Ep.5 – Transcript & Description

In this special episode, we reflect upon an online workshop at the Participatory Design Conference 2022, which explored the intersection between relationality, commoning, and designing. The workshop explored temporally, embodied, and geographically distributed ways of relating to others. The episode invites participant voices recorded during the workshop to talk about their affective experience of being together in a collective body, the PD Commoners’ body.

Time code Speaker Text
00:16 GP Okay. Welcome, everyone. Hi. I’m Giacomo here today for this special episode of Commoning design and Designing commons podcast. Today, we are going to have an actual rather different episode from the previous one. We are going to talk about a workshop we did and a Participatory Design Conference. And to just welcome also the other guests here with me or hosts with me, today, we have Joanna Saad-Sulonen and Frederick van Amstel, who also took part in this workshop.
00:51   And in this episode, we are not going to have an actual conversation with a guest as we usually do, but we are rather trying to reflect on that experience of the workshop and also invite voices from the actual participants who took place in that moment of interaction and sharing and reflection at the PDC 2022 this year.
01:21   And it’s going to be a different episode and, we hope, an actually interesting one for you to listen and to engage with us in following this chart that we’re going to have soon. Just to say a few words about what we are going to have here. It’s a brief introductory of the Participatory Design Conference and the participatory design community.
01:49   We are also going to briefly introduce and explain the format of the workshop and what actually did we do in there. And then we are going to go through some of the themes that stuck with us and came up during those two and a half days of sharing and doing things together.
02:14   And at the end, we are also going to tell you a little bit where we are adding as a collective body of researchers and practitioners who are interested in the theme of commoning and design, and in particular, the issue of relationality in the context of commoning and designing.
02:40   So before we, yes, enter into or dive into the actual workshop, perhaps you can just say a few words, Joanna, about the Participatory Design Conference and community, if you want.
    Thank you for this intro, Giacomo. And yes, I’m Joanna. And the Participatory Design Conference, which many people refer to as PDC in brief, takes place every two years.
03:13   In 2022, so this year, it was the 17th edition already, and it was hosted by Newcastle University in the UK. But also, it has a hybrid programme, so a lot of the activities were also online and including our own workshop was online. And the participatory design community is…
03:41   I would say it has its own history, with the Scandinavian participatory design that started back in the 1970s, with this democratic engagement of researchers, mostly in information systems, and together with trade unions who were very concerned about how information technologies were being imposed on workers in the workplace.
04:18   But since then, much has happened. Participatory design has gone quite global, I can say, and the Participatory Design Conference has taken place in many Scandinavian countries, but also around the world, in Australia, in Namibia, in the US. During COVID, it was supposed to take place in Colombia, but unfortunately this 2020 edition had to be completely online.
04:51   So even if the participatory design with the Scandinavian flavour as it started has had much more emphasis on information systems and technologies, things have changed since then. Interest has been on other contexts of use of information technologies, even also on participatory design without the whole technology aspect at all.
05:23   So we have researchers and practitioners interested, for example, in things more related to urban design, design of products, things like questioning processes of infrastructuring, socio-material entities, all of that.
05:46   And with the spread of participatory design more worldwide, the last editions of the Participatory Design Conference have also opened to questions of recognising decolonialisation, interest in indigenous ontologies.
06:11   And the last PDC conference in 22 had as a main theme Embracing Cosmologies, expanding worlds of participatory design. So that’s a super brief overview. I probably forgot lots of interesting things, but just to give you a little understanding of what this community and this conference is about.
06:40   There is a lot of academic interest, but for those of you who are practitioners in design, there are also ways of taking part in the community and in the conference that are non-academic. There’s always these industrial activities with invited guests that are practitioners.
07:08   So I would invite all of you to, for example, go and check the website of the last Participatory Design Conference. It’s pdc2022.org. And yes, I think that’s what I have to say about it for now. Yes.
  GP I think it was a nice overview. Thanks, Joanna. And here was basically the place and context where these online workshops took place.
07:37   And something that it’s an occasion for us, the three of us but also other colleagues who are not here with us today, to bring forward the collective work that perhaps we have been doing already for more than a couple of years, and perhaps we will come to that at the end. But the title of the workshop, Relationality, Commoning and Design, that we held this year, perhaps Frederick, you want to say something about it.
08:06 FvA Yes. Just to prove that participatory design is really going global, I’m speaking from Brazil. Yes, and I joined this group of marvellous people who have different nationalities and they work in different institutions to discuss how do we relate through participating in design. And this is a conversation that we are having through different conferences and opportunities to meet.
