On 12 January, twelve researchers from the Interactive Technologies Institute at Tecnico Lisbon met to use the sustainability cards to reflect on their past and future work. Faculty members, PostDocs, and PhD students came from diverse backgrounds, including fine art, multimedia art, digital media, microbiology, physics, sustainable design, animation, communication design, and data visualisation.
We started our session by sharing our personal definitions of sustainability. For many participants, aligned with the Brundtland report, sustainability is grounded in the now (meeting the needs of the present) while being future oriented (not compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs). This is going back to the roots of the word “sustainability”, the ability to sustain something. Closely connected to this is the use of resources, as we need to be aware of the consequences of resource extraction, limit it and as much as possible reuse resources in a circular way. Sustainability has also a strong element of care, if doing less harm to both other humans and the more-than-human world. It is about the recognition that all life on Earth is interconnected and interdependent. As such, sustainability is also not about efficiency. It is about slowing down, wandering off a linear path. Finally, the term sustainability can also mean nothing (and everything), it can be a label attached to harmful practices that continue the status quo.
After this warm-up round, participants split into four groups of three. Each group received their own deck of sustainability reflection cards. They first browsed the cards and selected a subset of cards that somehow spoke to them. As most participants had different research interests, this exercise was also about finding common ground as a group. Next, they chose one of the below templates to map their cards.
Each group labelled the template depending on how they wanted to categorise the cards. They attached post-it notes with further explanations. Afterwards, each group presented their map in turn.
Group 1 chose the circular template. In the centre they put cards that to them represented the main goal. They focused on political aspects of sustainability, as it reminds them of the role of researchers to change which and how policies are made. In the circle around that, they put “blocker” cards, and in the widest circle they put “how to” cards to unblock the blocks to achieve the main goal. For example, they suggest engaging with communities to make participation and collaboration between researchers and politicians possible. Some cards were difficult to place, such as “ownership of technology”, as it can be a “how to” if it enables community ownership, but it could also be blocker if ownership is centralised by researchers, corporations, or governments.
Group 2 used the circular template to map how much their research interests overlap. First, each group member picked one domain (they picked ecology, technology, and culture) and selected cards from that domain individually. Each then in turn showed their cards to the other two, who shared which resonated with them. The shared cards were placed on the circular template, in the centre cards where there is strong overlap, while cards with only small overlaps were put at the periphery. They suggested that this process could be useful for research groups to find a shared focus when they develop new research projects.
Group 3 also started by each group member selecting cards individually, from any domain. They then put the cards together and agreed on a final selection. They choose the Venn diagram template to map to look at the needs of the present generation, the needs of future generations, and where they overlap. They chose a significant number of cards from the culture domain (red), and centred the card about respecting traditions and positive visions for the future. In their reflection about the process, they clarified that most cards relate to both present and future, but that some are more future oriented than others. The resulting diagram, which shows an overhang of cards in the present, also highlighted that a lot of action needs to take place now and cannot wait.
Group 4 again picked cards individually first. Then they discussed what is common in their work and agreed that it is to “question and redefine current practices”. They then wrote post-it notes to synthesise two or more cards. They placed the cards on a spiral to signify that you can move through these aspects from the inside to the outside, for example to move from mutual learning to changes in consumption and business, to the wider economy, to habitats and social benefits, to social justice and politics. Equally, you could look at the spiral from the outwards inwards, as the bigger aspects encompass the smaller ones.
As a last activity, each participant used the template below to set a sustainability goal and a plan on how to reach that goal. The goal could be one of the cards or something freely chosen. They then had to think about steps needed to reach that goal and the timeframe in which they want to reach the goal. This was for participants to take home and be accountable to themselves. These personal accountability plans included:
Finish a toolkit for community-led design
Help people to develop a deeper understanding of more-than-human world
Community activities combining art and science (e.g. community labs, maker spaces)
Use Spatial Augmented Reality to communicate ethical principles of sustainability
Research support sustainable consumption behaviours
Develop a community mapping toolkit
Develop Nature-based technology solutions
Look at own research through the lens of wellbeing for gender and generations
Develop an educational format for ocean and digital literacy
Reduce energy consumption in design processes
Support mutual learning among creative practitioners through a sense of interdependence