Future Group – Reflections on the project

A complete report on our journey in Lindängen with Framtidens Hus.

Project starting points

Framtidens Hus (the Future House) is an citizen service provided by Malmö municipality that encompasses different social services from employment assistance to civil society groups with the basic aim of addressing the very basic needs of vulnerable communities facing complex societal problems. The project presented in this paper took place in Lindängen, a neighborhood located in southern Malmö, that was built as part of the Miljonprogrammet (Million Programme) in the 1970’s. Now in 2016 most of the residential buildings caresse a big investment in maintenance.
As part of Malmö University’s K3 department a student team was sent to Lindängen for the course “Design for Social Innovation”.
The initial project brief was to support Framtidenshus by providing a novel perspective on ongoing or future activities and services by using practises of social innovation. The institution had need to improve the communication of its services to a broader public and get in contact with the community.
The Red Cross defines the Framtidenshus as “a collaboration between the City of Malmö, the Employment Service, the Red Cross, Folkuniversitet and Save the Children.” (the three last being civil organizations). There is no practical definition of Framtidenshus and its services which results in confusion of what the institution presents and provides. The university’s design team’s initial effort has been to inspect Framtidenshus’ services and how these services connects to the community and to other organizations. Subsequently service design with special regard to the practice of “infrastructuring” has developed to be an important part of the project.

Context immersion

Lindängen’s Framtidenshus is an unique example in terms of public policies in Sweden. Much of this merit was attributed to the innovative approaches of Jörgen Andresson, the coordinating social servant. Therefore, it was crucial to understand the special value of Jörgen Andresson’s work. Furthermore, it is of importance to recognize the local network of civil associations and organizations as a driving force for social innovation in Lindängen. The existing social dynamics have served as a foundation for this project. Current community activities have been analyzed and taken as a source of inspiration for the design team’s work. Many of the generated ideas can be seen as an extension of existing projects happening in Lindängen.

The tight bond between Framtidenshus and the Lindängen community makes the service unique, opposing Manzini’s reproducibility idea of social innovation. Thus, it was important for the researchers to find out what Framtidenshus activities represents for Lindägen’s community. In design terms one could say that the design team had to inspect the services from the “user perspective”, in this case were the public service’s users. Very early in the project the design team had the chance to experience Framtidenshus’ work from a user-perspective and get in contact with the social workers and the community for the first time during two events that were scheduled in the initial week of the project. One of these events was organized by RETUREN and had an educational purpose regarding waste handling. The second event hosted by Lindegården was an almost spontaneous BBQ party on Lindängen’s main square.
Out of context these ludic activities may be seen as the method of what Jörgen Andersson and his team were doing.However, throughout this study it became clear that the real innovation was performed behind the scenes. The ludic activities in itself were only a setup stage in which many actors were orchestrating their innovations. The ludic activity in this case may not be the “formula” but the context that these social innovators found to convey their work in Lindängen.

Initial Methodology – Visual and Tangible context immersion

The fact that the work of the Framtidenshus is much out in the field and not in the office is probably the main aspects of its differing practices. Ethnographic observations at the ludic events have offered a starting point for investigation. Important actors were in place, but the context, the social landscape in which these actors act, could only be grasped by ethnographic observation.
Wisely, the social servants involved in the project were protecting the citizens, disencouraging any form of direct formal interviews from the researches. This was due to two main ethical reasons: the phenomena of “project sickness” among vulnurable communities and to avoid any false expectation. Therefore the design team had to improvise a way to immerse themselves in the social landscape of Lindägen. The initial proposal was to map the social interrelations of this area.
Mina Sharifiyan, Malmö city social servant, also Red Cross employee and foremost Lindängen resident, played an important role in developing the the social landscape mapping activity. This activity developed to be the most fruitful design tool in this project. The design team was very fortunate to have Sharifiyan’s collaboration. As a resident, a professional social servant and a social activist herself, Mina had a lot of knowledge on past and present activities and different actors within the community.

The social lanscape map

Social Landscape in the present research context consists of a graphical representation of networks between civil and private actors, associations and activities that are currently active in Lindängen. The respective relations are displayed in space, referenced around geographic landmarks (a building, a neighbourhood area, etc…).

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The Designers team had proposed a simple setup of initial five categories that were coded in color and shape:

  1. Geographic Places: For instance, the commercial center, the park, o complex, etc…
  2. Institutions/Buildings: Framtidenshus, the library, the school, etc…
  3. Civil Organizations: Both local and global civil associations such as the Red Cross or a local group called Gatukraft (Street Power)
  4. People: Relevant local actors, representatives of institutions or civil organizations, or actors of private organizations.
  5. Activities: Main activities of local civil organizations or activities within the community.