08:37   And in the last opportunity, the last PDC Conference in 2022, we proposed a workshop on designing and commoning, and then we came up with this identity, this collective identity. We call it PD commoners to identify the three among us and then the other ones who also organised, helped us to organise this workshop PDC 2020 and also 2022. And in 2022, we reflected on the conference’s topic, Embracing Cosmologies.
09:06   And we came up with an interest on relationality, which is one of the topics that are brought by Epistemologies of the South and people who are working on decolonisation, decolonising design. They usually say that cultural differences are not enough to accommodate people coming from different places in the world, because they might not even be the same world.
09:36   Therefore, it’s about cosmological or epistemological and also ontological differences that relational ontologies usually help us to understand. And relational ontology is very difficult to grasp, because it requires you operating in a different reality which you are not part of.
09:58   But by these encounters that participatory design propose and promote, not only to the conference but also through design projects, people of these different ontologies, they may meet, they may relate and they may also put something in common. And this is, in a nutshell, the concrete aspects that we wanted to approach in our workshop. And we named it Relationality, Commoning and Designing, and we proposed some… Two days’ activities.
10:31   And in 20 of August and in 2022 of August, we had online synchronous meetings, but in between those meetings and before them, we had some asynchronous interactions so that the participants could meet each other, they could relate and perhaps start sharing their experiences. We had different outcomes from these interactions.
11:00   I would say that preparation was not very lively and the online activities, the asynchronous activities were definitely much more lively. But anyhow, we tried what we had at our… Available to us in this condition of remote interaction. And I guess we got some good surprise during the remote asynchronous interactions meetings.
11:28   Because we wanted to break with the expectation of a traditional workshop where the academics present their research, and then later on, they might want to write a collective position paper or something like that. Instead, we wanted to provide an experience of relating, an authentic experience of relating across cosmological differences. So the participants, the ones who subscribed to participate, it was an open call and anyone could join.
12:01   Even practitioners who are not academics could join. They came from very different parts of the world. And in the first day of the workshop, we tried to let them be mindful about those differences by compiling a personal pile with some pictures of different food or objects or things that are around that person in their livelihoods.
12:32   We called it handiness, this relationship with the world that is defined by the objects and the things around us. And after we realised how different we are and how different are the places we speak from, we tried to find commonalities and what we share. And that was the assignment for the second day, where we focused on the relational qualities that we crafted, we craved in our design projects.
13:07   So we had this pluriversal slide deck work that was previously started at the PDC 2020 workshop, and we updated the pluriversal slide deck with relational qualities. And that was the point of the second workshop.
13:27   And in between those two different workshops, in the middle of both of the days, we had a discussion or a reflection session, where we tried to get more, I would say, emotional tone, affective tone.
  GP Yes.
  FvA Can you speak about how did you prepare this moment, Giacomo, please?
13:57 GP Yes. I think that… Perhaps if I’m jumping maybe jumping here and there, but I think that one thing very important to bring in, to remember, is how much the actual setting of the workshop is dislocated in different times and places. Because as you said, Frederick, there were people from different time zones who tried to follow, first, through these social media channels, where we tried to invite conversation.
14:32   And then during the online co-located session, that provided two days of activities and some days before those days as a different time and space where people could start thinking about the topic, who could start thinking about what might relationality mean to them and why that might even be important for their work in relationship to design and commons, or designing and commoning.
15:06   And I remember that there was a participant who was very sensitive to this different way of creating spaces and times that allow a different way of relating with each other. And to a certain extent, I think that the actual design and set-up of the workshop provided this different way of experiencing being together and getting to know each other that, as you correctly pointed out, Frederick, it was a rather different set-up.
15:48   It was the first step, perhaps I would say, that allowed people to start experiencing that. And that I remember clearly, that one of the participants was explicitly reflecting upon that.
  PA1 Taking her comments about building different types of relations that are not reproducing power dynamics or oppression, I think that changing the relations means also changing also the notion of time that we are having.
16:24   Because some of the comments that we had during today’s session were in the direction of saying that it was good to have this time for sharing, for experiencing each other, doing things that we are not used, like for instance, sharing food or doing other things or having the time to think and reflect about certain topics. So I think that changing the notion of how we understand time and what are the outcomes of spending time doing something, I think this is something that can help us build too, because… Or build other type of relations.
17:05 JS I think it’s interesting also how even if the workshop was completely online, I think with this bringing up these reflections on the relations between people and things like that, somehow the role of the body [inaudible] also up.
