Post 10: Tapping into public opinion

Molly Grover

Upon explaining my proposal to my colleague Angela and my tutor Simone in class on Thursday, a few pieces of critical feedback began to emerge.

Firstly, Angela noted that whilst collecting petition data from commuters based on geographical location, the proposal was not targeted at the 18-25 year old age group. In light of this, Simone suggested that I reposition the project as site-specific, limited to one or two Sydney train stations dominated by students, e.g. Redfern and Central.

Simone also pointed out that Transport NSW would never allow me to use their Opal systems to create a petition against the Liberal Government’s detention policies, and thus advised that I propose a guerrilla style intervention, in which passionate students are encouraged to use their Opal cards as a form of participatory petition and protest.

Further to this, Angela mentioned that a petition staged continuously and indefinitely would lose its efficacy, as frequent users would lose motivation to repeatedly engage with the action required. Thus, it would be more effective to concentrate the intervention to one day, at peak hour during the morning and evening. This would also reduce the chance of police or transport authorities dismantling the intervention. Angela also mentioned that campaigns should be used in the lead up to the day, to engage and inform students, so that they are given adequate opportunity to decide to participate.

Simone suggested that rather than aiming to manually collect merely the numerical data of the petition, the proposal should aim to capture the data in affective forms. This could take a number of forms, including the pedestrian traffic disruption caused by the event, the sounds made by the Opal cards, the movement of the gates opening and closing, the tapping of hands on the reader, the changing LED display, or the movement of bodies through the gate.

Revised Proposition:

Tapping into public opinion: An experimental petition

Generative / participatory design

Thanks to the pervasiveness of social media in contemporary society, it is easier than ever to share your personal opinion and show support for a cause. However, with the proliferation of digital self-expression comes an element of distance from reality. Proclaiming one’s views within a circle of Facebook friends has little to no impact on society’s day-to-day operation.

Passionate and educated, students in the 18-25 year old age bracket are quick to take to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to express frustration and outrage regarding Australia’s inhumane and indefinite detention of refugees in offshore processing centres. However, the situation has not improved. Manus Island may be set to eventually close, but in the meantime, both camps remain operational, housing over 1200 refugees who have been denied any hope of settling in Australia.

What if the opinions expressed by students were collected not by the digital domain, but in a physical and public manner, in such a way that could not be ignored?

I am proposing a site-specific unauthorized intervention at two student-dominated Sydney train stations: Redfern and Central. Adorning one Opal gate in each row with signs reading “Close The Camps: Tap here to sign”, I propose to create a generative petition which harnesses public opinion in an affective manner, using a touch point from the daily commute.

Combining the functions of a petition and a protest, the data generated by this single-day intervention would be collected and documented in a number of experimental forms, including audio recording of the Opal card taps, the manual counting of participants, and photography of likely disruptions of pedestrian flow through the gates. This data would then form the basis of a campaign or exhibition.

Aiming to disrupt and delay the daily commute by channeling all student protestors through the one Opal gate, such an intervention holds the potential to be noticed by the media, in the hope of affecting policymaking and creating change, as public support for the closure of camps is expressed in a physical and disruptive manner.


Post 8: Defining the problem space and brainstorming possible design responses

Molly Grover

Reflecting on my research and interaction with the refugee and asylum seeker issue so far throughout the semester, I was able to see a clear trend in my interest in public dissatisfaction with the Australian government’s current immigration policies, most particularly in regard to offshore processing centres. Passionate discourse around the inhumanity of the current detainment of 442 persons on Nauru and 854 persons on Manus Island reveals a growing level of discomfort amongst the Australian public. Social media hashtags such as #BringThemHere and #CloseTheCamps exemplify such sentiment.

Brainstorming session

With this key idea in mind, I then collaborated with my classmates in a group brainstorming session. Focusing firstly on refugees in detention, a number of themes recurred and became evident in our language and mapping, including mistreatment, trauma, ethics, injustice, accountability, secrecy, protest and outrage.

Focusing next on attitudes towards refugees in a more broad sense, our mapping revealed a huge dichotomy of sentiment, with recurring themes of fear, racism, selfishness and boundaries contrasting with generosity, empathy, compassion and acceptance. This reinforced to me the polarising nature of the issue and the resulting strength of opinion and sentiment from both sides of the argument.

