I'd like to introduce you all to Tenny Pinheiro. Tenny lives in San Francisco, CA. He is the author of three books on Design Thinking and Service Design, his latest publications are The Service Startup: Design Thinking gets Lean and Breaking Free From The Lean Startup Religion: The Service Designer Manifesto.
Dundee is a magnificent city that faces extraordinary challenges and last week I spent a day talking and thinking about how the creative and cultural sector can help tackle those challenges. Cloudbusting is the first in a series of national gatherings led by the creative producers, Big Sky, which seeks to answer big societal questions. This time it was part of the DCA's Blue Skies weekend. The room was made up of the private, public and third sector - businessmen, entreprenuers, artists and chief execs. This mix is not an easy one to bring together so well done Bryan Beattie!
The day launched with businessmen Ellis Watson, the CEO of the regional newspaper publisher DC Thomson, former Mirror Group boss and chief executive of Simon Cowell's entertainment company Syco. Ellis set the scene of the day by talking about looking over horizons so we can build an intellectual framework to combat poverty in Dundee. It was refreshing and almost relieving to hear someone from Ellis's background talk passionately about why the cultural and creative sector is fundamental to the days conversation.
In this case statistics are important but they do require context and balance so I'll just list a few to help you understand the reality of what Dundee faces: in different parts of the city, areas that are just a stones throw away from each other have a difference in life expectancy of 23 years. In Dundee the absurd juxtaposition between poverty and affluence is brought into sharper focus because of the small size of the city. In Polmont young offenders institute, 73% of the young men were previously in the care system.
One more statistic for you and remember this one as you drive through dundee and see all the water front developments, and read the newspaper about the big plans for the V and A museum ... remember that currently over one quarter of households in Dundee live in poverty.
I've worked in Dundee, I lived there for five years and compared to other places I have lived and worked there is at times an absence of hope in the city. Aspiration is being bred out of people and where are the role models?
Admittedly, there are great initiatives happening throughout the city and lots of people working very hard and doing an incredible job but the net outcomes suggest it's not working. Poverty pervading in spite of amazing efforts suggests either a lack of clear strategy or a lack of implementation of that strategy. There can be no other reason for amazing effort and hard work not producing better results.
Jenny Marra, Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament for North East Scotland and Shadow Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, bravely admitted that all political parties are struggling with answers and ideas. This is not because of a lack of focus or a want to make things better but the stark reality that throwing money at services alone is not enough. Politicians are famously good that identifying the issues but now it's not even answers but ideas they need the most.
Jenny is working to change the labour party conference so you are not allowed to approach the podium unless you have an idea to offer because so many of the speeches identify the problems - we all know what the problems are - it's seeking solutions that will start to change our city and change our country.
Admirably, Jenny embraced her political stance and voiced the elephant in the room - the budget implications in all of this. However, the truth is that the most successful policy since Scottish Parliament opened 13 years ago is the smoking ban. It was a good, simple idea and it cost nothing. Unless politicians are able to be bold and imaginative lives in Scotland will not change.
So what does Kite Flying have to do with all this? The potential Scotland has and where it has come from in the last decade is phenomenal and there is so much excitement around what we could do as a country. Dundee plays a big part in this with the re-generation of the water front and V and A. Yet, Scotland is often termed as the sick man of Europe. However, if you took Dundee and Glasgow out of Scotland and stuck it out in the Atlantic the health outcomes of Scotland would be the same as the rest of Europe.
But what does poverty mean actually? GDP? Life expectancy? Slums in cambodia? How do we visualise poverty? Nora's day job shows that poverty means you are much more likely to get cancer and if you are poor you are much more likely to die of cancer even if you get diagnosed at the same stage and go through the same pathway as a wealthier person. But this is not about a disease phenomem it is about a whole host of social and cultural issues. Poverty kills. It kills life, it kills health and it kills spirit.
