" phase of their approach would be very valuable in my thesis project. I also use empathic and co-design methods and I am constantly trying to make my design approach more open, transparent and participatory.
Mirian went on to describe Leapfrog's process in more detail; every project begins with a "scope" stage which involves negotiating with communities and understanding what they would like the outcome to be, this is followed by co-design workshops which lead to a set of design tools, the tools are delivered to the community who provide feedback and adapt them. Finally, Leapfrog follow-up the tool delivery with an evaluation to understand whether the tools have achieved their aim. Miriam and I discussed the difficulties of evaluating the success of design tools and design in general when it is applied to social change. It is challenging to measure in a standardized format whether a goal such as "empowerment" has been achieved. Nevertheless, as Leapfrog has clearly identified, it is vital that we are able to evaluate the value of design to learn and improve, but also to convey its' worth to various stakeholders.
"Engagement is crucial when working towards
collaborative action for social change."
- Miriam, PhD research assistant at Leapfrog
One of the tools created through the Leapfrog project is a co-presentation app that helps people to cooperatively prepare presentations for meetings. Users of the app can decide the topic of the presentation and select images remotely using their phone, without speaking to other collaborators. This is a great application for introverted young people who have difficulty negotiating in a group. The tool could also allow researchers to engage with people earlier in the research process and collaboratively devise a workshop. Mirian told me she finds this app particularly interesting because "...engagement is crucial when working towards collective action for social change." This is a point I need to keep in mind as my project progresses. How can I engage with communities, create something of real value to them and most importantly, engender a sense of ownership over my design outcomes through working with them?
I have been reading and researching Land Reform issues and policy, community buyouts and community empowerment since September, around other projects. Last week I started working full time on this project. I look forward to getting stuck in from now until the start of June!
I presented the overarching themes I have decided to focus on to my tutors and the other Master of European Design students. The presentation covered what I will look at in my studio design work as well as my written thesis. I have included a few of the slides below to give you a general idea of the direction I'm heading.
Brief overview of the Land Reform Issue
The current structure of land ownership in Scotland prohibits economic and social development for communities in Scotland. The concentrated pattern of land ownership is also widely regarded as a social justice and human rights issue. This point of view has been communicated by responses to drafts for the next Land Reform Bill by many individuals and groups such as; The Common Weal, The Ourland Campaign, The Poverty Truth Commision, as well as Megan MacInnes, and Dr Kirsteen Shields in their Land Reform Bill working Paper.
Communities who want to buy land face a hard road, with rising land costs due to speculation and the challenge of navigating a bill filled with difficult requirements. This raises the question; is community right to buy a sustainable model for diversifying land ownership? Awareness of the issue is growing and land reform remains a divisive point within the SNP agenda for 2016.
Since 2003, community right to buy has allowed rural communities to apply to buy land which has been put on sale by landowners. Nevertheless, only a small proportion of community applicants have succeeded in buying land and the pattern of concentrated ownership in Scotland has barely changed in the last twelve years.
Possible thesis research questions:
- Our Land: How might empowered communities create mutualistic visions for the governance of common land?
How might open source tools be used to support self-governance in different communities?
How might citizens and local authorities collaborate to democratically govern new areas of common land?
It is the second week of term in my final Master year. My mentor at the Glasgow School of Art has prompted the class to generate a draft thesis question. If there is one thing I have learned from my exchange to Aalto last year, it is that making a final decision about a topic and setting it in stone is the hardest part. I have been interested in so many points of view and different aspects of participatory design, design for government, political parties, critical futures and feminism that it has been a real challenge to narrow my focus.
One issue is understanding the systems of power in our complicated political structures. I recently attended a talk by Sarah Drummond from Snook on her creative journey from childhood to setting up her own business. Snook is a key player in the world of Scottish social innovation in the public sector.
It was also particularly insightful for me to discover that Snook is interested in working with local councils (as opposed to MP's and parties) because they feel that is where the power lies to make a real difference in people's everyday lives. The power in Scotland is more centralised to local authorities than in the rest of the UK. Interesting! Leading on from this latest insight, I have made an initial exploration on my thoughts so far on a thesis topic:
Draft research questions:
How can design artefacts mediate communication between citizen, NGO and government stakeholders to create a process of generative, participatory and sustainable policy design in the context of land reform?
What artefacts can designers offer local authorities to help them open up the decision making process on land use to citizen participation, ultimately leading to community empowerment?
Issues, context and stakeholders:
Stakeholders: I have been following the work of Andy Wightman and the Common Weal as well as the official publications by the Scottish government on the Land Reform Bill. The key target audience would be; citizens - lead users such as community groups, RIC, woman for independence members, land owners and local authorities. Large land owners are often criticised by the press but this will not be the best way to get them involved. One question coming out of blogs has been; how to get land owners to involve local communities in decision making about what to do with the land?
Futurology/critical design: There is scope for exploring the historical and political context of land ownership. Democracy, equality and marginalized communities is another issue. This is also key in terms of defining and reflecting the future of a post-referendum Scotland. More democratic or less? More progressive, democratic-socialist or pro status quo? Will we enter a more transparent Scotland where individuals and the government are held accountable?
Historical context: Scotland has the smallest number of people owning the largest amount of private land in the developed world. Other issues; the feudal system, monarchy/lords, inheritance, tax evasion, land banks, derelict land, lack of housing, frustrated communities, lack of transparency and community growth, community eviction (the highlands).
Objectives & main issues I want to address:
Communication, participatory democracy, equality, empowering communities, transparency and accountability, activism/antagonistic design voice, sustainable governance or policy design.
Added value to this area:
I aim to explore how empathic design, storytelling and systems level thinking can be combined in this field of study. I hope to create new tools and methods for citizen participation. I aim to combine participatory design and critical design thinking in my outcomes, so that my design voice is both collaborative and somewhat provocative/antagonistic. I may bring an alternative, feminist voice to the issue of land reform - gender and design is an under explored area.
Resources Required and potential partners:
- Follow land reform bill through government
- Approach potential collaborators; #Ourland, Landfest2015, Andy Wightman, Snook, Lateral North, Local Authority, Common Weal, RIC, Cat Boyd & Jenny Morrison, Women for Independence, RISE, landowners, grassroots womens' communities mentioned in Wee White Blossom e.g land reform commission.
- Transport to rural Scotland or Edinburgh (since rural Scotland, rather than common land, is the focus of land reform)
- Focus groups, interviewees, shadow individuals
- Consider fablabs or the library as a source for public tools / tools for participation
- Attend meetings on land reform e.g. 'The bare facts' meeting at CCA