At Utopia Works I joined workers Mel, Nic, Guy, Ying, Bexie and Ian to take part in factory life to prototype or hack a solution to an energy problem. I was particularly fascinated by how our 100 word energy concerns submitted individually prior to the event, would pass through each of the workstations and undergo refinement, testing and ultimately transformation into a collective design.
The aim was that each station promoted different ways of thinking about the themes of energy, factories and making- whether collectively, individually, visually, or through the use of words in a more poetic or political sense or by design. We began in our photobooth by wanting to make energy visible, then through the store began to question the nature of innovation and how change comes about. We each spoke about challenges we were facing and questions we had about energy in. The mix of people in each group, and the complexity of the concerns meant that there were many different understandings, approaches and experiences to draw upon. The requirement to synthesise this into a shared design by the end of the day forced us to address and work through this rather than politely differ. In doing so we were each pushed to examine our ideas, and understand others perspectives.
An early proposition at the prototyping table was to create an ap that revealed how much energy we are using in our everyday lives a kind of energy ‘fitbit’. Meeting our collective desire to make energy visible, the suggestion was that it could enable better decision-making, and a more conscious approach to consumption. This provoked discussion about what data we would measure, and how it might be generated. We also questioned whether we wished to make energy an individual responsibility, and whether such a device would promote equality but not equity in that everyone would start from the same point and it did not take into account the reasons why people may consume more or less.
In speaking about how something might become more collaborative, one worker shared an anecdote of how competition could unite people for example in his experience of Belper winning best village street competition. He went on to say that people couldn’t believe that their village had won as through eye that was looking for aesthetic charm it might not- but the award had valued things like sourcing locally, collaborating, and ethical trading. I suggested, provoked by this revealing comment, that it might that it was the shift in value to something which resonated more closely with their lives, rather than the competition that was important.
We had to decide whether we wanted to design something that used competition and perhaps even guilt to promote positive behaviour change, or whether our approach could be about learning and transformation. This was quite a philosophical, often politically charged conversation. At times, it even became confessional.
Upon wordsmithing the challenge to be poetic and succinct freed us from the knotty aspects of these complex ethical and political discussions, taking us sideways, and asking for the seed of something new, rather than a critical analysis.
Our final prototype was a travelling energy fair, where people shared skills, learnt how things worked and took joy in energy through rides and displays. Devised in the closing minutes of the day, in the face of some really challenging issues it was something that each of us felt happy to offer as representative our thoughts.