17:33   And I think also some participant was saying that it allowed them to bring forth this attention on the body, but also emotions, so things that maybe not necessarily are something that is brought forward in more academically structured workshops.
18:05   Also, another participant was also saying that, yes, I started with a very professional approach to presenting myself, etc, but then realised that it was good and fruitful also to step out of that. So I think these aspects of the body, of emotions and feelings came nicely through this, even if it was an online setting.
18:42 FvA And just to give an example, how did we approach these three different aspects, so we had a moment for presenting ourselves. And instead of a traditional presentation of curriculum-based reading, we had these pictures on Mirrorboard. And people would put their personal faces but also the things and the living beings that lived around them.
19:10   So some people put their pictures of… So if it’s Giacomo putting a picture of his dog next to him, but other people put a picture of a lake or the sea or some food that they… Traditional food that they find in their localities that they would like to share with each other. And later on, we also had a food sharing, a real one, concrete one, not with Mirrorboard.
19:36 JS I remember your nice… These pancake-like things you were cooking, Fred.
  FvA That’s right.
  JS Yes.
  FvA So I went for a cooking show in the food sharing.
  JS [Overtalking] very hungry.
  FvA And people ate together. And while you eat, you just break all the rules of behaving nicely in front of your camera, and…
  JS Yes.
20:05 FvA That already reflects on the… It’s undeniable that we are not just profiles on the internet. We are real people with real bodies that are hungry, that we need to eat. And so we also had another moment, I think it was a pretty powerful moment, once we invited participants to close their eyes and reflect…
  JS Yes.
20:32 FvA On what we were doing up to then. And then Giacomo played a nice sound effect for a fire crackling so we could get into this atmosphere of being together around fire, which is the ancestral way of coming together and sharing and commoning together stories.
20:57   Yes. In fact, there was also people reacting quite… Participants reacting quite, I would say, enthusiastically or positively to this unusual way of, yes, both sharing but also both sharing and having time to attune to each of us but also to your own self.
21:25   And the idea to play this fire crackling sound was something that we also reflected upon before for trying to create an environment that, as computer mediated as it is, should or could have provided some feeling and some support for taking your mind away from, if you want, even the coldness of your desk and office and computer and trying to become in the present moment with each other.
22:06   And that, I think, is something that also participants have appreciated and have made value in terms of being able to… Again, I’m going back to the set-up of the workshop, but relating in different ways thanks to the context that they were brought in by us together and by the occasion of having this workshop and…
22:38 PA2 [Inaudible] before, and it really encourages me to be more present somehow and be attentive of those small nuances. Thank you for pointing out them to me, the knitting and then the cooking and then tiny things that perhaps in my everyday life, for reasons that I don’t know, but I sometimes don’t pay attention to.
23:11   And I’ll take the for granted or they become blurry, especially in this online environment. So I would like to thank you all for this.
  GP And perhaps I think that it’s also worth going back a little bit on the role of affects in design and commons. Because when you…
23:44   Or both, even relationality and affects, when you… As I see it, when you engage with that theme or the context of the commons and commoning practices, then if you really want to appreciate perhaps the value of engaging with those contexts, then you somehow have to engage or at least understand the basic idea that alternative relationalities or alternative relations exist.
24:23   And in the context of commons, also affect and affective relationalities are particularly relevant. So I was also happy that people brought in aspects of affect in the conversation and reflection, but also was very happy and positively surprised that we managed to also engage with these perhaps sometimes difficult to engage with topics.
24:58   The idea of affective relations as being not necessarily only positive or not necessarily to be romanticised, and also commoning as in affective relations that also has its own affective relation to the world, that also has its own moments of tensions, moment of contrast and moment of even unpleasant encounters.
25:28   And I was, yes, happy that we managed to trigger that kind of reflection and some participants had actually some things to say about that.
  PA3 Where those relational qualities of commoning, are they always positive or romantic?
25:54   That question stick to me in the sense that it also relates to some of the other comments that Frederick also made during the workshop about that commoning also makes some other things uncommon to others. So there is, of course, ambiguity and maybe commoning is both hard work and it might be sometimes…
26:27   Or there could be a risk of unexpected results that are not necessarily, by default, positive in all occasions. And that reminds me of Marisol de la Cadena and Mario Blaser’s work on the uncommon and also how important it is to understand that there are some things that are incommensurable probably and difficult to always paint in such positive light as commoning usually is.
27:02   Which I still anyway feel it is a thing to strive for, but it doesn’t make it always rosy. Yes, that’s…
  FvA Yes, I really liked the opening comment for the first session that reflects on the oppression relations, which is something usually not spoken about. When we speak about relations ontology, it’s usually people that are starting to read about it.