The initial goal of the map was for the design team to understand the context in which Framtidenshus was acting and to understand the civil structures in Lindängen. However, this exercise unfolded into a complete different activity, when Sharifiyan started to reveal the complex structures of civil organizations and their actors. The original focus shifted quickly from Framtidenshus to a broad social landscape in which Framtidenshus was only one among many other players. Neither the designers nor participants were aware of the outcome of this simple and yet effective illustrative exercise.
This exercise partially answered the initial questions of the benefit of design regarding social development. Social servants were overwhelmed by the simple fact of visualizing of what “was in their heads”. Visualizing these complex structures generated insights for both the design team and the social servants. Additionally, the exercise revealed many other interaction design qualities.

The qualities:

  • Tangibility (pieces can be easily moved and rearranged)
  • Simple and flexible rules (new categories can be added),
  • Observation of gestures and element placement (interrelation of elements)
  • Constant reflections about the map (triggering conversation)

Within four hours, the initial mapping session had barely covered a small piece of Lindängen’s social landscape. From the researcher’s perspective, the activity was much more productive than a formal interview or textual report. The fact that not only words but shapes, colors and drawings were used as communication tools turned the activity into a delightful and playful activity. Sharifiyan was able to communicate much information in a single session. The fact that she placed certain elements closer to each other communicated values and gave researchers the chance to ask about the layout decisions. These decisions revealed even more information about each topic.

How to introduce the dimension of time into the social mapping

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The social mapping exercise only revealed a snapshot representation of the social dynamics. The initial map was based on Sharifiyan’s Red Cross report dated from one year before, and even after this short time span, a lot of the information, actors, groups and their engagements had changed. However, to be a useful tool for social actors in Lindängen, it is essential that the map is constantly updated and to accurate to the present situation in Lindängen.
Students, being temporally actors in Lindängen could benefit enormously from an overview of projects in time and the knowledge generated during past projects and activities in addition to the “now” situation displayed on the map.
Therefore, a second iteration of the mapping tool with K3 researchers has been organized. The same categories as in the mapping tool were introduced to the researchers. This time however the design team proposed to place projects, activities and actors in a chronological horizontal timeline, instead of around physical buildings and places.
Again many of the qualities above mentioned qualities could be observed when participants were millimetric precise (despite the fact that the timeline did not have any precise scale but only some dates as cue points) when placing different actors close to different activities and different research groups in time. In the timeline exercise the additional quality of the possibility to create narratives surfaced. For instance, the unfoldings of the already mentioned RETUREN, a pilot project administered by a waste handling private company called VA SYD had clearly been narrated from the initial conception to its premature end, including with all actors, workers, administrators involved.
Another interesting observation of the “time map exercise” has been due to the fact that more than one participant was describing the social landscape. The participants were negotiating values while describing certain events.
While the timeline mainly serves as a source of information about a complex social context, but also a form of different participants expose their point of view upon a certain event, institution and the persons involved. Jorgen Anderson emphasized on the map exercise, that despite of the fact Sharifiyan’s tremendous knowledge of Lindängen’s social context, how rich would it be for him as a social servant to have some other actors identified by Sharifiyan’s map to “explode… their own universes” on the map. Thus the timeline exercise had also shown that not only bringing different participants to build the final product of mapping or constructing a timeline, but to have this participants at the same time, negotiating their different perspectives was in reality the most rich experience.
The simplicity of the rules and the small space for writing too much when labeling a group or activity also played a vital role on this multi-player interaction, since the elements were specific enough so that participants could identify them, yet still blurry enough so that each one could keep their personal understanding of a certain event or activity. However the final product of this spontaneous layout could result in an overwhelming complexity that in itself it is not self explanatory. It was very clear in both cases, the map and timeline, the meaning of each and every represented element for the activity participants, but as mentioned, the elements layout was followed by a stream of words that together forms the mapping significance. Therefore it may not be clear for someone outside of the mapped contexts, what exactly the map or timeline represents.
Thus, both the K3 researchers and Future House social servants recognized that this confusing graphical representation would be helpful, almost as a table of contents, for them when explaining, or introducing new people into their contexts and complexity. Sharifiyan even mentioned that she liked the complexity of it, in a certain way, the complexity of the graphical representation reflected the complexity of Lindängen’s social landscape.So in addition this aparent confused graphical visualization was also creating empathy into persons that are anaware of Future House fieldwork.

