La Cura Summer School, La cura, Florence 22nd – 26th August 2016
A five days experiment to "inhabit the planet as an interconnected mind" in Florence. Parco Studio was there, and what follows is the account Ruggero put together to celebrate that experience.
A little bit of background
I know that Salvatore Iaconesi and Oriana Persico started La Cura in 2012, after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. The project that spun from that experience is an ongoing global performance aimed at redefining the meaning of "cure" through participatory and open source concepts and methodologies.
The starting point is that cancer never strikes a single individual. To a certain degree, it always hits society at large. This is not only a conceptual point, but also a practical one. If I have cancer, also my friends and family do (they have to take time off their activities to look after me, they worry, ..), the doctor does (he/she has to cure me), every citizen does (taxes go into the healthcare system to help cure my cancer). In this sense, la Cura starts from the assumption that person and patient are the very same individual.
The summer school kicked off as an opportunity to expand that framework by contributing to the event "Condividi la conoscenza" (share the knowledge), part of the international exhibition XXI Triennale. The goal was to help redefine what "inhabiting the planet" could mean, through the lens of La Cura.
It was a very stimulating starting point, as there are many fields and subjects this idea can be applied to: global warming, housing, digital technologies, presence, just to name a few.
As one can imagine, the summer school would be too big to be handled by two people alone. It was actually designed, structured and handled by the Near Future design Lab (NeFuLa) as a whole, which includes another 8 designers dedicated to explore possible futures to help clients improve decision-making and policies.
In the end, the school comprised around 60 people, between students, teachers, organizers, a chef, and several other guests. Rather than disconnected work groups, it was conceived as an ecosystem.
The workshop was set at ISIA Florence, a small research lab and institution that grants BA and MA in Design. It had five work groups that needed to exchange information in order to produce a consistent output. Moreover, there would be a chef that would prepare food bought by local farmers, and that would constitute a moment of exchange for everyone involved, and also a bar. The general idea was to design a structure that would facilitate exchange, shared moments and a relaxed atmosphere.
The information design work group and its output
Our work group took care of designing an interactive information design piece. The final idea was to allow people to "filter, compose and mix the social media content gathered according to several different terms related to 'inhabiting', as well as according to the emotional analysis of the status updates themselves". It leaned more towards an exploratory end rather than a problem solving one.
Here you can find a demo we put together. At present, it is fetching no more real time data, as it drains server resources heavily.
The thick and thin of the process
From the beginning, we knew our goal would be to design and implement a data visualization piece to elaborate on the idea of "inhabiting the planet".
Our nine people group had people from different backgrounds and experiences. Ranging from BA student to PhD and after, from industry to academia. With a majority of designers, but including an engineer, an artist and more.
We started by laying out the possibilities along several axes: interactive-dynamic-static, qualitative-quantitative, screen-based or not, real-time or not. Along with that, Salvatore and Oriana gave us an overview of a digital platform, called Human Ecosystems, that could fetch and aggregate social media status updates. Its peculiarity is that it can label data according to several emotions.
Filtering and focusing ideas was hard, and we met several bumps along the way. A hard problem to solve was to figure out what to expect from other work groups. Since there was an Identity group and a Social Media Listening one, each with different drives and interests, it was hard to understand how to relate to the aesthetics and the data gathering part. Whether it would come from others, or if we could or had to figure it out on our own. Nevertheless, we worked it out, by talking with the people in other groups and keeping them up to speed with our progress.
To get to our final design, we relied on the concept of polarity management method. It is the labeling of qualitative data in a way that makes it possible to group and navigate them by means of polar coordinates. At the same time, we decided to focus on a single topic with an archival approach: breadth instead of depth, so that unexpected connections and unions could be made, possibly leading to unexpected and interesting results.
All in all, coming together and solving all the problems we had took up a lot of our time, and we didn't have room left for implementation, which took place afterwards.
The experience had very interesting critical points, which have been briefly highlighted in the other article written on this summer school (you can find the link in the "Further readings" paragraph). In this one, I would like to underline two key aspects I had the time to explore during my time there.
The first one is becoming more aware of the structure and flow of a decision-making process. While I tend to fall back to a hierarchical one, there are phases in the process where it's better to open up the conversation, or take a step back from it. This sounds like a commonplace, but it's really hard to be able to see, acknowledge and drive it as it is happening. It is easy in perspective, not in the heat of a discussion, and without proper training.
In this sense, this experience has much in common with the "Peer to peer design strategies" parcodiyellowstone has proposed several years back.
A second interesting takeaway is the ability to think more of the ramifications of the process I am immersed in, in terms of infrastructure. The fact that every little thing I have around contributes to shaping the way I act, behave, live, means it also has an influence on the outcome of my work. So the environment ("ecosystem" or "ecosystems") that is created around a person or a process is a key aspect in shaping it. Not only in terms of outcome, but also to fuel, to nurture and as a long term perspective.
Where "Baotaz" has been
The global output of La Cura Summer School was named "Baotaz". It was showcased at XXI Triennale in Milan and at Neuromed Foundation in Pozzilli.
Further readings and acknowledgements
For the sake of keeping this article within reasonable length, I had to omit many things. If you wish to keep reading on the subject, NeFuLa put together a more comprehensive account of the Summer School. On the bottom of that article, you can also find all related resources and outputs, including code, a syllabus, work group diaries, sketches, and more.
Most of the pictures in this article are part of the NeFuLa Flickr album: LCSS - La Cura Summer School.