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CO-CREATING THE AMERICAN FUTURE WORKSHOP

Asking what the [ideal] future holds.

Context

Master's Thesis (MFA in Products of Design).

Project advisors: Allan Chochinov & Andrew Schloss

As part of the design research process for Teambuilding America, I hosted two co-creation workshops to learn what people really want to see in an ideal American future. 

Photography and videography by John Boran, Nick Smith, and myself.

OVERVIEW

I hosted small groups of people for a facilitated discussion about our frustrations with and hopes for America. This was followed by personal, paired, and group ideation around what our ideal futures look like for the country, as well as a conversation about the significance of having a shared vision. Finally, these visions were made real by creating our own American flags and using these as artifacts to consider what the aligning values would need to be for our ideal Americas to exist.

So far, this workshop has been conducted four times, across a variety of age demographics. Two of those workshops were conducted by organizations on their own.

GOALS

Probe feelings on the possibility and necessity of developing a shared vision for the country.

 

Test whether or not a shared vision is possible for a small group.

 

Gather a small sample of aligning values and symbolism needed for ideal futures.

Gain understanding around challenges to thinking beyond the present state of the country.

Gain understanding around the effects of developing a future vision on present perceptions.

Gather a small sample of future visions of the country.

PARTICIPANTS

One of my goals was recruiting for political and social diversity, however this proved challenging. For the first workshop I was able to partner with Make America Dinner Again (MADA), which allowed me to become a host and recruit individuals in the New York City area who were already interested in having these sorts of conversations. Ultimately, the participants ended up being mostly liberal (thank you to our one brave libertarian), but still differed within their left-wing opinions. 

 

During the actual event, I intentionally did not ask participants to self-identify their political beliefs. It only came up when one of the participants asked the group. Participants were surprised to find alignment on possible futures, but also more nuance—participants who discovered that they identified as ideologically congruent were a bit startled when they had to confront the places where they disagreed.

SCHEDULE +

PREPARATION

SCHEDULE OVERVIEW

20 minutes

Arrival, tone-setting, introductions

Go-around: discuss hopes + frustrations for the present

20 minutes

Ideal futures worksheet + paired discussion

30 minutes

Creating flags + group discussion

40 minutes

Debrief discussion

Total time: 2.5 hours

40 minutes

COLLATERAL

In both workshops, the collateral I created for each activity was critical for both getting the results I needed for my research and keeping the event fun and cohesive. Click on the images below to learn more about these visual assets.

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PROPS

Construction paper made it easy for participants to make flags that looked great and photographed well for documentation. I made these DIY flag poles to provide a fun finishing touch and aid photography.

RESPONSES

Before participants created flags, they filled out a worksheet to scaffold their thinking. The worksheet asked them to first characterize present-day America, according to their own experience and interpretation, using the questions “Who? What? When? Where? How? Why?” to guide their thinking. Then, participants answered the same questions while imagining their ideal future versions of the United States of America. 

The responses, some of which are shown on the next page, were fascinating. In particular, participants aligned around who and what they wanted America to be in the future: they advocated for people who involve themselves in the betterment of the country to be accepted as American people and saw a future America that would be economically sound, but without the pressure of being a global economic leader. 

The flags symbolized many different values. However, participants felt that none of the values were necessarily exclusive of the other values.

From left to right:

"We're fractured. The lines shouldn't be so straight and clean."

"I want the flag to stand for our individual liberties."

"We're a billion points of light, but unified in a circle."

"The land is the most important part of America."

"Many different backgrounds, but that makes us American."

From left to right:

"It's 3D... We don't know how many stars are on the other side."

"It's a character map, and it's not perfect. Like us."

"We may be far apart on the circle, but we have a common center."

LEARNINGS

Not everyone was ready to get on board with developing a shared vision for the future. One participant remarked that still having a country despite everyone having different future visions was what made America, well, America. Another participant brought up concern about the possibility of needing to compromise his vision for the future to accommodate someone else’s, particularly if the other person had a differing vision for racial justice. Other participants did express more openness to compromise, but with optimism derived from the fact that within the workshop, no compromise was necessary—no one’s vision for the future was exclusive of anyone else’s.

However, despite trying to invite socially and politically diverse participants, my sample size was fairly small and homogenous. The success of the first two workshops convinced me that the workshop was worthwhile, but the questions within it needed to be asked many more times across the country and across more diverse populations to begin to aggregate a vision from it.

I shared the workshop publicly and made all of the collateral open source. My partner organization Make America Dinner Again (MADA) also helped promote it among the hosts in their network. So far, the workshop has been conducted two more times by two different organizations.

The picture at left shows a group in Denver holding their flag designs. This workshop was hosted by Ben Gray, a member of the MADA Denver chapter. He shared that the workshop prompted participants to think about who is considered "American" today, and who could be in the future.

Back in New York City, Avenues: The World School hosted a version of the workshop for 9th and 10th graders in an elective called Future of Activism. Their workshop led to conversations about ownership and motivation for the future. 

Photo credit: Ben Gray

If you are interested in hosting this workshop, please reach out at hannah@designingupward.org.

GRATITUDE

Thank you to the participants from all of the workshops

Thank you to Tria, Justine, and Make America Dinner Again for your partnership

Thank you to The Future Project for providing space

Thank to Avenues for your enthusiasm

Thank you to Nick Smith and John Boran for production and photography assistance