27:35   They think, oh, it’s another solution to our toolbelt, participatory design toolbelt. But I wouldn’t say so, because oppression is also very relational and it damages the perception of reality of the oppressed. So they see the reality curtailed in some way through ideology, alienation and other ways of relating.
28:01   And I really enjoy the fact that we are acknowledging that there are some relations that are destructive, but also, we can change those relations into constructive relations. And that’s the point of designing and commoning. How do we come up with this self-enforcing or perhaps reciprocity in the relations that we craft in these activities?
28:37 PA4 We share experiences of oppression, like for gender, for ethnicity, for migration, for many things, that actually our life experiences might oppress us. But at the same time, that relationality comes from oppressing others too. So how can we relate in a way that we are very aware that we have the potential of oppressing and oppressing…
29:10   Oppressing others and oppressing ourselves while, at the same time, the hurt of being oppressed. From where I come from, we’re talking about the fire of the heart, and Zapatista is talking about La Digna Rabia, a dignified rage that comes that moves you to action, to change stuff. So that fire sound was really igniting those thoughts.
29:42 JS Do you think it’s a good time maybe now to also discuss a little bit and bring forward this idea of the collective body that we explored in the workshop? And it’s a term that you have used, Fred, in your own work, and you had this suggestion of how we could assemble also, through collective drawing, this collective body.
30:16   Maybe you can tell us a bit more also about that.
  FvA Yes. That’s something that we are collectively becoming conscious slowly, that we don’t act only individually, and the sum of our actions is not just a simple sum of individual actions and coming up with a greater outcome. It’s really about building collective consciousness that somehow is supported through our bodies, our physical bodies.
30:50   But then it operates as if it was a body of its own. Body, in English language, also has this connotation of institutions. And if you think that participatory design have worked really hard to build and transform institutions, so who is transforming that? So there’s institution itself. So in the relation ontologies, we speak a lot about autonomy as an important relational quality.
31:19   And that means participatory design, once we start to reflect on this, it becomes clear that the best design is the one done by the self. The self for the self. The community for the community, as Arturo Escobar wrote in his marvellous book on Designs for the Pluriverse.
31:40   Every community practices at least a design of itself. And inspired by this, we are realising that perhaps we need to emphasise and explore collective agents designing a participatory session like the workshop we were organising. And then for experimenting with that, we asked each individual to draw their bodies with eyes closed, using a mouse, which is always quite difficult, challenging, especially for those who are not good on drawing.
32:14   But that’s the point. And it’s also bad for those, difficult for those who are good on drawing. So we equalise the expressive matter, material. And then after each one of us drew their bodies, we open our eyes, we see the strange drawing we made, and we try to assemble those different drawings into a collective design body, which is called PD Commoners, our collective identity that all the participants are also part of.
32:45   Because they are changing us while they are participating in the workshop. And we came up with this really strange, crazy, chaotic drawing of ourselves looking into a mirror that had a common feature, which is living close or at least going through, travelling through the sea. So we see a lot of wave lines in our collective body.
33:16   And yes, it was really interesting and having this feeling of being together in the sense of being one and being many at the same time.
  JS But also that this collective body is dynamic, as you were saying. It evolves and changes with those who come and those who go.
33:43   And yes, that’s how we like to think of the PD Commoner.
  FvA And an interesting realisation from this workshop, after we came up to the end, is that we were talking about relational qualities as our goal for updating the pluriversal slide deck.
34:11   But then, through this process of being one and many at the same time, we realised that these are aesthetic qualities too. So we also need to feel relational qualities. But it’s difficult to feel that through one body. For example, solidarity. How do you feel solidarity if you are alone? It’s not possible. It takes at least two bodies to feel solidarity.
34:39   And so assembling this collective design body, this monster, PD Commoners also enable us to feel those relational qualities that we were writing about but also that we were enacting or living throughout the workshop. Did you feel something?
35:04 PA5 Yes, I wanted to share my appreciation to having the occasion to put attention on body, on emotions and try to see things through these lenses that are oftentimes seen as an obstacle.
35:33   And rather, possibly, they are an opportunity to see things from another perspective. It was a really enriching experience for me.
  GP Perhaps just to… for people who are not maybe familiar with why this is even important.
36:04   In many ways, in academic practice, but I guess also elsewhere, we are constantly pushed on this individuality. And even if you want to do or we want to do something collectively, together, we are always pushed to acknowledge personal identity, single authorship or single contributions.
