There are two things that commissioners and designers of work that engages the public need to focus hard on just now:
People are leading increasingly static lives.
And to win their involvement, they need to be offered compelling, not compulsory experiences.
Me and several creative/professional teams I've pulled together are working on all sorts of projects just now - and the centre of operations is the office whiteboard:
- public and private organizations in the development sector engage with communities
- a major fashion retailer in the U.K. promote the idea of collective creativity
- people living in a low-income neighborhood share experience and knowledge using online media
- an entrepreneur to start a new food co-operative that will be the subject of a series of primetime TV shows in the U.K.
- and an international cultural relations agency support an elite "flight-school" of urban entrepreneurs
And these all involve designing programmes of user-friendly, interactive experiences that trigger collaboration and help people achieve whatever they want to achieve more effectively.
A key to success is to structure a sequence of experiences that take people on a journey that has a larger cumulative meaning - much like a director writes a screenplay or time-lapse photographer frames motion:
What's exciting is to see this turned in to real life - and it doesn't come much better than a project that I came across on a visit to the USA late last year.
City Harvest is a public project in Philadelphia in which inmates of the city prison system start vegetable seedlings in prison gardens and greenhouses:
The seedlings are then taken to maturity at dozens of community gardens across the city:
Then SHARE, a nonprofit network that provides food to area food cupboards across the city, facilitates distribution of the grown produce to low-income neighborhoods, often to the very areas in which the families of the prison-growers live.
City Harvest is an inspiration. Why?
Because it is a project that expresses all of the warmness of sustainability and localism but also speaks to their cold reality - we lead increasingly static lives and to overcome this for the public good, there's value in creating a connected sequence of industrious, easy, participatory steps.
The initiative also respects a magic ingredient that is a key to all entertainment and largely
missing from talk about "top/down", "bottom-up",
"grassroots/non-grassroots" activity led by public and private organizations: we like things that are compelling, rather than compulsory.
Things that are compelling rather than compulsory make life worth living - and that goes for X-Factor, Celebrity Big Brother, even fierce fashion worn by Daphne Guinness, not just stuff that's useful and worthwhile.
It's also a value at the centre of the most successful platform for human interaction and empowerment of our age: the internet.Images of City Harvest courtesy of PHS (The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society). Source lost for Happy Balls and skateboarder time-lapse (sorry!)