So how do we move to star gazing? All the evidence would suggest that we have to look at things differently and seek more creative ways of doing things. There are already great plans in place such as the Dundee Partnership Fairness Strategy. Things like this are key drivers for change in the future because this has to be tackled collectively. It is not the responsibility of one sector or one individual or organisation. This requires long term collaboration on a big scale. Undoubtedly, this will take at least two generations to shift. This requires significant and prolonged effort - not short term solutions.
And what about rainbow chasing? Nora believes the pot of gold does exist at the end of the rainbow in Dundee. The arts, music, sport and the cultural history that Dundee have must be harnessed. Dundee has got a fantastic heritage and we should build on that. How do we harness the creative power of the city and make it meaningful? How does Dennis The Menace influence the Fairness Strategy? The opportunities are enormous and the challenges are great but working collaboratively we can really make a difference.
Andy Milne, the CEO of SURF talked about the 'creatification of everyone' stating the giving workers the creativity and autonomy to do things differently should be the focus of Government .
We watched a short video from the Chief Medical Officer of Scotland, Dr Harry Burns who talked about the biology associated with being poor and he reminded us all that it never says cause of death: poor housing or cause of death: poor on any birth certificate.
Chris van der Kuyl, the CEO of Bright Solid talked honestly and openly about the public sector fixation on controlling everything and reminded the audience that days of IT teams being in control are coming to a sharp and swift end.
"If you think someone in Silicon Valley is going to come up with the tech that will solve the problems in Dundee you are wrong. The solutions have to come from here - from us - from Dundee's people"
Artist, Jacqueline Donachie brought waves of raw emotion into the room by sharing her families battle with Muscular Dystrophy. She believes we deserve beauty in all areas of life. Why isn't the doctors surgery as nice as a hair salon? I believe the same 'levels of service' are deserved in in all areas of life. Why does dining in my local restaurant make me smile and always deliver yet the national health service make me feel stupid and fail to understand my needs?
One shocking thing Jacqueline told us was that she met with a group of world class academics who have been researching the disease for twenty years but (and this beggars belief!) had never, once, ever met someone with Muscular Dystrophy.
Liz from Fablevision introduced us to their work to bring communities together through Govan Thegither. Alan Lyddiard talked about his previous projects with the homeless and challenged the audience to think about what would happen if the homeless could curate an exhibition at the V and A and think about the people outside the room who don't agree with us. Peter Kelly from the Poverty Alliance asked who's poverty is it anyway? One problem is how middle class people perceive the problem in the first place.
- 38% of people think poverty is an inevitable part of modern society
- 19% structural injustice
- 28% think it's laziness and lack of will power
- 79% of people think poverty is governments job
How can we tackle this?
- Real life stories delivered by real people
- Practical alternatives to current approaches
- Realise poverty and inequality are equal ( this has implications for how we talk about the wider system )
There are two key documents from Government out there The Community Led Regeneration and the Community Empowerment Renewal Bill ( will come out at the end of September and is currently being consulted on ) But as Nora rightly asks "Why do we need a bill so we can talk to each other?"
We must debunk this myth of scarcity. The money is there - it's a question of where we put it. Of course Cloudbusting was full of 'haves' - what are we all personally going to give up for the 'have nots'? If you are preaching equality - how do you preach it in your daily life? Do you go to the shops and use the churches and play parks in the deprived areas near you? What would happen if we all did that....
And yes all of what I heard at Cloudbusting made sense but the reality is that currently systems stop us acting upon fresh ideas. This is our focus at Snook - how to work inside the systems and find solutions from a stance of humility, with no agenda and no pre determined answers. Our focus in on helping people to articulate their own solutions.
As journalist Lesley Riddoch says "We need to stop trying to do the wrong things righter" because this is too big to ignore but small enough to tackle. The most important and vital tool we have is the attitude and desire to re-think things so we can make an even more profound difference. Projects and processes with limited outcomes are perhaps just the wrong things to be doing and we need to say this confidently. We must be confident to think wide, deep and look far and be unashamedly and ludicrously ambitious for our future. We need to be bold.
This weekend I travelled down to London to be part of a festival at the South Bank Centre.
