In November I was invited by Martijn de Waal, researcher at Citizen Data Lab, and the lectorate for Games and Civic Media (Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences) to spend one week in São Paulo as a facilitator in a design lab/workshop week Round ‘n Around, a research project with the aim to improve the city’s bikeability. The project is a collaboration of Citizen Data Lab, University of São Paulo, Het Nieuwe Instituut, Inovalab and DOM productions. The theme of this workshop (2 of 2) was:
Conclusions from an earlier explorations and a workshop program in September was that the answers to these questions would likely be found in storytelling and communication using urban data and new media technologies. The goals of the second workshop week therefore was to create a real scenario for an intervention to tackle one of the challenges that came out of the first explorations in earlier sessions. The results could be: acts of storytelling, tactical urban interventions, social media campaigns or activist engagement. The publication of the entire project can be read here, below I’ll only outline part of what we did in the workshop week I’d been involved in. The video of the workshop process is worth watching: https://vimeo.com/191735263/9b9ec1d784.
About the city
São Paulo is a car-oriented city but on Sundays they open one of the car lines for bikes, and they also close one of the city’s main arteries: Avenida Paulista (somewhat like a 5th Avenue) to give way to cyclists (and street parties). On other days however, cycling is for the brave and committed. Drivers are not attuned to cyclists and neither is the infrastructure. Although there are some cycling lanes, the paths are scattered, end abruptly here and there, and the city being very hilly poses and extra challenge. We went on a 30km bike ride on Sunday to get an idea of what it’s like. It was quite an adventurous and bumpy ride, compared to cycling in Amsterdam, you need to be really aware of what’s going on around you, whether people have noticed you, and what part of the road you have to travel on.
The week was laced with interesting lectures of researchers and activists from Brazil and the Netherlands, but the main activity was developing interventions to increase the usage of bikes in the city. The general report can be read here (in Portuguese and English). I coached one of the four teams throughout the week. On day two they decided to take on a new challenge that was introduced during one of the talks: it turns out that only an average of 6% of all cyclists are women. The reasons why form a complex set of arguments around reproductive vs. productive labor, gender discrimination and a traditionalist culture of machismo in general, and perceived vulnerability of women by relatives and spouses more specifically (Lindenberg & Kohler Harkot 2017).
Only 6% of all cyclists in SP are women
The group took it upon themselves to try to get more women on the bike, calling their campaign: Somos 6% (we are 6%). They had to tackle some arguments along the lines of: cycling is dangerous for everyone, that needs to be fixed that for all, not just for women. Why would you focus only on a subgroup? Throughout the week they discussed and designed and slowly tackled these questions. This was a very interesting process full of doubts and questions as well as the occasional creative blocks. But slowly it became clear that the participants grew firmer in their belief that this was worth addressing and designing for. The conclusion being that if the difference between men and women on bikes is that significant, it’s worth special attention because there might be additional challenges that needs to be addressed. It’s likely we cannot see or fix those during a workshop, but we can try to design a campaign or scenario in such a way that enable and empower women amongst themselves, on their own terms.
Trusting the process
Most participants were unfamiliar with design thinking or designing in general, but their willingness to get on with the process and be open to new ways of working made the experience pleasurable and interesting. I realised how lucky I am that this is my work :) and I became aware of my own expectations and assumptions, working with a non-designer group again. To just go ahead and try things in a small way and then assess how much of it is useful to develop further is something consider normal and valid, but for other people planning and discussing the details before doing anything else is a default that can be hard change in a short time. Trusting the fact that the process of creating can also leads to insights and even plans is a very particular attitude I have adopted, but of course isn’t necessarily a natural way of working to others and needs to be scaffolded and introduced.
Somos 6% – increasing visibility, leading by example
They aimed at a social media campaign that calls upon women to be each other’s example. Women on bikes need to be more visible and in that way that can inspire each other by example to take the bike. One of the core values was that those examples need to be from there, specific and local to that context. An old lady living in the countryside of Mexico cannot show women in hyper urban São Paulo that they can do it too. It’s simply too different. Their final proposal for a campaign combined an online campaign with inspirational videos and interviews.
Alongside that they proposed a number of meetups and activities such as women’s bike rides on Friday night (sexta feira or the “6th day” of the week), as riding together is known to be an effective way to provide a constellation to take up cycling that is perceived to be more safe. This is very important for beginners. For those bikerides, they made downloadable gimmicks to adorn the bikes, such as fake orange kids’ seats, head gear, and bracelets that women can make themselves, create their own or even meet up at one of the 12 fablabs in São Paulo to create their own bike gear, get to know one another and build a community of cycling, making and support. These tangible interventions aim to make the Somos 6% campaign a very visible and joyful parade as women take the city.
Lindenberg, L. & Kohler Harkot, M. (2017) “Women on two wheels: what are the obstacles?” in: Round ’n Around. Domschke, G. & de Waal, M. Het Nieuwe Instituut, 31 Jan. Retrieved March 3rd 2017: https://issuu.com/hetnieuweinstituut/docs/round-n-around-310117, p. 67-71.