Designing projects and platforms which #PressforProgress

When I was approached at the end of January about whether it would be possible to celebrate International Women’s Day at gather my response was: “That’s a fantastic idea. Do you know anyone else who might like to help make it happen? Shall we schedule a short co-design session?”

In this post you can find out what took place in the co-design session 3 days ago, ideas emerging since, and how this year’s campaign theme for International Women’s Day resonates with our work in Dudley. To set the scene, below is an overview of what International Women’s Day is, and a fab TED talk from author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to inspire you.

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. International Women’s Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first​ ​March 8​ ​IWD gathering supported by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Prior to this the​ Socialist Party of America, United Kingdom’s Suffragists and Suffragettes, and further groups campaigned for women equality. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organisation specific.​

Co-designing International Women’s Day activities in Dudley

Siobhan invited Marianne and Catherine (plus two toddlers and a baby) to join us at gather on Friday 23 February and we undertook a rapid design process, beginning with gaining empathy by interviewing each other in pairs. We asked:

  • What International Women’s Day or related activities / events have you been to, heard about or organised?
  • What did you like about them?
  • What was your least favourite bit?

Then we dug deeper, forgetting about the activity or event, trying to find out what was important to our partner by digging for stories, feeling and emotions, and asking ‘why?’.

Between us we had participated in a range of International Women’s Day events and related activities, from exhibitions at galleries, to conferences and events with a range of talks, creative content (noteably live music) and practical workshops (such as how to change a car tyre).

Elements which were important to us for anything we design include:

  • Informality.
  • A relaxed feel, with no pressure.
  • Creative content (for example we talked about the beautiful illustrations in Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls).
  • Inspiration.
  • Fluid, with different things to be part of.
  • Creating a space for conversation and sharing stories.
  • Enjoyable.

We agreed to create an invitation for people to co-create a mini-event on the afternoon of Thursday 8 March. We will use the Living Room at gather as a space for conversation and sharing stories, and to make and display art / inspiration. We’ll bring, and invite people to bring, books to show and talk about. We’ll use the coffee shop space to generate a fun feeling, inviting musicians, poets and artists to share relevant work, and gently start conversations with people. We need to think about how we might use the windows and street outside to encourage people to join in.

Because we only had an hour together, this was as far as we got face-to-face. We quickly exchanged numbers and set up a WhatsApp group so that the conversation could continue and we could get an invitation prepared within a few days.

Within 24 hours the concept of a platform called Collective Objective has developed, to support local activities, projects and initiatives which help women and girls find their voice, share their stories, challenge stereotypes, celebrate women’s achievements and inspire each other. If you would like to join this group on WhatsApp to help develop this please just contact me via WhatsApp on 07501 722255.

Join in on 8 March

If you’d like to be part of “Inspired”, an afternoon of family-friendly fun and creative activities in Dudley on International Women’s Day, pop Thursday 8 March, 1pm–3pm in your diary and look out for updates via CoLab Dudley website, Facebook or twitter acocunts. Unable to take part on a weekday? Check out PMT in Birmingham on Saturday 10 March, or let us know about activities in or around Dudley which are marking International Women’s Day and the call to #PressforProgress.

Ways that communities can think, act and be gender inclusive

I’ve since been reflecting on links between this year’s campaign theme for International Women’s Day and our work in Dudley. The campaign theme is #PressforProgress: a strong call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.

The design principles (see below, from Participatory City) and project inspiration we use in CoLab Dudley lead to participatory projects which have gender inclusion (and wider inclusion) embedded.

Thanks to the involvement of women with young children, the Living Room at gather is being co-designed and co-created with children and families in mind. Projects like Crafternoon naturally swell from a regular group of women (plus partners dropping by) over 3 hours on a Wednesday, to almost all day, whole family sessions taking over half of the coffee shop during school holidays. This flexibility and inclusion of all ages, created by the local people who connect through these practical projects helps to facilitate participation of women.

Design Principles for participatory projects from the Illustrated Guide to Participatory City