2022 • Social impact design • 7 weeks • ux design + Research
This is a participatory democratic event meant to foster community and collective re-imagining of society and culture with the aim of breaking away from traditional hierarchical power structures. It is the visual format of Extinction Rebellion's People's Assembly and was completed with the support of one of its co-founders Clive Russell and the Univeristy of the Arts London (UAL).
This project's framework is rooted in an anti-capitalist philosophy that draws inspiration from grassroots movements like los Indignados and Occupy Wall Street. Guided by anthropologist and activist David Graeber's work, the philosophy centers around prioritizing collective care and freedom over production and consumption.
I developed and led research and discovery workshops using creative engagement methods. I conducted secondary research, facilitated group discussions, and analyzed primary research findings for key themes and insights. For the final event, I acted as a facilitator, performer, and drew on past project management experience to efficiently coordinate logistics to meet deadlines.
Collective Redesign. The project culminated in a Visual Assembly co-designing a Curriculum of Care. A large, standing open book installation memorialized the collective design outcomes as the centerpiece of the physical event. We also created a small PDF package containing guidelines, from structure to activities and tools, to replicate this visual assembly at any time and place.
Discussion + Group Values
By acting as a people’s assembly, our team collaboratively and democratically used techniques such as the hand signals and voting to define our guiding principles and values.
Then, we defined our values as follows:
How do we define Care and Curriculum?
We engaged in a long discussion, moderated non-hierarchically, and created the framework for this project. Our reading of “Classroom Management as a Curriculum of Care” by Carla Shalaby was crucial, as we extended her definition of Care to all: Humans, Non-Humans, and the Environment.
“Care is not about being kind or charitable; rather, care is about being fair, inclusive, and in solidarity with the most vulnerable.”
We defined Curriculum as activities, classes, people, and spaces involved in education.
Planning + Time Management
We created a roadmap to manage our time and resources in preparation for the final event.
Collective gardening initiative at UAL.
Tapestries from the "Our Time on Earth" exhibition at the Barbican in London, UK.
Smikra Wahikwa designs at the "Our Time on Earth" exhibition at the Barbican in London, UK.
We visited the dining hall and libraries at Central Saint Martins (CSM) and London College of Communication (LCC), UAL to conduct an AEIOU, student interviews, and hang posters for anonymous engagement with the prompt "What kind of care do you need from your university?"
In order to ground our research of these theoretical concepts into the real and relatable, we utilized the metaphor of a cookbook. We asked participants to create a recipe for the curriculum of care. What ingredients and steps would be needed?
Participants were asked to create a school for a group of animals, meeting all of their unique needs. They designed a school building, curriculum, and play activities. This out of the box workshop yielded the most interesting outcomes because of how groups approached the activity, measured success, and incorporated inclusive design elements throughout.
By understanding neglect or a “lack of care” better- what it looks and feels like for people, we can deepen our understanding of care. We asked participants to identify a neglected area of the UAL school building, and redesign it to center care.
Insights + design direction
Testing + Improvement
We applied all of our findings and the Visual Assembly guidelines to lead a group of 30 students and staff in a trial care curriculum co-design workshop. It was a chance to test out the structure, facilitation, and flow for the final event and incorporate participant feedback towards the final outcome.
We used paper scraps and pens to brainstorm and organize initial group ideas, and received feedback that wasn’t sustainable as they would just be disposed of afterwards. So we changed it to use a single sheet of paper, front and back, in the final event to be suspended as part of the final sculptural outcome.
Initially, the event was more discussion based; however, this did not allow for multiple types of engagement or an equal sharing of ideas from those that are more shy or hesitant to speak in a group. In the final event, we included a brainstorming and material building portion, as it had previously worked well to engage people and visually display ideas.
Some of the questions were too theoretical or otherwise unclear for participants. In the final event, we focused on the physical and real aspects of a curriculum as a theme and simplified the questions to reflect that.
This was one of my absolute favorite projects, and I learned a lot about working with conceptual ideas and how to ground them in reality through creative research methods, visual mediums, and metaphors. The Visual Assembly and People’s Assembly, created by David Graeber and led by Extinction Rebellion, challenged my notions of what democracy can look like and how co-design can work on a large scale to re-imagine structures, systems, and policies that have real impacts on us.
The journey through the visual assembly project was an enlightening exploration that taught me invaluable lessons and paved the way for exciting possibilities ahead. As I reflect on the experience, several key learnings stand out, shaping my path and propelling me toward new directions:
A huge thank you to Clive Russell, who graciously gave his time and offered thoughtful reflections and provocations along the way. It was an immense honor to work with you and humbling to have you participate in our final event.
Farah Zia Ⓒ 2023