A little over a year ago, I received funding from AIGA to go to India. Thanks to the Pursuit Fund, I planned to travel to Pune following graduation to teach design in communities. Working with one of my professors, I submitted course syllabi to several colleges. Three months later, I unfortunately received notice that short international teaching stints were unavailable.
Not discouraged, I submitted an abstract to the 2013 Designing Design Education for India conference in March. While my proposal was accepted, I could not travel the week of the event due to academic commitments. I learned two really important things from my attempts to go to India. First, I didn’t have to go halfway across the world to make a difference in a community. Second, I wanted to make sure my Pursuit Fund could have the highest impact in places where I could have time to build long term relationships. Often in social design causes, it takes longer than a few weeks to begin to understand and empathize with people and their issues. Keeping these takeaways in mind, I reinvented my pursuit for the third time.
I am excited to share my new proposal, focused on communities in two of my favorite cities: Raleigh, North Carolina and Austin, Texas. Initially a workshop format, my project aims to bring people together to have conversations about local issues.
What led me to create my pursuit?
The Summer after my first year of graduate school, I had my first taste of civic participation. Civic participation means many things. Generally speaking, civic participation involves getting engaged with the people and places around you to make some kind of difference. From helping plant seeds at a community garden to handing out voting flyers on a college campus, you contribute to your neighborhood, the city and the world beyond your front doorstep.
While I participated in interest groups and nonprofit organizations, CityCamp NC was my first civic hack-a-thon/un-conference. For designers interested in solving local issues, CityCamp is a 72-hour adrenaline rush. Imagine neighbors, students, city officials and local business owners all in the same room, pitching ideas for where technology can make an impact to Raleigh citizens. Then, picture yourself sitting next to the mayor trying to turn great ideas into tools for the city. I highlight CityCamp is because my participation in the event influenced and eventually shifted my Pursuit Fund goals. I discovered three critical insights from CityCamp.
- Civic participation should be much higher than it is today = (get people there)
- Getting involved is quite easy, staying involved is not = (get people excited)
- Share great ideas with strangers, early and often = (get people talking and creating)
Future: How the project will take shape
The first issue will look at identifying local food systems and their impact on neighborhoods. Easily put, food systems address the entire process of how food makes it to our mouths. One example might describe how people access food: do neighbors grow their own food in their backyard, shop at the grocery store or eat fast food from the dollar menu every day? One interesting fact is that families who participate in community gardening are able to offset typically 30 to 40 percent of their produce needs by eating food grown in their own gardens.*
One of the most fun aspects of the project is that people share food at the table while participating in a rapid-fire session of activities. For example, one activity asks people to engage in creative thinking to make a collage or sculpture that represents the way someone would solve a problem. For example, someone may make a sculpture that shows how they could get fresh food in their neighborhood.
The objective will be to work with local organizations like Community Food Lab to gather feedback from the workshop and make useful tools for anyone from citizens to government officials. The goal is that hyper local luncheons and dinners can promote an alternative way to be civically engaged and help solve issues in a meaningful way. Stay tuned to my Pursuit Fund blogging for more project details!
Tweet me @hayleychughes or email me if you are interested in participating in my project! Keep checking out AIGA Raleigh for more progress, details and updates.