Main findings

The initial data inquiry done via ethnographic observations, the experimental mapping and timeline exercise resulted in two different sources of knowledge. In one side the insights related to the field of design with possible contributions to social services support, the methodologies in itself, and on the other hand the knowledge acquired about Lindängen. For Lindägen’s specific context it became clear that:

“design activities need to also address involvement in the maintenance􏰇 relocation􏰇 redirection and evolution of services􏰃 As we have seen􏰇 the involvement of a wide variety of people in these activities has implications beyond productivity􏰆􏰇 efficiency or experience􏰃”[4]

Maintenance that reveals to be the focus of the Future House in Lindängen, not only recognizing but supporting the civil initiatives and its isolated actors.

A reflection upon archiving practices

From the first mapping experience with Sharifiyan it became clear that the information that has being revealed was vital for any researcher or social worker that endeavors on working on complex and dynamic social landscapes such as Lindängen’s. Previews available academic studies based in social science metrics such as Sysselsättning och försörjningsvillkor i Lindängens hyresrätt – en sociodynamisk analys Delrapport i Mil-projektet from Tapio Salonen, gives the researcher the big numbers, therefore it does not offer this possibility of zooming into the social dynamics. Only the ones, researchers and social servants, working for years on that context detained such information “in their heads”.

Thus how can the knowledged be transferred, somehow archived? Who, which institutions should maintain such an archive?

It was detected that part of the so called “project sickness” had to do with recurrent ethnographic research asking the same questions over and over again. How could this knowledge about the social actors, their associations and its activities be transmitted somehow for the next researchers to come? How to maintain this information updated in such a dynamic environment?
Archiving such information may be delicate in ethical aspects since most of the knowledge is based on civil individuals that have to have their privacy respected and as mentioned before, the concern of transmitting this information is not related to historical biography peculiarities of the individual but the social context and the networks that this individual belong. The researchers in K3, for instance, detained the knowledge contained in Sharifiyan social landscape map, however even among themselves the information was scattered, documented in personal notes, old electronic messages.
Despite of the fact that research information transmission be taken for granted in academic or institutional work, it sounded abstract the fact that the design team would like to somehow store and also transmit Lindängen’s social landscape portrait. The present research tries to address such questions that emerged in the archiving reflection but mostly it can offer the interaction qualities that emerged from the map and timeline experiences as findings that could be the desired qualities of this archive design.

Both timeline and map hat the following qualities to have in consideration when designing such an archive:

  • Very small initial threshold: the archivist amount of effort to learn how and effectively start populating the archive.
  • Simple and flexible rules: in the case of the mapping social landscapes, the map proposed categories were enough therefore the design team suggested the addition of an activity color qualification category, so that by saturation it would be possible to visualize what each activity was aiming. For the timeline format the map geographical information was replaced by time key events, whenever a project or event have a shift, for sure when its starts and if the case when it ends.
  • Tangibility and spatiality: the fact that different participants could have a high degree of freedom to introduce, manipulate and change representative elements in space or time contributed tremendously both in participation and peer communication.
  • Visual representation: the archive information indexation has to be predominantly visual over textual information. Textual documentation and more detailed information should somehow be linked to the visual elements of the archive graphical representation, but the archive in itself is the “big-picture”
  • Micro and Macro visualization: the possibility not only to follow, for instance in the timeline, a narrative of chronological events and people participation in time, but also to understand how different narratives are related to each other in the big picture.
  • Multi-player interaction possibility: if the archiving process allow that different persons interact at the same time, the archiving practice becomes not only more democratic, but the dynamics of constructing the archive becomes something worthy of archiving.