"This festival celebrates something we all have in common. Death is a subject we are fascinated by and fearful of; it is a favourite topic of all arts and all societies find rituals to deal with it. But most of us ordinary mortals find discussing it quite tricky - even though the more information we have about it, the easier it is to face. This weekend is not about morbidity, sentimentality or sensationalism. In fact it's a weekend full of delight and humour. It's about hearing the powerful stories and surprising facts from people who have had to sort out practically and emotionally how to face up to the greatest and most challenging of all certainties."
Jude Kelly, OBE, Southbank Centre Artistic Director
Where to begin? I was utterly fascinated by every single person in the audience. I sat in audiences made up of every age, race and character. But why a death festival? Lemn Sissay, Associate Artist at the South Bank Centre, started to answer that question for me by reciting some of his poems. Invisible Kisses raised enormous applause and was the one that really touched me. He asked all of us why we don't celebrate crying and where do we go to cry? Jude Kelly set the tone of the weekend by sharing the loss of her son to cot death, her openess was admirable and I really believed her when she talked about why she wanted to curate a festival of death in the first place.
What's the one thing you'll do before you die? People shared their new year's resolutions, pledges and life-long dreams on a giant chalkboard as part of an on-going international project by artist Candy Chang. This was so simple yet so effective. I loved coming in on the Sunday to see it blank again and watch it filling up over the day. I was amazed by the range of statements on it - everything from 'become a farmer' to 'loose weight'. This is a classic example of a what Snook call "generative design techniques" that are used to connect, innovate, make, tell and share. Generative tools must be useful and usable for all types of people and it doesn't get much simpler than a blackboard. Tools like this provide a design language for everyone, designers as well as non-designers, to provoke imagination, stimulate ideas and stir emotions and Candy Chang is superb at creating them on a large scale.
Sam Winston created a pop-up registry office, commemorating the quarter of a million people who are born and die in the space of 12 hours around the world. I drew circles to represent my loved ones and register their names in writing. The reason this worked so well was the fact that unlike the blackboard it didn't really have any emotions attached to it. I read a whole wall of names, but they were just names with no messages or personal anecdotes and that made it work. I liked that they focused on birth as well as death. Although projects similar to this sometimes feel a little self indulgent this one felt it was in the right place at the right time.
I went along to a death cafe, described as a "good old heart to heart and a nice slice of cake". By a chance twitter meeting I discovered one of the girls who was sitting across wrote a detailed post about the experience ( we were advised the session was confidential but the post does give you a feel for what it was like ) I was intrigued by the funeral director who spends his time taking photographs of funeral shop fronts as they are so out-dated and in-humane. I think the concept of death cafe is brilliant and the idea of a pop up death cafe lends itself well to Start Up Street Stirling.
"Overall, the discussion was disjointed yet eye-opening. Even with my limited experience of death and loss I found it fascinating. Understandably, I don’t think it’s a subject most people want to dwell on all the time and I can imagine people thinking that it’s a strange way to spend an afternoon. However, in a forum such as this and made cheerier with tea and cake, there is no reason why we shouldn’t be more open and progressive about discussing a universal subject which remains something of a taboo in our society. Death Cafe has plans to branch out from their Hackney home and encourages people to hold their own meetings. So if you ever get the opportunity to attend one of these dark tea parties, I urge you to give it a try. You’ll be almost guaranteed to meet a weird and wonderful selection of people and it’ll certainly give you food for thought."
'Gone but not erased: Digital Death' was led by PhD student Stacey Pitsillides, she talked to us about what happens to our data after we die. She is also involved in Digital Death Days - which I'm interested in too. I must admit I was disappointed in this session as a lot of questions were posed but no answers or alternative solutions were shown. I follow Stacey online and didn't discover anything I didn't know already but I think the questions she is asking are highly relevant. For example, do I need a will for my digital self ? Will all funeral homes follow the example of Conley Funeral Homes in Ireland who live stream funerals for relatives who can't be there in person? Of course my data is part of my digital personality so I wonder how my family and ( offline ) friends would know who I love and respect in my online world? In the past when someone died their relatives sort out their home and all their belongings, now the same thing has to happen to our laptops and our i-phones? It's a fascinating area and it looks like the place to be connected to around all this stuff is Digital Beyond . I wonder if Facebook and Twitter are thinking about formulating death policies?
