What ice cream has to do with co-design
Co-design is an integral part of HourSchool’s program services for organizations who want to build peer education programs within their communities. We want to collaborate with ground staff and clients to collaboratively design peer education programs that will meet each community’s unique values and needs. Truly collaborative co-design requires more time and effort because collaboration requires trust and a shared sense of ownership—things that aren’t built overnight. As Ruby mentioned previously, we want to document our experiences and POV on certain topics, and this post’s about one helpful ingredient we’ve found for fostering trust between design teams and the people they’re working with: ice cream.
When I met Carl diSalvo and Thomas Lodato last year at the Interactions11 conference, I had all sorts of questions about how he and his team at Georgia Institute of Technology were engaging with farmers in co-design workshops that would help small farms incorporate robotic technologies into their daily practices. In addition to sharing stories about wrangling logistics for workshops (including one instance when a stubborn, noisy rooster joined the day’s events), they also shared tips about the longer-term relationships that these kinds of co-design engagements necessitated.
My memory may have swapped out a few of the following details, but here’s one of their stories that really stuck with me: Carl and his team had been trying to engage a group of librarians for a different co-design project, and attendance to their official Saturday workshops was spotty. But the thing that helped the project gain traction was ice cream. You see, there was another grad student who would do interviews and observations with the staff on weekdays. Every Thursday, after the work was done, the librarians would go out to get ice cream together at the local farmer’s market, and she ended up tagging along and soon enough became part of their routine. Not only did these “ice cream sessions” help the team build trust and get to know each other outside of planned workshops (therefore increasing interest in the Saturday workshops), they also gave the design team research insights that could never come out of structured interviews.
So around HourSchool HQ, we now use “ice cream sessions” as a code name for the extra time we budget into our projects for when we’re just hanging out and getting to know the people we’re working with. And when HourSchool asked me to help them solidify their program offerings for community organizations, I made sure to formalize co-design and “ice cream sessions” into the roadmap.
At Green Doors, where we’re piloting a peer-education program at one of their housing communities, we’ve been showing up for “ice cream sessions” that have nothing to do with ice cream (yet). We’ve gotten our hands dirty at a bi-monthly gardening class that helps residents grow their vegetable gardens (pictured above). We’ve attended every month’s Resident Council Meeting since we started our partnership—sometimes we talk a bit about HourSchool and upcoming classes, sometimes we pitch in to get chairs set up, sometimes we just listen and hang out with the community. Not only do we know a lot of them by name now, they know who we are and why we’re there. Now, whenever HourSchool shows up in the middle of a weekday for a meeting with the community manager, the residents say, “Hi, Ruby.” People are starting to request classes and want to know, “How do we go to their school?”
“Ice cream sessions” have helped us build a good foundation for a growing partnership.