I know everyone’s doing summaries of the decade, and I guess this is one too, but it’s also me doing a big excavation of my Dropbox, Google Drive etc, and wanting to start the new decade with a clean slate. Those folders are full of what I’d call side projects and when I look back at them I’m a) amazed I managed to do them around a very full schedule of paid work and b) think they reflect a lot of what I care about and am good at, that isn’t necessarily reflected in some of my paid work at the moment. I’ve chosen the 10 I’m most proud of.
The Carrier was a newspaper with an amazing array of writers. I started it partly for Anna Mouser’s mum, Helen, when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We wanted to get stories to her of the work Anna was doing, alongside many of her peers, because it was hopeful and interesting (maybe distracting). The other part was because my Dad in particular, but many other people’s families, never really seemed to know what work we were doing, let alone understand it. The idea was that every month we contributed stories about our work, and each writer then nominated a person they wanted a copy of The Carrier to be sent to. Newspaper Club was, and still is amazing. Over 18 months we made 18 copies of The Carrier, sometimes with up to 30 writers, sometimes only 20, and copies were sent as far as Australia and the US.
The Civic Shop
The Civic Shop was a pop-up that I ran over 6 months in Somerset House. The idea was to bring together in one space lots of different civic and social innovation projects — hoping that seeing them together created a more powerful, meta narrative about an emerging movement. My favourite things were definitely the Supporter Scarfs by Finn Williams, and the fact that we resurrected the Women’s Engineering Society tea towels. You can see the whole shop online, there are about 60 different projects represented in there, an article about it in Core 77 and read an interview with me about it.
During the Civic Shop we also started Civic Radio, a series of podcast produced by Jo Barratt. They can still be found here, and there are some great (and still relevant ones) with Bryan Boyer, Anna Randle, Alastair Parvin and others.
This is one of my favourite things. I read this blog post on the Noun Project website and got in touch with them about running some Kindsign workshops in London. Ella Britton and I ran several at Makerversity over different weekends, and people created about 40 different signs which we then had made. I’m tempted to resurrect this as I still have all the templates and materials, and lets face it, we need more kindness all around us.
“KindSigns, a series of open sourced design workshops where the goal is to use signage as a force for good. Attendees have the opportunity to create their very own personalised KindSign that can then be placed in the location of their choosing, inspiring others around them.”
The Intimacy Lab and OSS
The Intimacy Lab came out of my Positive Psychology MSc dissertation, which was all about the relationship between eudaimonic wellbeing and sexual expression. You can read it here if you’re interested! After Our Intimate Lives (I still Lolz that Lauren Currie filmed that in the bathroom of the Glasgow flat we shared), I broadened out the meaning of intimacy. The Intimacy Lab (which I ran at the Barbican and then the Royal Festival Hall) had a whole series of activities, from designing and prototyping a 3D printed ‘intimate object’, using Hanna’s beautiful drawings to explore different scales of intimacy, through to revealing your most intimate thoughts to authors Sarah Perry and Zoe Pilger, who interpreted them and shared them back with you on hand typed letters.
The Intimacy Lab then evolved to become OSS (Open Source Sex). Funded by the Pervasive Media Studio’s React programme, we worked with anthropologist’s and Natasha Carolan (who’d worked at Makie Lab) to see whether we could design a platform and open archive for 3D printing ‘intimate objects.’ We designed all kinds of experiences and imagined that one day people would be 3D printing ‘intimate objects’ at home and in hotel rooms. That didn’t happen, for all kinds of reasons, but you can still access lots of the content we created, including a kit-at-home and prompt cards, if you want to explore.
The Ad Hoc Enquiries
In 2012 Tessy Britton, Laura Billings, Joe Smith, Ella Britton and I ran a series of 12 dinners called the AdHoc Enquiries. They were Tessy and Laura’s idea, based within the body of work they were doing at what was then called Social Spaces — and which has now evolved into Participatory City. If you scroll down in these archives you can find some more information about them. I still think they were a really interesting experiment in transdisciplinary knowledge building.
“These weekly Enquiries are structured events designed to give people who have designed and implemented innovation local projects an opportunity to describe their work and their emerging insights to a group of interested and experienced peers. These innovation projects are required to be working specifically in the participatory paradigm where creative and strategic solution seeking and collaborative working are their most evident characteristics.”