36:35   So the collectivity is always a sum of individualities. But with this exercise or with this attempt to realise both what are the qualities of collective body or embedded in a collective body and what kind of collective experience we can gather as a collectivity, then it is in itself, I would say as my personal opinion…
37:00   It is also quite radical or transformative in some ways, of trying to resist and to find alternatives to be together as a collectivity and not as a sum of individuality. And I think that this exercise of drawing the collective body altogether, even if it became messy and all entangled, that was actually the purpose or the intended or expected things that we would hope.
37:33   And it worked, and I was positively surprised as well of that. Yes.
  FvA And I guess it’s not only about commoning resources. That’s the conversation we need to talk, right?
  GP Yes.
  FvA In the commoning and designing field, most people speak about commoning as being everybody’s sharing resources, common pool resources. But I guess we experimented with sharing our bodies or existence together.
38:01   And the paths of our lives somehow crisscrossed and we came up with this incredible moment of being together.
  GP I agree. I agree, Frederick. So perhaps, I don’t know if I can draw or start drawing some… Wrapping up, because probably there, we are running out of time soon.
38:26   I would say that for us as an organiser, this was a very interesting experience, not just because of the attempt that we made for creating the workshop and providing a venue for other scholars to engage with the topics that we deem relevant, but also because it helped us also to grow in our understanding of how we want to continue behaving or trying to continue behaving as a collective body of scholars and practitioners who do things together around this topic.
39:06   Commons, commoning, design and the role of design or participation in design and in commons and all those matters that come in connection to try to engage with our context. And so I think that it helped a lot, the workshop itself, the contribution of the participants into strengthening that understanding.
39:33   And then that, sorry, collective awareness that we are trying to or we would hope to nurture for the future. So personally, I think I was very happy and enthusiastic of how it went, even if at the beginning we weren’t sure what could have come out of that because it was also a very experimental, non-traditional and unorthodox way of trying to do things together.
40:07 JS But I think it was also nice to go with the togetherness, to put trust in being together and putting trust in advancing together, if you want, or going or… It’s not that there was a necessity to go in the same direction. Far from it.
40:35   But putting trust in that things will move on with this togetherness, with this collective body, with the possibility to agree and disagree and to go in circles maybe sometimes, etc. But I think I really liked this putting the trust in that.
41:03 FvA Yes, that’s a nice point, Joanna, because most people in design are told that they need to structure workshops so that they could reach their goals. And they have to over-structure sometimes in a way that participants do not feel they have enough agency to act on their own. But another aspect that is blocked by this is the affect.
41:32   If people are so inside a structure, they relate according to the structure, not according to their wishes and emotions. And if we somehow infrastructure them in a light way, in the way we did, so we didn’t over-structure the workshops, so we had left many open ends, then perhaps we have these authentic moments that we experienced.
  GP And perhaps the last thing that’s worth mentioning is that we are going to continue working on this.
42:09   And we are still continuing to work on this theme. And we are also presenting, going to present more thorough reflection and consideration on this workshop itself but also on relationality, commoning and design more broadly in a forthcoming conference next year, Commons in Design, based in Basel, Switzerland, with a paper that we titled, Becoming a participatory design commoner, reflections on the emerging role of relationality in designing and commoning.
42:47   And we hope that we are able to also generate some interest in that community, but also, we hope that it will be a good chance for us to continue advancing our own understanding or our own way of doing things together in this context.
43:13 FvA Yes. I would like to mention that we’re also planning on updating the Commoning design pluriversal slide deck to version three that would include these relational qualities. And just to have a glimpse of these qualities that we are planning to include, I’m going to mention mutual responsibility, intimacy, difference, vulnerability, complementarity, reciprocity, proud inefficiency.
43:43   And many others that participants brought in the workshop and that really expanded our understanding of what it takes to… Common and commons and what it takes to design and be together as a collective being. Those are very interesting new avenues for research but also for design practice.
  JS And I think we can thank our co-organiser of the workshop.
44:14   It was not only the three of us. So there was a bunch of people involved in organising this workshop that we have tried to open up now during this podcast. And also, we thank all the participants. That was the whole point, that we were all together, exploring something new.
44:41   And yes, I think, at least for me, that’s it. Thank you, Fred and Giacomo, for joining me in this podcast. And thank you for the listeners for staying with us for a little moment. And yes, hoping for new podcast episodes also very soon.
45:08 GP Yes.
  FvA Thank you for being with me.
  GP Thank you.
  FvA It was PD Commoners, so we are.
  GP Yes. Yes, thank you. Bye.
  JS Bye.
  FvA Ciao.