The Design to Engage (previously the Good News Engine) is a strategic design research and social innovation project that I have the joy to be working with during my final semester at the Institute of Design. It is not always you have the chance to join a team with so many brilliant people, Amanda Geppert, Janice Wong, Hellen Wills, Maggee Bond and Alisa Weinstein, who make the work more fun and enjoyable. Also, counting with the fantastic support of professor Vijay Kumar.
The initial aim of the project was to develop an inclusive participatory communications platform capable of fostering connectedness and caring among members of the greater Englewood community, in Chicago, using a multi-channel approach – both analog and digital. The project solicits and spreads good news and other information of value to the community, in an effort to encourage both emotional and economic investment.
Since last January our team has been working in close partnership with the Resident Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), supported by Asiaha Butler and Latesha Dickerson, who have been providing immense feedback, insights and collaboration.
Throughout this partnership we have developed social intervention activities to elicit conversation and give residents a voice about topics like education, learning and aspirations for the community. One of them happened during the Englewood Education Empowerment Summit 2013, where our team deployed interactive artifacts like a photobooth, a conversation pylon, a message wall and a map inviting participants to leave their nametags close to the location where they live.
On March 19th we deployed a self-standing chalkboard and a sandwich board at the intersection of Halsted and 63rd and invited people to write down their opinions about what they would like other people in Englewood to know, physically written and/or using twitter. The objective of these activities was to test what kinds of messages (positive and negative) we should expect coming from an uncontrolled environment like the streets and what sorts of things people want to talk about. Overall, we had very good responses, a few stories and some interesting quotes. Our initial hypothesis of having noise and negative language got confirmed, but it was so rewarding to find positive messages of encouragement. The chalkboard and the sandwich board remained at the intersection for 5 days.
The sandwich boards invited people to answer the question on Twitter. The boards remained intact but we had low participation.
In addition to the public installations our partners helped us to spread prompt books around the neighborhood in local shops, hair salons and laundries. Stories, memories and conversations were captured and are going through a process of being shared back to the community.
On March 30th we did our first participatory workshop with community members interested in learning communication tools for public engagement which we called Design to Engage. We were really excited to teach some design methods and to learn from the participants their aspirations for Englewood. It was also extremely valid to see the work most of these leaders have already been doing, and how workshops like that can be a great opportunity for sharing knowledge, resources and ideas and sparking action among residents.
On April 27 we deployed a curated board on the same location we had deployed the chalkboard including the comments we collected during those 5 days the board was out on the streets. We preserved the original handwriting and included a short description about the project intent and the meaning of the board. The curated board remained on the intersection of 63rd and Halsted during 3 days.