Defining the problem statement

In light of this, I decided to keep my focus narrowed to those expressing dissatisfaction towards offshore detention policies, and used a series of framing questions to shape my problem statement.

  1. Who does the problem affect?

Most primarily, public dissatisfaction with immigration policies affects the future of the refugees and asylum seekers to whom such policies apply. Secondly, the issue affects the communities, jobs and everyday lives of Australian citizens. Further to this, public dissatisfaction affects the Australian government, most particularly its votes, its policymaking and its reputation. Lastly, the issue affects foreign governments and citizens, in their perception of Australia as a government and a people.

  1. What are the boundaries of the problem?

The boundaries of such growing public dissatisfaction are complex and networked. Secrecy and lack of media access, combined with leaked reports of deplorable conditions and incidents of abuse, represent a significant boundary. Attached to this, ethical concerns exist regarding the detrimental psychological and mental consequences of indefinite detention.

Another boundary presents itself in the form of Australia’s international obligations, based on not only the human right to seek asylum, but also on the government’s signature of the UN Refugee Convention.

At odds with this boundary is yet another boundary: the agenda of the Australian government. Despite announcing plans to close the Manus Island detention centre (with no specified date), the possibility of bringing current detainees to Australia for settlement has been firmly ruled out. Neither of the two major parties possesses the will to grant these 1296 persons residency and protection in Australia.

Perhaps the most significant boundary of the issue is the displacement crisis itself, without which there would be no influx of refugees to begin with. Such migrations of scale inevitably bring risks along with them, regarding the receiving country’s economic stability, cultural identity and safety.

Due to the range of opinions present within the citizen body, public dissatisfaction with the government’s immigration policies can arguably never be fully resolved.

However, when focusing on the issue of offshore detention, resolution of the issue could look like closure of the camps, resettlement of the 1296 persons Australia, and thus a successful end to protests and campaigns such as #CloseTheCamps and #BringThemHere.

If offshore detention is not addressed, the volume of the outrage is only likely to increase. If the camps are closed, but the refugees are not allowed to settle in Australia, our country’s international reputation and relations will arguably be damaged, by the government’s unwillingness to exercise compassion towards those whom they have undoubtedly mistreated.

  1. When does the problem occur? When does it need to be fixed?

The expression of public discomfort with offshore detention procedures is only increasing as time goes on. The recent leakage of the Nauru Files has further amplified the demand for action. This issue needs to be addressed by the government immediately, so that those detained may be granted protection and the hope of a new life.

  1. Where is the problem occurring?

Whilst the root of passionate anti-detention sentiment is being caused by the detainment occurring on Manus Island and Nauru, the resulting problem is occurring in the disconnect between the will of the government and the will of many passionate Australians. Furthermore, my previous Twitter scraping exercise revealed that this sense of dissatisfaction extends beyond the borders of our own country, with users from a multitude of other nations expressing disdain for Australia’s offshore detention situation.

  1. Why is it important that the problem is fixed? What impact does it have on all stakeholders?

From the perspective of campaigners against offshore detention, the camps must be closed for the sake of morality, ethics, and an end to refugee mistreatment and trauma. From the perspective of the government, fixing the problem will stop what has become a major economic drain. Furthermore, relations with Papua New Guinea will be improved.

On the converse, relations with Nauru are likely to worsen if the camps are closed, as the small country will no longer receive support and funding from the Australian government. Most importantly, the closing of the camps will be most beneficial for the detainees themselves, who hope for permanent protection and settlement in Australia or elsewhere, in order to build a new life.

Summary of 5 possibilities

This framing of the problem statement brought to light a number of possibilities for the development of a design response.

  1. Visualising and deploying public will in order to bring about political change.

Using either data visualisation or generative design practices, there is great potential to harness passionate public sentiment expressed on social media (both Australian and international). Thoughtful formatting and deployment of such discourse could do much to increase government attention, concern and action towards the issue of offshore detention. Possible formats could include a generative Twitter bot, a graphic data visualisation, or a cartographic Google Earth map.

