Social Emergency Response Centers help us understand the moment we’re in, from all different perspectives. They help us move from rage and despair into collective, radical action.
We design social interventions that engage populations in imagining and designing new solutions to social problems. For us, social interventions are actions taken to reconfigure social habits, unspoken agreements or arrangements that, prior to the intervention, add to the durability and normalcy of a social problem. We focus on social interventions because we believe they can affect both formal hierarchical systems like school systems and complex nonlinear systems like cultures.
For example, an unspoken agreement that commonly leads to escalation of violence among youth in Boston is the “grill” or glare. If someone “grills you,” you have to grill them back, and tensions and escalation go from there. The grill caught our attention because in our methodology for designing social interventions, we look for an entry point, a less explored angle with potential to interrupt social problems. The grill was symbolic of the larger dynamic of violence, but also a literal act that we could point to, play with and make strange. Click here to see our Grill Project.
We share our methodology to support others in designing social interventions. For example, our current pop-up Action Labs are a mobile means of bringing both linear and nonlinear design processes to conferences and cities that are looking to hone their skills in designing social interventions and creative actions.
We also highlight other powerful interventions around the world. Here are some of our favorites, along with links to some youtube content about them:
- Antanas Mockus, then the mayor of Bogota, fired the entire force of traffic cops and hired mimes to change the way citizens felt about following traffic laws--and then about role of citizenship and law at large.
- In Canada, 2 high seniors challenged the social structure of their school (and the bullies who ran it) by standing up for a freshman picked on for wearing pink, and getting over half their school to wear pink in the first ever "Sea of Pink."
- President Nelson Mandela used the symbol of the Springbok--the nation's notoriously racist rugby team--to bring the country together while hosting the World Cup of Rugby.
- A handful of AIDS activists shifted the public perception of people with HIV and AIDS through the largest quilt in the world.
The Black Citizenship Proect engaged artists to provide a public, artistic response to state-sanctioned violence against Black bodies and the Black community.
We created a Productive Fiction. Over two evenings in the fall of 2014, our installation of lights and an illuminated red carpet transformed the bridge into a bright space.
Can a big urban game shift the self-identity of a space or the people in it? Can the opportunity to play be as important in reducing social violence as the opportunity to work? What can games and spectacle teach folks doing on-going social justice work? Hopefully, a lot!
Here was a simple gesture that functioned on a symbolic level to epitomize a system where violence could start over nothing more than “she looked at me wrong”, but also how the nothing was everything, their very reputation and safety being on the line in the instant of response.
“Let’s Flip It” is a communication system developed by and for young people most affected by social violence in Boston. It is a way for them to say “it’s time to stop” without saying it directly.
Tired of the princess being held captive by racist, sexist, heterosexist and capitalist forces, we wanted to create an experience that challenged all the stereotypes of what and who a princess was.
“What would you do with $700 Billion?”—We created an interactive mobile banner to encourage spontaneous dialogue on the 2009 stock market crisis, engaging over 100 citizens across Boston.