Another residency at Somerset House was the Uncomfortably Alive series of talks I curated — death, sex, love, compassion, friendship and more — based primarily on themes I have on my old website, The hugely missed Roanne Dods talked about beauty, Stefana Broadbent about collective intelligence, and Rohan Gunatillake and Katherine Angel used there ‘Tertulia’ to experiment with pieces of work they were developing.
People get Systems Changers mixed up with the Lankelly Chase Systems Changers programme that the Point People also designed and delivered, but this was a few years earlier. Sophia, Rachel, Ella and I identified and then (badly, Lolz) filmed a group of people that we thought were working in a more systemic way, showing systems leadership. We created the Systems Compass, which although the design and quality makes me cringe, the content is still really relevant, with people talking about power, infrastructure, narrative, leadership, liminal space, complexity etc.
Keywords for Systems Change
“Raymond Williams verbalised in his book ‘Key Words, A Vocabulary of Culture and Society’ that certain words change meaning in fundamental ways in times of basic social and institutional change”.
The DataStore idea won the 2013 London Urban Prototyping Festival and was awarded some funding to realise it. Working with Fiddian and Laura Williams, we created an experience for the general public to engage with data as material. Nowhere near as sophisticated as Berg’s work on making the invisible visible, but we were looking to engage a much more general public, (not the kind of folk that go to the Lighthouse in Brighton), and we had Data Jars, and punch cards, and other interactive objects for people to make sense of. In 2014 the DataStore then became the DataCafe at FutureEverything’s annual festival in Manchester, which was a great experiment in how to socialise conversations about data.
Oh god, that typeface, but I still think Wisdom Trails was a beautiful idea. I came up with the concept, but it was the brilliant Sarah Douglas who actually produced it. Last year we had 60 people join us for the first one. The idea was to invite a range of people spanning 7 decades — 7 generations, although an ancestral wisdom would obviously have been impossible! — the youngest person we had was in their teens and the oldest in their 70’s. Groups made up of someone from each of the 7 decades went off to do the walk together, with a map and a set of questions. I still love this idea of intergenerational walking and the sharing of wisdom.
During this time I was also working (most of my time) on long-term contracts or retainers with thinkpublic, Participle, Snook, Government Digital Service, Co-op Digital, the Libraries Taskforce in DCMS, at the Future Cities Catapult, Doteveryone, and of course, the Point People.
I’ve also been excavating the projects that never quite got finished, and I don’t think ever will.
The Intimacy book
I had an amazing range of authors — Indy Johar, Becky Rowe, Meg-John Barker, Jerry Michaleski, Robert Haynes, Sally Marie Bamford — and I have first drafts of each of their chapters, but I wasn’t a good editor. I wasn’t clear about the narrative thread that connected each of the pieces together. Maybe I’ll publish the set of drafts, as I still think there’s some great content in there, even though it’s about 8 years old now.
The film about vulnerability
I had written a short film script about vulnerability. It was hugely personal, based on some of my own experiences of being vulnerable, and what that felt like. With friend Megan Price behind the camera, friend Olivia Ross (of Killing Eve fame)in front of the camera, and Jen and Andrew as assistants, we headed off for a long weekend in Northumberland. The filming went brilliantly, the landscapes and colours were just perfect, and Megan and I have just never made/ found the time to finish editing the film.
“A short film that takes you through a journey into vulnerability — to show the strength that can come from opening up and letting go.”
This is an idea that was conjured up by myself and Roland Harwood, with Ellie Ford and others. I think this was about 8 years ago, and interestingly Roland and I have been talking about something similar again recently. We had developed an idea and a pitch about how large organisations could bring in a group of 10 highly connected people, who were each on the edge of their networks and often bridges into other fields, to work as a sensing network for a year. We never took the idea to anyone, as we were too busy with other things.
Lastly, LondonScape, which came out of a competition that Ellie Ford and I won, called Ideas for London, which meant we got to stay in a Living Architecture boat on the top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. At one point I did actually believe it would be possible to create this huge structure in the city. A social mirror reflecting back on us, inspired by the Tree of Souls in Avatar, using data to show how we’re all interconnected. It was to show movement through the city (common paths), connection, consumption and mood. There’s still a website up. We did get close to prototyping something with Westminster Council — we had a site off the Marylebone Road, we had the team, we just didn’t have the budget! And it was definitely far too big to be a “side project.”
Goodbye to a decade of projects. It feels really good to have a clean slate. Hello 2020’s — there’s a lot of focussed and hard work to be done.