“Designing without borders”

Does segregation exist in Malmö? And how can it be reduced? These were the questions four students, Simon, Debasmita, Lorenz, and JaeHee asked themselves when collaborating with Listeners Without Borders, a non-profit organization that seeks to bring people together through conversation and listening in a way that empowers people. For the course of Codesign: design participation and democracy the group elaborated on the idea of creating a digital space that could address and counter the issues of segregation.

The four students participating in a constructive listening workshop

By involving international and Swedish students, as well as various people from Listeners Without Borders as participants during their co-creative workshops, the group ended up with various creative digital possibilities that would be by the users as well as for the users.

“Maybe a digital platform could be what brings the organization to broader and more democratic solution, making it possible for all voices to be heard and leaving the design for the users once the tools have been developed.” (Simon)

What could a digital space mean for Listeners Without Borders? This was the question the group asked themselves before jumping too far ahead and designing ‘just another app or platform’. The students first met with Fredrik Eklof, the founder of Listeners Without Borders, and also actively participated within an introduction to constructive listening, in order to get a better grasp of the visions and philosophy of the organization they would be collaborating with.

Discovering existing ideas about segregation with the student housing

“One of the things we were always mindful about was to make our project a bottom-up approach by actively seeking and involving the participants in the process which was especially a challenge for us who chose to use an organization with a powerful leader as a starting point.” (Debasmita)

The next step was to find a way to discover the existing ideas about segregation within Malmö together with the student housing of Celsiusgården. Bringing the students together proved to be more challenging than they thought, so they decided to organize a ‘three-phased workshop’ or ‘future format’ workshop for the various students living at the student housing.                                                                                       By first coming together, thinking together, and writing together about the different problems and issues that were related to the topic of segregation, the participants came up with five different categories on which to discuss further: language, status quo, socializing, cultural diversity and physical surroundings.                                                                                               The next phase was to create a ‘utopian scenario’ that could solve these problems at hand. The participants chose one of the categories to work with, and this led to the creation of very interesting ideas such as having mixed student floors within the student houses.                                             In the last phase of their workshop, the group asked the students to convert their utopian ideas into more realistic ideas. This led to interesting conversations about having common events for international and Swedish students, and by this, addressing segregation within the student houses.

“Ultimately we realized our contribution to the organization was not the ideas that emerged in the last workshop, but the workshop format itself. Which could be used to generate more ideas from varied voices which could then hopefully materialize into action plans initiated by the organization itself.” (Debasmita)

To give the idea of a digital space form, the group decided to hold another workshop, this time with Fredrik and the people of Listeners Without Borders, to actively explore the digital possibilities together. The group decided to use the same format again in order to let the participants find their own creative space to work in. By this, the participants could think as widely and unusual as possible.                                                                               Again, using this format led to the establishment of various bold ideas, which ranged from having ‘mind-reading to overcome language barriers’, to creating perfectly non segregated housing societies, all the way to apps for refugees and newcomers to understand Swedish bills that come through their doors.                                                                                             Finally, the participants were asked to convert their previous utopian ideas into reality by using the possibility of a digital format that could actually implement them. The group was happy to discover that the ideas of the participants weren’t limited to the idea of creating ‘just another application’, but that the ideas were diverse and could be materialized with the aim of countering segregation. One of the ideas that was discussed and presented was a function in Facebook that could notify its users when there is not enough diversity in their friend circles, and as a result suggests new friends instead.

When reflecting on their project, the group realized that their most important contribution to the organization was that they had given the organization and its people an innovative workshop format that was to be used in order to generate ideas with the involvement of diverse participants, in order that they could possibly implement these ideas in the future.

By Tim Verhoeven, student of the K3 master program Media & Communication Studies at Malmö University. This article is part of a series of publications by Malmö University DESIS Lab, with the aim of showcasing the various projects of K3 students about design, sustainability and social innovation.