Meghan O'Rourke talked to an audience about her memoir 'The Long Goodbye' which is a profound exploration of the nature of grieving. She wrote the book after her mother died from cancer at 55. I am in awe of her story and her openness. She talked about grief in a way I have never read about or heard before - so real and raw. The reality is that we don't know how to behave when someone dies - no-one shows us or tells us - it is the one experience that unifies us and such an opportunity for connection - is a sympathy card the best we can do? Meghan talked about the work of Kevin Young and shared beautiful snippets of poetry that helped her face her grief. Isn't it curious that our society is somewhat comfortable with mass grieving for people we don't personally know but we find it so difficult to be open with bereaved people we do know. Meghan introduced me to the concept of anticipatory grief - something that happens when you are told a loved one only as a certain time to live. This also happens when loved ones are diagnosed with long term conditions as their families grieve the person they were before the disease.
Over one million people die by suicide every year, and there are an estimated 15 to 20 million attempted suicides every year worldwide. I went along to "Suicide - not waving or drowning" to listen to a panel of experts talk about the causes of suicide, the effects of suicide spots on local communities and how different cultures and religions view suicide. Film maker Jez Lewis showed us his film 'Shed your tears and walk away' and I was shocked to learn that the police and the NHS boycotted the showing of the film in the local area. I have read about the idea of suicide becoming infectious in The Tipping Point but watching this video reinforced the fact that the more people you know who have committed suicide the more it becomes an option - it becomes the norm. Statistics really matter when it comes to suicide mainly because they don't reflect the truth - five people on Jez's street had committed suicide yet the statictis didn't show anything abnormal. Also, statistics don't break down suicide by race or ethnicity which is important when 75% of those who commit suicide are men. The language around suicide is also topical because people find the word 'committed' offensive.
Rosetta Life presented a series of short films made with people with life-threatening illnesses about the things that matter most ; stories of cancer, self discovery and truth that go to the heart of pallIative care. They showed a wonderful film of a lady dancing with the hands of a man with a neurological disease. He told the camera "Movement keeps me in relationship” - there was something so powerful about these films around the intimacy of touch. It seems at the end of your life touch becomes a clinical thing but touch is so important. Touch and intimacy in health is an area I want to know more about as I think it could add so much value yet we shy away from it - even when we are healthy! I am looking forward to the book Cassie Robinson is curating,due to be published in Spring of this year, with 14 authors, discussing the practice and experience of intimacy and vulnerability in different aspects of our lives, and how empathy scales in public services. Death is surely one of the most intimate experiences and yet often happens in a clinical situation. We were shown an incredible film commissioned by Labour peer and political strategist Lord Philip Gould, who died in November 2011. There was a part of me that watched this thinking of the people who could never afford to have a film made or a story written about them before they die - yet so many probably could if they were shown how easy it was using flip cams, wordpress and the like.
This event was most definitely one of a kind. I met some fantastic people such as Dr John Troy from the Centre of Death and Society at The University of Bath , chaps from the service Tell Us Once, ladies from The Samaritans and the folks from Dying Matters. It was great to meet people who were enthusiastic and keen to listen to my ideas and share their stories and experiences.
I can't wait to see what The SouthBank Centre are going to do next in the space and I really hope they step up to the mark in terms of doing something really worthwhile and meaningful. Jude Kelly shared a little of the feedback she had got so far - next time people want to talk about survivors guilt and accidental murder ( of course the latter evoked a reaction ) maybe by then someone will have developed a 'Kill My Facebook' app or death will have become a disease that is curable.
To give you an insight into the scale of the conversation, here are some figures from #deathfest.
