Design and Participative Methodologies for Heritage: Exploring the Notion of 'Borders' Through Dialogic Digital Design Methods

As practice-based, creative methods are increasingly incorporated within heritage research, this workshop explores the relevance of design-inspired approaches to the scientific community taking part in the Association of Critical Heritage Studies 4th Biennial Conference (Hangzhou, Zhejiang University 2018). The workshop provided practical insights and transferable ideas for heritage scholars interested in using design and creative methods, by introducing projects developed in our previous work and by engaging the participants in a sequence of tasks focusing especially on speculation, scenario development and co-creation.

One of our aims was to identify opportunities and challenges in using design methods within heritage studies contexts, and to discuss the relationships between speculating, making, dialogue and critical thinking.

To respond to the theme of the conference, ‘borders’, we decide to develop our activities around 4 historical walls sites: Istanbul Walls, the Berlin Wall, Belfast Peace Walls and Hadrian’s Wall. These all posed interesting questions around the idea of borderland, hybrid identities and the legacy of historical division on place-making processes and sense of belonging. Our first step was to develop three short speculative scenarios addressing possible problems concerning these sites in a not too distant future, always grounded in the sites’ current situations and socio-technological trends.

We developed special objects to represent and materialize the speculations. They are composed of a case that can be lifted and reveals an model that resembles a piece of the wall. The outside case describes the history, whereas the inside model presents a possible future for that wall. The team created a combination of immersive media, where each wall-object was also accompanied by a video that similarly reveals and traverses the past and future of the different walls.

As the scenarios were only offering the initial sketch, the beginning of many possible stories surrounding the Walls, the first activity invited the participants to collaborate to expand and articulate the scenario further with their own imagination. We provided a set of materials to help them communicate their ideas through a photo montage: a variety of backgrounds, stickers suggesting possible stakeholders, constraints and parameters that could feature in the expanded scenario.

The second activity involved the collaborative prototyping of a dialogic device or intervention that could directly respond to the scenario developed through the photo montage. Each group was equipped with tools and objects enabling the basic, low-tech materialization of ideas, as well as with tokens representing a set of dialogic affordances and dialogic functions. These were based on fieldwork conducted as part of our broader research on digitally-enabled dialogue in museums and included affordances such as multivocality, archivability, asynchronicity, multi sensoriality and shareability. Possible functions listed were: abolishing hierarchies among speakers, expanding the circle of speakers, sustain reflexive attitudes, and generating empathy.

For instance, in the photomontage one group focused on the perspective of different stakeholders, including tourists, UNESCO and Google reacting to the imposition of digital geo-fencing that would prevent pictures to be taken around the Istanbul Walls. In the final activity they prototyped a ‘multisensory box’ which would allow sensorial features of the Walls to be circulated at different locations, supplying alternative ways of sharing the cultural value of the site.

Overall, the participants crafted visually compelling and thought-provoking artefacts inspired by the divisive narratives expressed in the scenario build-up of the previous task, often exploring non-verbal, multimodal and affective approaches to dialogue, focusing on the preliminary conditions for dialogue or questioning the role of technology in shaping dialogic interactions. The workshop was very well received by the participants, who expressed the need for more similar initiatives within the heritage studies community, and identified useful ideas to ‘take back home’ and redeploy in their own work. Design-grounded creative methods emerge here as suitable approaches to introduce playfulness and experimentality in addressing difficult heritage questions, whilst maintaining a high level of criticality. Participants discussed how these approaches can craft different layers and levels of involvement, and help relevant groups or individuals to come together around complex issues by generating a collaborative environment structured around making and dialogue.  


Together with a designer Krzysztof Seyfried - CIID Research has created “Borders” workshop as part of our work in project CoHERE, led by Newcastle University.


CoHERE has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 69328

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