  1. Investigating language used in the refugee and asylum seeker debate.

Once again using data visualisation and/or generative design practices, there is interesting potential to highlight and analyse the dichotomy of attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers, with particular focus given to language and semantics. Does one side of the argument have more of a tendency to use derogatory language or verbally abuse other actors in the debate? This could reveal interesting insights regarding the social interactions between those who do not agree.

  1. Investigating the trajectory of social media sentiment.

On social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, passionate arguments created by one user are often disseminated with momentum across circles and groups of users all over the world, using re-tweet or sharing functions. Once again using data visualisation practices, interesting potential lies in the idea of mapping the trajectory of online statements, as well as the resulting breadth, or lack, of unique thought amongst the digital community.

  1. Highlighting the inhumanity of indefinite detention

An increase in public support and for the closure of offshore detention centres may be achievable through the poignant communication of aspects of the issue. By highlighting details such as the ever-increasing time elapsed in detention, the personalities and aspirations of those detained, or the secrecy of the government, emotion and outrage may be evoked amongst the public, thus increasing the potential for change.

  1. Gathering the opinion of the wider community regarding detention

Writing letters to local MPs is often a time-consuming process. Petitions, on the other hand, are quick and easy, yet usually not pervasive or wide-reaching enough to gather the signatures of all those who care about the issue. Here lies potential for a generative system or service design, in which a petition or pre-written letter is integrated into an aspect of daily life, so as to be exposed to a larger percentage of the population, whilst still being simple and convenient.

Draft Proposal: Generative System / Visualisation
Collecting and visualising support for #CloseTheCamps using participatory practices

Thanks to the pervasiveness of richly networked digital communities in contemporary society, it is easier than ever to share your personal opinion and show support for a cause. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter provide a place for discussion to be initiated and disseminated like never before. However, with this proliferation of digital self-expression comes an element of detachment and distance. Proclaiming your views within the circle of your limited digital community has little resonance in your real, physical, day-to-day life.

In the case of Australia’s current offshore processing policies, many Australians take to social media to express their frustration and outrage regarding the inhumane and indefinite detention of innocent asylum seekers. However, it can be argued that there are just as many who do not. Whether they are not opposed to the issue, unaware of it, or simply not one to post their opinions online, social media is not an exhaustive indicator of public opinion within a geographical community.

In order to measure the opinions of my local community regarding offshore detention, I propose to create a generative petition system using Opal card gates at train stations throughout the Sydney region. By attaching a sign to half of the open Opal gates reading “Close The Camps: Tap here to sign” (or similar), commuters and public transport users will be offered the choice to show their support in a very physical and immediate manner.

By placing the interaction within a part of their existing daily routine, the users are not inconvenienced and are thus highly likely to participate. Furthermore, the system also holds potential to engender change in this portion of the community, by bringing the issue to their attention in a way that is not reliant on the political positions (or lack of) of their online friends and followers. Those who may have been previously apathetic towards the issue are now prompted to make an active decision, or at least think about the situation in more depth as they continue their commute.

Applied over a number of days and locations, this system will provide a data set rich with potential for both campaigning and visualisation. Using an algorithm to collect the number of taps registered through each gate, a quantitative petition is generated, pertaining to both time and geographical location.

This then has the potential to be visualized using an automated program, forming a live, active petition in support of closing refugee camps. If brought to the attention of the Australian government, this sort of participatory system could potentially affect policymaking and create change, as the scale of public support for the closure of the camps is expressed and reinforced by the daily movement of commuters throughout the city.

“At first it was abstract – and then it was personal.”

POST 4: The Heart Library Project

The Heart Library Project is a form of participatory design that has been exhibited over the last decade across Australia and the world. George Khut is an academic, artist and interaction designer working within UNSW Art & Design. Produced initially to be viewed in medical contexts at hospitals or research facilities, the design invites users to lay on a bed or platform and attach a small pulse sensor to their ear. The installation records changes in heart rate and pulse of the individual and uses this data to modulate the colours and patterns projected on a screen that hangs above the individual. The design is an instrument for exploring the way we can choose to understand they way our physical responses are attached to our mental and emotional state. Users are invited to explore the way they can voluntarily shift our nervous system responses through choosing to think and do that which relaxes them, through deep breathing, mindfulness, body and muscle awareness or simply thinking about moments or memories that are personally related to calmness. Users can then also try to increase their heart rate and therefor change the colour and pattern visualisations in front of them by focusing on stress, tension and excitement.

