We've been working away for the last month organising our event Touch|Play|Learn as part of the Open House event at the Mildmay Community Centre in Islington, London (which in turn was part of the 'Open House London 2012').
The Open House itself was an opportunity to take a tour of the retrofitted community centre and gardens and learn about the science and benefits behind the energy-efficient and eco-friendly PassivHaus building that hosts the community centre. PassivHaus is a rigorous architectural standard for energy-efficient buildings with improved comfort conditions and a low ecological footprint.
The Touch|Play|Learn expo, was a fun and interactive exhibition where children and adults alike were able to create and explore fun Do It Yourself tools to learn and discover the world around us! In this expo we learnt to make the invisible visible: featuring everything from squishy play-dough circuits and doing balloon mapping of the Mildmay Estate, to taking infrared photos, monitoring humidity, temperature, air and noise pollution.
We think that these are all tools that have the potential to change our lives for the better - from reducing electricity bills to holding polluters accountable! Therefore one of the aims of Touch|Play|Learn was to let people know that these affordable and locally sourced tools are available to anyone who wants to build one. Through sign-up postcards community members could show interests in different tools or issues they wanted to investigate in their community. The idea is to gather interest for a workshop on the methodologies of specific tools in the coming months.
At ExCiteS we learnt as much about community as the playees at the event. Learning is an individual journey and the set-up of the event enabled a one-on-one interaction. The tools engaged people's interests and enthusiasm because they could see how it linked to their lives and because they were able to do-it-themselves. You touch, you learn; you play, you learn. And like a domino effect, everyone ended up teaching everyone something!
For 'play', and in order to 'learn', the circumstances and context have to be right. The way new things are presented is key and can be the difference between engaging someone in a life-long journey or closing them forever. When engaging with DIY tools (especially if these are presented to you as opposed to when you look for them) you expose a little bit of your self-esteem and are vulnerable in the learning process. If the engagement is not facilitated accordingly, failure to connect the little cables in the right place can be devastating rather than an encouragement to try new alternatives.
For future events with communities I think we need to take a step back and ask ourselves - what would the balance between play and learn be? Should there be a safety net in the learning process? What role does the space used have in the experience of engaging with these tools? What effect do the experience have on people's interest in DIY tools for the exploration of our environment? And how can DIY tools and methodologies be presented in a way that links to people's needs and interests?