Defining a thesis question

Sarah Drummond giving an inspiring talk about the social innovation work done by Snook. Jamhot September 2015

Sarah Drummond giving an inspiring talk about the social innovation work done by Snook. Jamhot September 2015

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?

Local councils is where the real power lies to make a difference in peoples’ everyday lives.
— Sarah Drumond at Jamhot talk September 2015

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