The map main findings

Beside of the acknowledgement of Lindängens more than 50 active civil associations with about 20 different actors plus the public and private players contained at Sharifiyan’s resulting map, the design team was able to classify these groups’ activities into few categories from the residents perspective. The main category from each many sub-categories derive was Safety. According to Sharifiyan, activities that, for instance, aimed for cleaning and maintenance of the public space or the ones related appropriation of Lindängen’s Centrum using ludic interactions, were directly connected to the resident’s perception of safety.
Respect, was another important value related to Lindängen resident satisfaction that emerged from trying to classify the activities of the social groups in the area, and that seemed to be Jorgen Andresson priority along with Trust. Although these may sound as basic moral concepts, abstract and generic, these principles were very easy to tange in the example of civil servant that were harshly humiliated when asking for some assistance for a young resident, for the fact of not being Lindängen’s resident. Disrespect that also reflects the lack of trust in the public servant, while Andresson, for instance, had gained that trust through his actions. These abstract concepts can be also objectively measured by, for instance, quantifying material losses caused by vandalism of the public space that is not respected or appropriated as such.
Another big umbrella of resident values was related to Identity and Proud, a sense of belonging to the society and mostly to Lindängen’s community. This identification of the individual and his or her’s social group was presented in Lindängen’s context in many different forms: like for instance ethnical group identity, expression identity through art, poetry and music or even negative forms as a member of a gang. Either way there was a strong identity of Lindängen or “LÄ”, like some resident groups use to symbolize the neighborhood proudly.
Sharifiyan emphasized that despite of fact some of this values being so intrinsic to the work of local civil groups like Gatucraft (the Power of the Streets), there was a big merit in articulating these concepts, mostly for outsiders. She mentioned that every project or idea in Lindängen must tackle at least a few of this values in order really address the local needs. However the thorough understanding of these values from the resident perspective it is only possible by immersing oneself into the area. Andresson added that the design team should include a category related to future urban design in the area, which is a big matter of concern for the residents, their frustrations and expectation towards future constructions in the area.

Timeline main findings

The main difference though between the map and the timeline was that the timeline would reveal narratives. The fact that the timeline was not built upon stiff grids and allowed participants to layout the elements organically not only allowing to follow a chronological path of an initiative (like the mentioned RETUREN project) but also to relate isolated initiatives in a broader, holistic, context. In the complex noisy visualization of the timeline it was actually possible to link one project to another and understand how an initiative from certain actors would result in new projects. Being that all these events were not only starting and ending but happening in parallel. As Jorgen Andresson stated, the timeline branches of the social landscape map as a zoomed in view of what a certain association or institution initiatives and its chronological contexts.

From theory to practice – Design process

With all the gathered knowledge the design team foresaw three possible ways of actuating together with the Lindängen’s Future House, that could be understood as two archiving practices and one local intervention. The archiving practices were a for to provide an infrastructure to connect the knowledge that was already in place in K3 and the Future House and the intervention was a form to confirm the mapping activity findings in practice.

copia-di-timeline

Along the research journey some ideation sessions took place, and these ideas were grounded and developed based on the mapping exercise concept findings while these concepts were unfolding. At the end of the research phase these intervention ideas were presented to the Future House stakeholders that helped to develop this ideas further and to connect the potential ideas to local actors that could be interested on implementing or appropriate these ideas. Initially the social landscape map was used to lay these ideas and make possible connections between institutions and actors.

the-map_07

By the end of a first filtering team and stakeholders had narrowed down six different ideas that were connected with the map findings and possible local actors with the basic principle of working around, or hacking, the bureaucracies’ limitations imposed to Lindängen’s social context:

  1. The shop on wheels: based in the local flea market culture around Lindegården and some local actors that worked with bicycle repairing and recycling, this idea was to build a set of carts that would work as a moving fair, that different people could loan to organize these local events. Since in Sweden carts on wheels are not obligated to have a proper commercial licence, the carts could work as a platform for small local business.
  2. Umbrella roofs: this idea was a reaction to a municipality practice of removing the public shelters from Lindängen downtown. This practice was somehow creating a hostile environment for the drug dealing groups activities in the central area, but also removing other groups that may occupy the center with other activities. Therefore the idea was to provide a public structure so that residents could hang their umbrellas to create a collaborative ephemeral roof structures.
  3. Citizen’s “surveillance” camera: this idea was conceived during the research phase just before a real police surveillance camera had been installed at the Future House external wall to monitor the criminal activities in the area. However the initial idea was to create an open stage for artistic activity so that any resident could check this cultural video broadcast on the internet, live. A stage area would be painted on the floor and events would be promoted there, broadcasting live from Lindängen center.
  4. Love bombing (named as such by Sharifiyan): based on the activities of the Power of Streets, this activity was to appropriate some of the public bicycle lanes in Lindängen’s center and painting the floor with the future dreams of residents, creating a walking poem. A new street name sign would be erected based on the writings thematics, with an emphasis on hope and aspirations.
  5. Lindängen Radio Station: inspired by Lindänguen and its strong musical culture, this idea was to create a community radio station that would give voice and expression for young local artists, reaching other locations in Malmö. Despite of its ambitious aims, this idea could be prototyped initially with a physical space connected with a local music studio, to create the radio community first while working on viable means to expand the radio station transmissions according to the communities engagement.
  6. The Pizza Oven: based on the Future House explorations of food events to promote interaction between different local groups and appropriation with the central area with ludic activities, the idea of building an open air public oven. The intent was to both support the Future House events but also to invite other groups to occupy the central area with family activities. This idea also came from the necessity of the local parks and public areas to offer more public grilling infrastructure, since grilling is a very popular activity among the residents.

