Post 8 – The problem space and possible design responses

Rekha Dhanaram

Continually throughout this subject I’ve tried to embrace the idea of ‘trusting the process’. However at times it’s quite hard to understand whether you’ve explored the issue in detail or too broadly. This is why I found this week’s task particularly useful. I’ve been constantly trying to figure out my focus and have been finding it hard with the mapping exercises. Whilst I’ve tried to ‘trust the process’ I’ve been stuck between the state of gaining more knowledge but losing a clear objective. Hence defining the problem space and working on individual responses in a group setting was very valuable.

Defining the problem statement

Who does the problem effect? Be specific.

The problem affects anyone in the countries with a situational context that forces individuals to flee and furthermore the countries they flee too. Between these two juxtaposing contexts the stakeholders are the asylum seekers and refugees, the government and the public to give a very brief outline. However the issue is not confined to these nations as it affects the international context as it is a problem pertaining to very core human needs, something international binding bodies continuously seek to define and act on.

What are the boundaries of the problem?

Some of the boundaries around this problem can be categorised as structural on an institutional level. This includes:
– Policy, legislation and motivation through the government
– International obligations through binding agreements on the UN Refugee Convention
– International agreements with other countries, particularly concerning offshore processing

Additionally there are boundaries presented by a lack of understanding. These include:
– Media representation of Refugees
– Perception of Refugees
– Censorship

Listing this raised this question on why there are boundaries. Could this be changed? or will there always be boundaries? Or is it the removal of boundaries that drive our desire for change?

When does the problem occur?

Simply put the problem occurs when there is a threat in a country that prevents people from having a good quality of life. However the refugee and asylum seeker journey is a long one, hence various problems occur at different stages. Is the threat forcing them to flee where the problem starts or is it the denial of entering another country where the problem starts?

Why is this important?

At the core this issue concerns the life of humans and their ability to satisfy innate needs. Hence it’s important as it concerns a matter of ethics around humanity. However it is also important as it affects a large number of people from the asylum seeker and refugee community, to the local community to the international community. Furthermore this problem is one that has happened in the past and is very likely to happen in the future if not for the same reason, for others. Thus dealing with it now is a direct influencer of how we would go about in the future. As such more needs to be done to address this issue.

What would happen if the problem is solved?

This question has a lot of scope for answers from eradicating offshore detention to becoming a more informed and welcoming community to ensuring government voting and personal motivations don’t affect policy making. However all these potential solutions focus on one aspect.

Is it too much to ask for a bigger solution?

Eradicating the threat to people’s quality of life that initially forces them to seek asylum is another problem space of its own. Whilst it deals with asylum seekers and refugees it is in a way detached as the threat is different for every instance. Rather than focusing on the origins of the threat if we looked at the issue of displacement and answering the desire of seeking a good quality of life in a new setting we are presented with another big problem. In regards to this, whilst it may be quite far fetched, the idea of borders being removed could present and ideal solution. Utilising the research methodology of ‘heaven and hell’, could ‘hell’ be the present situation and ‘heaven’ be this idea of no borders, meaning no laws prohibiting entry, no perceptions that view others as outsiders?

Problem statement

The previous set of questions really helped articulate my thoughts. However I found it difficult to summarise the problem in one line. Rather my problem statement is made of multiple facets that I found integral to conveying my understanding.

My problem statement(s)

  • Representation of Refugees- The refugee story remains largely hidden and untold.
  • The Refugee experience -in the stages of fleeing (distress and poor conditions), processing (mental and physical health) and resettling (the “acculturation gap” (Buki, Ma, Strom, & Strom, 2003))
  • Individuals are disengaged with the issue either willingly or unwillingly.
  • Navigating through information provided becomes difficult as there are underlying motivations, bias and information we are unaware of.
  • The language around refugees and asylum seekers conveys the inherent bias and lack of education.

Proposal possibilities:

With 18-24 year olds as my target audience I found it useful to define key words that would describe the aim of my design intervention. 

Engage in an interesting way. Challenge perceptions. Enable conversation. Make change accessible.

These key words and phrases were drawn from how I wish to respond to the aforementioned problem statements. They also provide a framework against which I can continuously reflect on my design.

I know that my problem statements are quite broad in tackling the issue however I felt I needed to acknowledge all the insights I found important. Yet when coming up with my design proposal I found it more appropriate to focus on one area in depth. As such I came up with the following ideas as possible proposals.

Exploring censorship

In response to the Border Force Act , I want to create an intervention that highlights the effects of censorship. Due to the increased interconnectedness of people through social media and digital platforms, we find ourselves over saturated with news. My primary research earlier on in this subject revealed how the 18-24 year old age group deals with this over saturation. Feelings of helplessness and being overwhelmed can often result in them avoiding the news (avoid clicking on links). Conversely the saturation can also see them consume a lot of information while not being sure on how to process and navigate through this space.

Alongside these findings I became interested in the creative form of blackout poetry. Blackout poetry is the alteration of every day text through ‘blacking out’ certain words and highlighting others to create a poem. The end result is often devoid of the original text and can result in interesting compositions. Drawing on this, I liked the idea of exploring black out poetry in two discourses of media and refugees. It would be a tool to highlight an opposite narrative.

I would like this to be an interactive design. As such, I propose that it would be incorporated in a public setting. I’ve been looking into public means of communication and think that this would work well in a bill board or some form of large screen interaction. People would be able to interact with the blackout poetry to reveal the original article and various poems (more so dialogues of refugees) and could even perhaps submit their own attempt.

Looking at public opinions as a means of receiving news

Exploring data scraping the subject revealed the number of people who voice their opinions on this issue through digital media. It’s quite interesting to see how a sense of autonomy has driven the idea of expressing your views. Whilst the effectiveness of this is subject to debate, I want to highlight that as simple as it may be in this day and age to convey your thoughts, there is a responsibility that comes with it.

Furthermore through personal experiences and once again referring back to my primary research, I find that as much as we are saturated by news, we are saturated by people’s opinion ten fold to this. Thus the question becomes, do people’s opinions have as much weight as the news?

I find that the debate that comes in response to a news really reveals the thoughts of the public, how they process the information and can convey more information to others with a far wider reach. To highlight this I propose a design intervention which works like the mx Overheard section. I want to create an Overheard section for this issue with a collation of people’s online comments and thoughts. it would be interesting to compare this to the articles that prompted their thoughts. I imagine it as a a newspaper spread with the public news on one side and the media news on the other. I do understand that there is a vast array of views to collate and do realise that i need to further work out the logistic and medium for this proposal.

Exploring borders and the physical refugee journey

Drawing on the heaven and hell scenario that arose in our group discussion, I was really interested in the idea of borders and the refugee journey. I believe that conveying the refugee story will build a sense of empathy and understanding amongst the broader public. However I wanted to explore a way to integrate this within a public setting in a seamless way. As such I’ve been looking at way finding as a means of interaction. 

One idea I came up with was the possibility of using interactive street signs to challenge perceptions and convey the refugee journey. Either as a separate installation or one incorporated with existing street signs that mark the refugees distance away from home. This could be a single prompt or could be a touch point for people to learn more about refugees.

I definitely need to consider more details for this project including the information it will convey, further points of contact and the duration of the design.