High resolution mockups as conversation starters

My event on the use of social tools such as blogs or social networks to foster dialogue and collective action around society and citizenship – Cidadania 2.0 – ended yesterday.

It was the 3rd edition and I look at it as my contribution to a better Portugal by showing how citizens, local and national government and NGOs can take advantage of social tools to engage with their communities, raise awareness on important topics and coordinate action. It is also an opportunity to work with smart folks such as Ana Neves and Vitor Silva.

As I look back at this year’s edition, I reflect on the national and international cases we’ve had the privilege to have on stage as, to name just a few:

  • Meu Rio (BR), the project from Purpose that involves citizens into thinking about the challenges Rio de Janeiro is facing;
  • Demo.cratica (PT), a group of young people striving for transparency of the decisions taken in the Portuguese Parliament;
  • PledgeBank (UK) from MySociety, an open source collective action platform;
  • Brickstarter (FIN), a project from the Helsinki Design Lab, supported by the Sitra Fund, to think about the decision making about the future of cities (namely the city of Helsinki).

And Brickstarter is very much the reason I’m writing this post. We first discovered the project via a The Guardian post and when we started investigating it a bit more we ended up seeing what looked like screenshots of the platform they had built to crowdfund and crowdsource the future of cities.

But upon our first call with Bryan Boyer, design lead at Sitra and highly involved in this project, we discovered that that was not the case. What the team behind Brickstarter had done was build high resolution mockups of what could be such a platform, but an online working version of it in fact does not exist.

As Bryan explained during his talk, Brickstarter is not a solution, a platform, but a series of questions about how such a solution or platform could help solve the problems of a city and develop its future. In their view, the work they are doing is starting a conversation on questions not currently being addressed but such a platform should be built and managed by those directly running a city (which means, the city council).

In Bryan’s view, a high resolution mockup serves as a conversation starter and stimulates the type of conversations that really uncover the “dark matters” – those often unspoken problems or barriers – much more than a PowerPoint presentation or another form of document would do because it looks much more real. But at the same time, the time and effort you invest in doing a high resolution mockup is considerably lower than that of actually coding/building a platform.

More time invested in design considerations and understanding real life processes of decision making and action in cities, and less time invested into building something that could actually prove to be inadequate once launched. More time for upfront conversation on dark matters and less time focused on solving platform problems. This sounds like a very useful approach and also one that could be applied to how we look into social tools in the enterprise.

High resolution mockups as conversation starters. What an interesting concept!

PS – I also love the fact that the Helsinki Design Lab team publicly narrates their work on their weeknotes.

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