The oven intervention

Lindängen House of the future project wouldn’t be complete if the concepts raised from the research were not tested in its real context. That is why the design team decided together with the stakeholders to engage in an intervention in the central area. After connecting actors and the groups with the design proposals, the oven idea seemed to be feasible and suitable for the Future House activities within the present project time frame. The whole experience of organizing and engaging in the activity of building a public “pizza” oven in Lindängen has been an immersion into the Future House’s work and their public.
The team faced several difficulties on the oven project implementation, from “importing” the oven construction activity from another country and context (the costs involved and construction material were very different, even the climate difference had to be compensated) to actually organizing the oven building event in a short window of opportunity before the wintery season when the outdoor activities ceases.
The event took place on a weekend just before the winter season and the oven was partially built since it collapsed at a certain point of the construction. The design team developed many other ludic activities happened while building the oven, mostly involving children and for sure the activity caught the attention of residents in transit in the center. The expected pizza party celebration after building the oven had to take place in Lindegården industrial kitchen instead. The oven had to be finished by the team members during the following week, which also allowed the team to be in contact with other residents that were not present during the weekend.
Despite of the initial failure atmosphere of the collapsed oven, the second iteration with the community in the actual construction conclusion confirmed many aspects of the map research findings. Many good feedbacks were given from residents and an unexpected outcome with residents culturally identifying culturally with brick open air ovens was revealed. But most important the design team started to be recognised as a local actor, many residents questioned if the project belonged to this or that local group, which was a confirmation for the team that this activity was embedded in the local values and initiatives.

A grasp into social innovation reflection

The work with the Future House had three distinct outcomes due to its three path design process. The design team considers the process outcomes not as a conclusive delivery but the beginning of future work, since the result of each initiative can only be studied along time and usage. This constatation in itself is already a reflection that when designing for the social one can propose, prototype or even intervene, however it does not depend on the design product in itself to promote any change but more on how the social players will appropriate these ideas and effectively use it, transform it.

The social landscape dashboard

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From the mapping the social landscape initiative came the design of a tool prototype for the Future House to visualize and communicate Lindängen’s social landscape. The paper maps were reproduced as an strategy dashboard that keeps the interaction qualities of the mapping workshops but also has this quality of archiving and communicating the findings from these exercise. The idea with this tool is to invite the local actors to reveal their universe and social network, visualizing their brother community context. Jorgen Andersson intents to use the dashboard to introduce new researchers and stakeholders to Lindängen and the Future House contexts.
Jörgen Andersson questioned the team about ideas on how to capture the social dynamics along time. One of the ideas was to periodically photograph the dashboard to produce an animation that would give an idea of how the social dynamics evolve. However the only way to understand the qualities of the board is to use it, adapt it and constantly reflect upon the values of having this visualization/communication tool handy for the Future House social servants and their collaborators.

The academic archive

The report on the timeline is tbd.

Intervening in Lindängen

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The intervention in Lindängen center was the activity the really immerse the design team into the Future House working reality and Lindängen’s resident perspective. It became clear for the designers that in such a such social active environment in which groups like the Power of the Streets, Save the Children, The women’s network, Abracadabra Studio, Red Cross, Folkets Hus (just to mention a few), are actuating, concrete tangible intervention produce a much more effective impact. The relations between the team and the community gradually changed after being there on a weekend time and after been seen working in the area for a longer time.

It became clear after this activity why the work of Future House is out of the office and why it was so important for the social servants to see and be seen actuating along with the community members.In that sense, small scale initiatives like the oven or the Future House’s grilling events are a very good starting point to try new ideas and open up space to longer term projects. Thus although it was not intentional, the oven activity worked out as a communication vehicle for the Future House actuation in the central area, what was Jorgen Andersson’s initial proposal for the design team to work with.
In summary in such a context in which external (outside of the community) initiatives are so discredited, one has to really have to be immerse, have empathy and gain trust before trying to introduce any external ideas. Like Sharifiyan has stated after questioned about the design work expectations and achievements, that in usual research projects “they come and go leaving back a report of what we are doing wrong and never come back”.

 

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