Tuesday, September 25

Mobile workshop

I ran two workshops at the PTC camp to explore how we might use mobile technologies in research.

The first was intended to help participants explore the functionality of the mobile phone and to understand how personal and local mobile phone use is. This understanding should help to inform the design of participatory research methods involving mobile phones. For this process I borrowed a workshop idea from my friend Dirk Slater – which involved asking participants firstly what kind of phone they used, and secondly what they used their phone for. I also asked them to reflect on the uses their research participants might make of the phone.

The responses were fascinating – covering uses of the phone from Hungarian bird identification apps to Irish farmers sending each other pictures of their tractors. Hungarian group members also reported using a local instant messaging service that I hadn’t heard of.

The workshop also provided a space for participants to air their concerns about the privacy and security issues around mobile phone use and also the environmental and human rights issues caused by the Coltan industry (the mineral used in mobile phone production) which were raised in a film ‘Blood in the Mobile’.

The diversity of devices used by those present in the room and the range of uses that were made of them was a nice way to get people thinking as the week went along about how we might use mobiles in the various participatory processes we explored. It also illustrated how complex the mobile platform is – we had a discussion about the many different operating systems used by mobile phones, and how challenging it is to design apps that will work on more than one platform.

The second workshop aimed to exploit three functionalities of mobile phones – even very basic models.
  • The camera
  • SMS
  • Bluetooth for media sharing

I gave participants 20 minutes to create a three frame ‘storyboard’ for a horror film using the phone camera and write captions in less than 160 characters. The horror filme idea came out of a comment someone had made about the workshop venue – a disused holiday camp – being the ideal setting for a horror film. I had intended this to be a solo exercise but by this stage in the week we were really in the groove of participatory working and as well as the solo shots, a couple of groups got together to create these pictures.

At the end of the workshop we shared the pictures via Bluetooth and I made a Powerpoint presentation so we could view them together. The results were great and – judging by the level of hilarity – the process was very enjoyable.

You can view a PDF of the presentation.

Reflecting on these activities several things came to mind;
  •  Taking pictures with a mobile phone is very accessible – most of us with phones use the camera at some point – so there wasn’t any nervousness about unfamiliar kit or technological processes
  • The limitations of the format – short time frame, 160 character limit, small device – can be liberating as they force people to ‘just get on with it’
  • This process could definitely work as part of one of the other participatory methods we experimented with at the camp.

     Tool Title   Mobile phone ‘storyboarding’
     Description   Use the mobile phone camera to create a short ‘storyboard’ of a popular genre (such as a horror film) or a narrative that relates to the participants (such as a participatory drama). Create captions for the story in 160 characters or less (SMS limits). Share the media via Bluetooth or Wireless. Can then present them in format such as Powerpoint or PDF.
         Accessible – most people have a mobile phone and even basic phones have a camera
         Quick – can be a means to get good, presentable results fast.
        Portable – doesn’t require much kit, can be shot anywhere
        The storyboarding process in and of itself could be a part of a larger project or intervention, e.g. for drafting a bigger story.
     Can be done individually or as a group.
·      Needs some pre-planning in order to get the Bluetooth sharing working properly and safely (making sure people deactivate Bluetooth afterwards)
·      If you are doing it in a group it helps to have good group working processes in place.

    This was the first time we’d tried this technique – would be great to see how we can use this technique as part of other participatory creation processes.

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