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Cultural Prompts

January 9, 2016 - Methods and Processes / Towards a Kit of Process

“[Cultural] Probes are collections of evocative tasks meant to elicit inspirational responses from people —not comprehensive information about them, but fragmentary clues about their lives and thoughts” (Gaver et al., 2004).

I see value in the Cultural Probe as a method for obtaining textural information, and providing a sense of the complexity and subtlety in the culture of the participating communities. However, through the lens of critical pedagogy, I understand the concept of “probing” as intrusive and not a dialogue or an exchange. The act of probing is embedded with symbolism.

probe, noun:
1. a blunt-ended surgical instrument used for exploring a wound or part of the body.
2. a thorough investigation into a crime or other matter.
3. an unmanned exploratory spacecraft designed to transmit information about its environment.

There are connotations of asymmetric power dynamics in the use of a probe – where the probe-er is in a position of power (i.e. doctor or investigator) and the probe-ee shows weakness (i.e. wounded body, criminal).

I have renamed Cultural Probes to “Cultural Prompts” and I have adapted the idea somewhat to fall within the context of design education. I feel more confident that I can use prompts with young people and in community contexts without making suggestions or connotations towards asymmetric power dynamics of researcher-participant.

Cultural Prompts borrow techniques from the probe. They are activity based, and can be playful. They could include:
Drawing
Mapping
Making
Storytelling
Games
Writing

Some of these ideas are inspired the work of Carl DiSalvo, who works at Georgia Institute of Technology, and researches into community based public design.