This design is inspired by biofeedback treatment, which is a growing area of research in the medical field particularly surrounding issues of mental illness. Biofeedback involves using electronic monitoring of the bodies functions in order to train an individual to acquire control of said bodily functions. Biofeedback can be used by psychologists in order for patients to become mindful of their bodies natural responses to anxiety or stress and be able to more easily control these responses and learn how to encourage relaxation.

“At first it was abstract – and then it was personal.”

“What really interested me was that if I had a thought that was self-critical – then all the dots went red – then when I said ‘I accept myself’ – it all went blue. I thought ‘how quick is that!’ …Just knowing that I’m capable of big things …and at the moment I’m dealing with a life-threatening illness – so that’s important for me – that I’m actually capable of stepping into another realm as well.”

-Transcripts of interviews with exhibition visitors at St. Vincent’s Public Hospital, Darlinghurst

The data is visualised in an extremely beautiful way, using our socialised attitudes toward shape and colour to allow us to understand emotions, for example cool, calm and soft movements and colours are used when the used is relaxed, and fast, hot and harsh colours and and shapes appear on the screen when a fast or irregular heart rate is recorded. What is so interesting about this project, is that it allows users to visualise seemingly abstract emotional responses and see their stress and anxiety as a more tactile entity. George Khut is encouraging us to be mindful of our own bodies and see the connections between our physical presence and our cognitive processes that is such an huge part understanding the state of our mental health.

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Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, George Khut introduces The Heart Library Project at GROUP THERAPY, Vimeo, Video viewed 22 August 2016, <;.

Khut, G., 2007, The Heart Library Project, Group Therapy: Mental Distress in a Digital Age, viewed 21 August 2016, <;.

Scanlines., 2010, The Heart Library Project, Scanlines Media Artist Database, viewed 22 August 2016, <;.





Post 4: A Project That’s Highlighting the Overlooked LGBT Stories

The New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project is an ongoing participatory design project that began in 2014 by Andrew S. Dolkart, Ken Lustbader, and Jay Shockley. The project was made available by the National Park Service grant to create awareness of the LGBT culture and community’s impact on the city and the country in the past. This will be achieved through adding diversity to the National Register of Historic Places.

LGBT individuals and communities of New York city has immensely influenced the history and culture of their city and the rest of United States of America. However even up until today specific sites and places across the city, associated with LGBT history remained invisible and undocumented. In spite of that, the New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project made it their mission to make these unknown and unappreciated sites significant again.

“It will show young people that gay spaces didn’t just develop overnight, and these sites show us that people were not alone in their struggle to come out and develop a sense of community.” – Lustbader

Currently the project is encouraging LGBT scholars, organizations and archives, the LGBT community, and the general public to input their knowledge and to participate in taking surveys to benefit the project in becoming more inclusive and comprehensive on the LGBT influence and history. By the end of 2016 the project aims to introduce an online archive and interactive map of all the research and data documented of significant sites. So far sites such as theatres and performance venues, bars, clubs, and restaurants, residences of notable figures, LGBT rights and organizational sites, the AIDS epidemic, and community and public spaces have been identified as place of significance.

Beside the outreach and input from professionals, organizations, and community members the special project also holds engaging events for the public. The most recent event ‘Making the Invisible Visible: Documenting NYC’s Place-Based LGBT Cultural Heritage’ discusses the use of interactive online map of sites that public will have access to. Although we may not know how the final outcome will look like at this point it is clear that The New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project will provide these documentation to the community in a ground breaking way. Projects that require high participation from the public like this will not only educate people about historic LGBT sites but it will inspire and shape the way we speak up about LGBT.

“This is a narrative: people like them existed for decades, hundreds of years, before they did, and knowing and seeing that can help foster some continuity in their own intangible pride.” – Lustbader



Anzilotti, Ellie. “Mapping Where LGBT History Unfolded in New York .” 22 July 2016. CityLab. 18 August 2016 <;.

New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project. New York City LGBT Historic Sites Project. August 2015. 18 August 2016 <;.

Warerkar, Tanya. “Meet the Preservationists Who Are Cataloging NYC’s LGBT History.” 24 June 2016. Curbed New York. 19 August 2016 <;.


By April Bae