"500 tweets generated 829,478 impressions, reaching an audience of 143,340 followers within the past 24 hours"
I can say with absolute confidence the Death Festival has made me think differently and taught me things about the world and myself. Now I feel it is my responsibility to share my experience with all of you and I want you all to ask yourself two questions:
1: What do you want done with your body when you die?
2: Have you told your next of kin?
Asking these questions can open us up to really human and loving conversation.
Snook are working with Cassie Robinson to determine how we go about making a difference in this space. This weekend's conversations confirmed our thoughts around the massive need for people-centered thinking around end of life services. There are several areas in particular such as the transition between paediatric to adult care, the learning about death in education and the absolute basic need for practical information. There are also issues and problems around the role of intimacy in health and and how services are joined up, after all there is no shared languages or rituals. And of course it isn't all about services or design, but the fundamental human nature of it and how we share that as a culture, letting go and making room for new.
The one theme that cropped up time and time again for me over this weekend was storytelling. The anecdotes tell the truth in suicide - statistics and numbers don't tell the truth because we learn through stories. Every single thing death throws at you there is a story somewhere proving you can do it. There are stories about making or doing - where a 93 year old train driver tells you his life lesson is to fight for what you believe in.
We need to find a relaxed way to talk about the things that unite us. What about the relationship the media has with death? The way the Hebden Bridge suicides were reported was simple not acceptable! Designers might not think of themselves as a storytellers, but in many ways, they are. The success of a designers work is dependent upon how well we tell the story and narrative of our process to the world and this is just one example of where I think the skills of designers link up with this space. Are death services seen as public services? it would appear the answer is no - they are seen has either charitable or money-making with little in between.
Do you know people doing good work in this space? Do you have a story you would like to share? Do you want to join us in looking at death with curiosity? Send me an email at lauren (at) wearesnook (dot) com
This conference was originally a computer conference for designers and illustrators, it has gradually changed over the years. Today, the conference aims to increase the understanding of visual communications and the role it plays in society. I am excited these guys are keen to explore Service Design at such an event.
Keetra Dean Dixon was first up, she calls herself an Experiential Choreographer and is the brains behind the fabulous hugging wall which I have experienced as a hugger and a huggee. Keetra challenges herself with 'one-a-day' projects which is something I attempted many times at University but never seemed to have the discipline for. I like the idea of pushing yourself to make something in 24hours and then share it. Listening to Keetra reminds me very much of my ambitions when I was at high school - I wanted to design products that would bring surprise and delight to people's everyday. I must be honest and say that now I find this kind of work fairly self-indulgent. But it works and it's beautiful and there will always be a place for it.
Marius Arnesen then talked about his journey of making a documentary about the Norwegian Army in Afghanistan. His talk was mainly made up of film footage and I will be honest and say it was very scary and shook me up a little. I am grateful for his bravery to show such footage to an audience mainly made up of traditional designers.
He talked about the reality of war. The fact is it's not all action - it's 99% eating, sleeping and waiting. I sensed from the audience that the link between this talk and design wasn't clear. For me, the way Marius talked about going into this situation and having to become friends with the soldiers first echoed the way we design. It's about real human to human trust and Maurice's job is to get close to people.
Robert L. Peters shared many quotes that inspire him. One that stuck with me was the fact that 85% of what we know today comes through our eyes. For me, this reinforces the reality that designers see the world differently and can make thoughts, ideas and visions visible. I would have liked to see examples of what Robert has achieved by following quotes such as 'think sideways' and 'aim high' and I must be honest and say that I don't think design is responsible for 'creating the future world our children will live in' . I think design is part of the solution, but many other fields and disciplines have a role to play.
It was then my turn to take to the stage and I have never before received such a spectacular introduction. Check out the video below starring Bård Brænde.
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/30925367 w=580&h=435]
I talked about Snook and our vision for transforming the way public services are designed and delivered in Scotland. From conversations I've had with the organisers I know that socially motivated Service Design is very new in Norway . Thank you to everyone who talked to me afterwards and shared their inspirations and ideas with me following my talk.