Ministry of Multispecies Communications walk


DI Webinar – Rachel Clarke, Open Lab, Newcastle University

The Ministry of Multispecies Communications: Feeling Our Way through More-than-Human De-centred Design
Rachel Clarke, Open Lab, Newcastle University

As a response to ongoing climate concerns, local authorities are increasingly working with corporate enterprise to ensure cities become smarter with integrated ubiquitous technologies to support more efficient use of resources. Yet the focus on ever more usable, pleasurable, efficient, and seamlessly integrated digital products is often developed in top down ways, creating stockpiles of waste as products become obsolete while also contributing to ongoing species habitat loss as a result of mining resources needed for manufacturing. Further to this our cities are becoming a refuge for different animals and wildlife, but common urban species are in decline. While the mantra of human and user-centred design has become common for many governments and technology corporations over the last 20 years, this is increasingly seen as problematic to mitigate wider ecological concerns and devastation associated with the climate emergency. Interaction designers therefore need sensitising strategies and approaches to de-centre a human centred perspective and find relevant ways of responding to consider who benefits and the longer-term wider impacts of technology design and use.

The Ministry of Multispecies Communications (MoMC) is a fictional future government organisation developed in response to these concerns. Using an experimental masked walk and training programme, designers and residents are invited to explore their local urban neighbourhoods and data infrastructures while taking the role of a familiar creature (e.g. animal, plant, insect or bird). The format for engagement and reflection is adapted to each location and community. Sessions have recently been developed in response to Covid-19 and social distancing measures using online platforms to facilitate more improvised distributed walks. In this talk I will reflect on this approach to engaging people in more-than-human concerns for the design of urban smart infrastructures.

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Rachel Clarke is a Senior Lecturer at Open Lab, Newcastle University. She is an interdisciplinary design researcher working between interaction design, human-computer interaction (HCI), and feminist science and technology studies (STS). Her work focuses on the politics of participatory design practice within international development, socio-technical infrastructures of material resources and smart urbanisation in more-than-human worlds. Her current research projects are funded by the British Academy, EPSRC and Research England. Recent projects include Designing Security Infrastructures for Sensitive Community Data, Connected Citizen theme within the Centre for Digital Citizens, Young Palestinians’ Responses to Housing and Sustainable Development, Visualising Ugandan Youth Futures and More-than-Human Data Interactions in the Smart City.

Twitter: @racheleclarke

Project website: Rachel Clarke at openlab

Image Credit: Ministry of Multispecies Communications walk, Hasselt, Belgium, 2018, as part of the Participatory Design Conference. Photo by Seray Ibrahim