Sunday, September 05, 2010

Making Representations Matter -- a mini-workshop at the Knowledge Media Design Institute (5 Aug 2010)

I recently gave a talk and mini-workshop at the Knowledge Media Design Institute, University of Toronto, titled "Making Representations Matter: The Practice of Shaping Participatory Media Artifacts." The session started with a review of the research to date (see slides below), but the bulk of the evening was spent with the attendees doing a collaborative exercise followed by a discussion using some of the presented concepts.

For the exercise, the participants broke up into two groups and were assigned to pick facilitators and engage in a collaborative representational task of their choosing, using markers and whiteboards, for about 30 minutes. I roamed back and forth and took notes on facilitator moves and participant responses. We followed this by over an hour of reflection and discussion. The audience, composed of researchers, grad students, and practitioners (including a few people from the community with no direct tie to KMDI), seemed to really engage with the ideas.

Participants working on their collaborative representations

One helpful idea that came out of the discussion was to make an explicit distinction between the "interactional" aspects of facilitation -- e.g. those having to do with facilitator actions that create better communication and discussion among participants -- and the "representational" aspects, particularly those that have to do with ensuring direct participant engagement with the representation and how facilitators can help ensure that the representation itself ends up with suitably "persistent" qualities -- that is, that it can serve for future audiences as an evocative representation. If this distinction isn't made clear, the discussion tends to veer towards the interactional aspects rather than the representational.

For future work, it's encouraging that giving people an opportunity to experience and reflect on shaping participatory representations, in combination with presenting some of the concepts and findings from the research, seems to work well. This was my second direct attempt to do this, following last year's initial foray at the IFVP conference. I had learned from that to make sure there was enough time for both the experiential and reflective portions of the event (and not too much time given to the initial presentation), and this time that worked well. In fact, the discussion went way over the allotted time and on into the following dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant. It's good to see that the constructs from the research can apply to non-software-based representational forms, like whiteboards and markers.

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