Phase 1: In-Person Meeting
During an internal meeting, we experienced a feeling of process-paralysis. Leaving the small dark room to think outside helped us to explore how unconscious, emotional and non-verbal influences allowed us to think differently.
How might elements of your sensorial experience influence our behaviors, emotions and attention? How does media (or tools) impact our ability to sense broader connection? Is there a loss of human instinct through a notion of disconnectedness between cognition and behaviour?
A lot of these initial questions have led to future experiments and this very first personal experience fostered a continuous process of design-led research, which will be described in the following. Our team’s diversity of professional backgrounds in Anthropology + Film, Neuroscience + Fashion, and Communications + Design allowed us to design an ecosystem of methodological approaches.
It all started in collaboration with the administration of the Art, Media Technology Department (AMT) at a university. One member of our group previously worked with a person who is attending the weekly meetings, in which the administrators of the programs at AMT are sharing operational informations, discussing strategies and are planning events. We were told the meetings are not very engaging, feel very time consuming and are less effective towards building actionable tasks. The first qualitative interview confirmed on the general purpose of the meeting and the general mood of the meeting, that it is traditional and routine.
Conscious of the biases and the effects on group dynamics we might bring to the table by sitting in, we designed a process, which removed ourselves as much as possible from the research phase, to be able to understand the conditions of the meeting as uninfluenced as possible. We did so in using video and sound observations, by hiding two cameras and one external microphone in the room. We set it up 1 hour before the meeting started, mentioned it to the participants and left the site again. As we were interested in the overall group dynamics and reactions of people towards each other, one strategic placement of the first camera was on the ceiling of the room, orthogonal to the table. The second camera got placed slightly on top of a monitor, next to the already existing conference call webcam, on the short side of the room. This view allowed the recording of facial expressions, which we weren't able to capture with the birds eye view. It also served as backup, if one would have stopped working.
After gathering the data and putting the sound and the video together we analysed the video by every 10 seconds and noted observations in a evaluation chart (spreadsheet) we created beforehand. We observed each member individually and measured things like laughter of the individuals, how many times they used their water bottles, how many times the used any sort of technology (like laptop, smartphone or calendar), how many times people were commenting (the amount of time people spoke), how many times people got excited as a group, etc.
What we found was that there is a lack of active engagement between each other, besides the manager, who was also facilitating the meeting. The manager took up the most physical space, as she was also the only one gesturing while talking. The manager was constantly surveying while others look on their screens. Generally speaking we observed non-verbality by the team members, lack of interpersonal interaction, unconscious behaviour towards fidgeting.
To further understand the observations, we animated a video by ourselves to track the usage of technology (laptop or smartphones) and the eyesight of the manager. This first observations and the synthesis of the recordings tremendously helped us to understand the current state of the meeting, to visualize the data and to making it accessible for further conversations.
Follow up Interviews
The next step was to hold interview with each participant individually, to further illuminate assumptions about the current state of the meetings by the administrators, but also to extend our understanding of what is at stake, to then be able to interfere at some future moment in the process. In the semi structured interviews our catalog of questions were focusing on the purpose of the meeting, the possible barriers preventing the achievement of the purpose, positives of what was working, and an ideal state of the meetings. We also introduced a participatory element, where each interviewee had to draw the connections between each member of the meetings. By overlaying all the responses to a visual summary and imagery (picture on the right), further assumptions about the group dynamics were visualized and proven as true. Very broadly spoken, some people are better connected than others. Showing the bounds and relationships people have to each other (the thicker the line the stronger), this graph is reproducing the duration of employment AMT and the professional roles they have.
While analyzing the responses of the semi-structured interviews, we focused on the four areas described previously: purpose, barriers, positives, idealistically.
The first round showed that “sharing” was more mentioned and therefore more important than “efficiency” as the purpose of the meeting, participation was described as ideal state but was only mentioned one time in the category of barriers, and barriers were identified as structure, technology, individual lack of focus and
fear of asking questions. The insight we gained was sharing is more important than efficiency in this meeting.
The second phase of analysis revealed element that weren’t mentioned as barriers. To those counted: lack of equality of speech time, lack of connection, usage of technology (only mentioned once). This led to the insight that although participation and sharing is a major purpose, there aren’t many barriers mentioned indicating that this isn’t happening.
The third time processing the responses made clear that efficiency was only mentioned twice, which led to the insight that it is not the general consensus of the team that this is the purpose of the meeting, which was one of our previous assumptions. Group connection or “sharing” is the purpose or ideal state of the meeting.
Finally, the fourth and last round of synthesis of the interviews (2x2 below) showed two major insights: Data points that were both “group” (right) and “professional” (bottom) were negative. Human “wisdom” and knowledge, also described as non-tool skills were in the ideal and purpose. Few were personal, intimate, and individual. The insight is: We think personal, intimate, and individual interactions lead to positive group experience and cohesiveness. This may have been an assumption at that time, but further research and observations through videos showed that personal stories led to group laughter and therefore fostered positive group dynamics.
The main insight of the first meeting is the disconnect of participation as ideal and the lack of describing it als barrier towards the engagement. The participation in the first meeting was extremely unbalanced.
Follow up Interviews
A participatory element, where each interviewee had to draw the connections between each member of the meetings helped us to prove assumptions about the group dynamics were visualized and proven as wrong. Very broadly speaking, some people are better connected than others. Showing the relationships people have to each other (the thicker the line the stronger), this graph is citing the duration of employment and the professional roles they have.
We focused on the four areas described previously: purpose, barriers, positives, ideals. The main insight of the first meeting is the disconnect of participation as ideal and the lack of describing it als barrier towards the engagement. The participation in the first meeting was extremely unbalanced.
“Most people don’t want to know they’re interconnected. Acknowledging interconnectedness is too much of a burden. It requires that we take responsibility for noticing how we affect other people, that we realize how our behaviors and choices impact others, even at a distance.”Sarah Shulman: “Gentrification Of The Mind”
Our new line of inquiry asked: What are the unconscious, ambient ways in which design supports this distance/dishonesty/lack of presence? What are the invisible rules that govern this meeting? How might we adjust the senses to unconsciously adjust the way we relate to each other? How might we introduce an auto-ethnographic tool to allow self-reflection and participation to explore a shared personal experience and connect it to the wider context of cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings.
Meeting 2 (with intervention)
Could something that physically connects also emotionally connect the participants of the meeting? We decided to keep this simple, exploring a literal connection by connecting soft rubber bands, knotting them together and connecting the wrists of each participant to the larger string. Each participant could feel the gentle actions of the others.
The result was an increase in gestures of each individual, more eye contact, more general arousal and laughter. Laughter was louder and in comparison to the first meeting, the manager didn’t make large gestures, what could be called a “leveling” effect. A quantitative analysis revealed:
- Increase of laughter 42 times
- 35 times more verbal exchanges and personal stories
- Moments of collective joy raised to 5 times