Seannachies Collider

Seannachies Collider, 12 noon - 5pm, Fri 13 March 2015, Design Informatics, Edinburgh College of Art
Seannachies: Addressing Social Isolation through Storytelling is a Scottish Universities Insight Institute funded network that explores how storytelling can engage people in meaning-making in order to enhance collective wellbeing in socially and culturally challenged communities, in particular, social isolation in communities of elders.
As part of the programme in collaboration with Design Informatics we ran a Seannachies Collider event to bring together key stakeholders from the Seannachies network, along with masters students and researchers from the Centre for Design Informatics. The workshop framed by three lightning talks from Prof Mike Wilson (Loughborough University), Anna Goulding (Newcastle University) and Revd. Russell McLarty (Church of Scotland Minister). The collider allowed participants to consider the role of storytelling and social isolation within the context of data and the digital world, drawing on conversations and reflections from a previously held Seannachies workshop to think through near future ways of addressing social isolation.
The session began with an introduction by Prof Jon Oberlander, explaining the collider concept, where ideas are accelerated from more than one area by bringing them together. The Collider was an opportunity to move beyond discussions, towards actually trying out what might or might not work. Debbie Maxwell provided background to the Seannachies collider and set the aim of the event on developing new ideas around storytelling in the context of social isolation and exclusion in context of digital media.
Prof Mike Wilson (via video conference) shared his thoughts on storytelling as much more than a mode of communication, but instead as an alternative knowledge system, where storytelling can codify or translate experiential knowledge to help us deal with multiple complexities. Stories provide then a different way of knowing and can increase access to debates on equal footing. In particular he shared a digital story by Heather, a farmer, who told her story of the changing weather patterns on her farm. This story has been used a lot in community groups as part of a project on climate change, and was the story that resonated most with the groups. In terms of authority, it carried authenticity and believability; Heather’s voice is not normally the voice that is heard in climate change, not normally an ‘expert’ voice yet has a different kind of authority and expertise.
Russell Mclarty spoke about his community work in Glasgow on the Chance to Thrive project, and how human meeting is critical, eye to eye, heart to heart, mind to mind. He highlighted the importance of humour in building and bonding of groups, the building of a story. Hospitality and dancing is all part of the story! The projects in Glasgow through building up positive stories showed new enterprises and local empowerment, with community members setting up social enterprises, and using local radio to connect and empower disenfranchised young adults. The Chance to Thrive provided a dreaming and scheming space for local community to think what they want to happen, a chance to write their own new stories for the future.
Anna Goulding presented her research at Newcastle University, working with dementia sufferers and visual artists. She described how art was the starting point, wanted high quality artist led intervention, not simply the oft used reminiscence work. The research took a very sensory approach, using textures such as feathers and marshmallows to respond to artworks through simplicity and gentle sessions. This approach, for instance the act of opening and closing boxes, was a slow reflective pace, and used visual art to help make sense of narrative for dementia sufferers. As researchers, they learnt how to navigate behaviours, and to work with humour.
Following these positioning talks, collider participants were encouraged to break into small groups to consider the prompt ‘What tools can we design to offer alternative ways to form communities, bridge barriers, share stories, and ultimately begin to address social isolation?’
At the end of the afternoon each group presented back their ideas. Discussion sessions raised personal experiences of working in these complex areas and afforded a genuine set of reflective exchanges between design students and stakeholders, resulting in some intriguing new ideas. These included a digital teasmade that could connect isolated tea makers across space; a eye-gazing app that connected cameras to connect emotionally with strangers; and iPot connect plant pot that responded to the environment and provided social opportunities for owners; and a skills swapping recycling scalable social enterprise concept. Each presentation generated further discussion and highlighted some of the very real challenges in working with and tackling social isolation.
Student perspectives and images available online at:
(Written by Debbie Maxwell)

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