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Engaging people

Engaging people

For the last decade, I’ve been working to understand how we can engage and motivate people to action through technology. It’s a challenge that crosses consumer anthropology with behavioural economics with emerging technologies. These articles are a collection of lessons from this journey.


A workshop to find your inner clay person

A workshop to find your inner clay person

When you work with clay, you step out of time.

There is a connection between your hands, heart and mind, when you begin to work the soft, wet material. As you push your thumbs in, and as it squishes between your fingers, the raw earth transforms your attention. You are drawn into it.

Then forms begin to emerge. The process of moulding, caressing and cajoling the clay to follow your mind’s eye takes you out of clock-time and into a longer moment. It is a way of creating space to breathe and reflect but through an active doing. It’s yoga for the mind.


Make a Bell Person workshop

I helped my partner, Erin, with a clay workshop recently that was part of a team-building day for 40 people that work in a domestic violence support service. They have incredibly challenging work and it was an absolute pleasure to share this time with them.


We hadn’t run a workshop for quite so many people before, so were a little nervous about whether it would work at this scale. Erin introduced the workshop and why it is important. It is more than an exercise with play-dough. It is intended to make a space through which each of them can create an expression of self. A celebration of their life-changing work. And that by connecting with raw materials, and re-connecting with their senses, they can create a deeper relationship with themselves and perhaps with others.

Working with clay is a great process for those of us who find it hard to let go. After we had them make something so as to understand the basic techniques, they got to squish their creation back into a ball. (Now that is the most rewarding form of creative destruction!) Perfectionists soon learn that there is no right or wrong. It’s a trek through an uncharted wilderness with no real knowing what we will find at the other end.

Over the next two hours, everyone giggled and cursed their clay creations to life. Their objective was to create Bell People. These are the little folk that Erin creates as part of her practice. They tend to express the inner murmurings of our emotional landscape. And as physical objects, they provide a means of expression that is richer than can ever be expressed in words. It’s an emergent experience both for the creator – and the Bell Person.

And by the workshop’s end a troupe had emerged. A parade of Bell People, each one adding a new and unique chime to the sounds of Footscray…


You can meet the Bell People for yourself in the following very short animation. And a very big Thank You to everyone at Women’s Health West!

If you are interested in finding out more about Erin’s workshops – you can head over to her website or via instagram @erinswindow.



WorkSmart – organising for under 30’s

WorkSmart – organising for under 30’s

Just signed up to WorkSmart – the UK Trade Union Council’s freshly hatched plan to help organise 21-30 year old’s. Now okay, I’m a little outside the target demographic (perhaps a lot), but I’m interested in understanding how they’re positioning it.

What is WorkSmart?

WorkSmart is a set of tools and content to help younger workers take control of their career.

Currently, there isn’t much to see. I was sent a link to a short survey that tested my perspectives on work – how fulfilling it is, do I feel like I am in control, and my level of motivation. It promises to tailor the experience for me when the app is released. I signed up to know more about ‘how to progress my work’ and ‘how to build better relationships’ – when those bits are released.

Designed for two-thumbed typists

The TUC have invested many hours in seeking to design an experience that will appeal to the younger demographic. Emails are liberally smattered with emoticons. Text is very brief in the best post-modernist tradition. And the interactions are quick.

The point is to get younger workers engaging with an offer that helps them build their confidence, motivation and understanding – and helps break down the barriers to organising collectively. Over the course of younger workers’ engagement with the offer, we will introduce rights info, and get younger workers thinking about problems at work and how to work with their colleagues to overcome them.

Mint 🙂

Rebirthing trade unions

They’ve also downplayed the role of trade unions. As Antonia Bance (@antoniabance) notes ‘these younger workers thought unions were for other people – older people, public sector workers, people fixed in their career. And you could hear the impact of atomisation in their feedback to us – young workers didn’t feel able to trust their colleagues.” The aim is to introduce a paid offer – WorkSmart Extra – that incorporates union membership once they understand its value.

Finally, and the bit that particularly resonates with me:

the plan then is to start to spot emerging leaders, common issues, and clusters of members with the same employer.

Our experience has demonstrated that organising remains a face-to-face activity. Where technology can help is accelerating distriibuted organising. Ensuring that those folk that are willing to gather others and lead their local initiatives are well supported. It’s good to see that this is front and centre of the TUC’s thinking…


Good Work in the Machine Age

The need for this kind of thinking was starkly demonstrated in some research that the RSA has just released:

Question: How prepared are the following institutions to protect workers from the effect of new technologies?

Answer: Well prepared – trade unions 18%, tech companies 37%, employers 36%



Can I borrow a synapse?

Annie Duke, retired poker champion, talks about strategies to accelerate learning in her book “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts”. A key one is drawing on your community – learning from the experience of experts, testing boundaries with peers, and simplifying ideas through teaching others. Really interesting question here about how to institutionalise these types of practices within an online cooperative community…