Hitchhiking meets social design

“Every door you open you did think,
well I wonder what I’m going to encounter this time…”

The practice of hitchhiking presents many challenges and opportunities, as this quote (from an interview with an experienced hitchhiker) suggests. But are there things we can learn from it that can be useful to other social and cultural activities?

As a creative learning organisation and an experienced partner in collaborative research that explores the value and impact of community-led, participatory and co-design practice, The Glass-House was recently invited to contribute to a small research project, Rules of Thumb, to explore this question.

Commissioned by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Protopublics or Developing participation in social design: Prototyping projects, programmes and policies is a project that aims to prototype new kinds of research collaboration that could contribute to societal change and collective outcomes. After a two-day sprint workshop to generate project ideas, I joined the research team of the Rules of Thumb project, led by Dr Damon Taylor from Brighton University.

Working with our Open University colleague Dr Theo Zamenopoulous and project lead Damon, we used the desk-based research on hitchhiking practice by researchers from the project team and quickly identified a range of themes (like risk, control, positivity, signals and trust) that could spark new thinking and challenge traditional approaches, in other forms of social practice. These themes became prompts in a ‘game’ that would take groups on a journey that mimicked hitchhiking, with the elements of the random and unexpected firmly at its centre.

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Prototyping

At the end of July, we brought together members of housing cooperatives and cohousing groups for a two-day workshop in Brighton to test the game and its usefulness – starting our ‘journey’ at a well-known service station and hitchhiking spot, Pease Pottage, near Gatwick airport.

Following a general discussion about the opportunities and challenges of housing cooperatives, participants were divided into two groups to play the game. Using a chance wheel, groups moved between different issues and scenarios, with chance cards that challenged participants to think about their issues from a different angle or context. From this exploration, each group had a set of scenarios, of issues explored that could be used to create short films to capture and convey ideas and issues.

“Sometimes faster can make you slower”

The game proved to be an effective tool for stimulating conversation and participants felt that it helped them to look at and reflect on issues differently and created a useful space for reflection.

Above all, it provided an interesting and fun way to bring people together, to listen and to connect with each other – an important starting point for growing understanding and creating spaces for collaboration and action to affect change.

You can read more about Rules of Thumb: An Investigation into the Potential of Contextual Transposition in Social Design on the Protopublics website.