lance weiler - STORY DRIVEN INNOVATION
Lance Weiler, founding member and director of the Columbia University Digital Storytelling Lab shares findings from the labs re-imagining of the work of Arthur Conan Doyle titled Sherlock Holmes & the Internet of Things, a prototype that had 1,200 collaborators from 60+ countries working across 70 events to create a massive connected crime scene.
Identifies 4 Immersive Participation Design Theme Principles
1) Trace: Provide a way for people to leave their mark/personalise the experience
2) Grant Agency: Shifting between individual and group tasks helps to promote, as well as reinforce a sense of individual agency.
3) Thematic Frame: Everything is so much easier when you're working with a known starting point e.g. a popular source IP
4) Serendipity Management: Let things evolve/Aim to show, not tell and leave gaps for the audience's own interpretations.
In addition he recommends dividing participants into groups of 5 - 6 people
The Digital Storytelling lab kicked off a prototype about a year ago called Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things and it's kind of like peanut butter and chocolate right? This idea of mixing Holmes and the IoT (the juxtaposition is consciously unexpected).
Because what was fascinating about Arthur Conan Doyle's work is that he was writing about emergent technologies that nobody knew about outside of certain small circles: non contaminated crime scenes, ballistics and different types of blood tests. Law enforcement was reading that and saying, wow, these are really good ideas, we should adopt these.
And so in a lot of ways, Arthur Conan Doyle was starting to influence fact. ... and I love this quote by Arthur C. Clarke.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
And I think the Internet of Things is very much like that for most people. ..all these common objects within our lives connected to networks seems like magic.
We also wanted to experiment with this idea of copyleft, so we made the whole experience open to whoever wants to be a part of it, all over the world. It's released under creative commons, share alike license, so people can commercialize whatever they create within it as long as they give back the code base and share their learnings.
Taking this original source material from Arthur Conan Doyle, and using it as this fertile playground to start to experiment with what we could do was a large, massive global storytelling experiment.
THE GLOBAL STORYTELLING EXPERIENCE
The experience starts when people go to the source material. We ask them to find an object from one of Arthur Conan Doyle stories and adapt it using physical computing sensors to create this enchanted object that's intended to be something that they can use as a way to tell a story.
We didn't plan to use IOT at the start. Instead, we started for about six months through a series of meetups, and did everything in physical form, paper testing.
Our analog prototype consisted of four key areas. It would take about 90 minutes to run it.
TEAMS OF 5 or 6
5 - 6 is optimum.
When` we had less than five, certain personalities would dominate and people would have a miserable time. And then when it was too large, it started becoming almost like a consensus vortex where nothing ever really happened.
1. Create a crime scene.
We hand each team a roll of masking tape, and say okay, now go out and create a crime scene with your fellow teammates.
2. Create clues
When they came back we would lay down Brown. paper and tell them to empty their pockets in their bags and define three things that they thought were really interesting to tell a story with.
And then they would just trace those things. So if they had, you know, sunglasses or their phone, or whatever it was, they would trace the outline of it. And they’d do that individually.
3. Mix it up
Then we ask them to step back, pick three things that aren't yours, rip them out, cut them out, and now you have them. Go back to any of the bodies except the one that your team just created and place these objects with purpose in another crime scene, and be creative with them.
4. Set the scene
a) 1st individually
That famous phrase by Ernest Hemingway: "For sale. baby shoes never worn" a very evocative statement, that's this idea of generative, flash fiction.
We gave each team a packet of post it notes and some pens. You can go around, you can pick up that phone on the ground to hear the last voicemail message from a crying ex girlfriend. If you see glasses, you can leave teeth marks on broken lenses. But you do it as an individual. The only rule is you can't make any changes to your own crime scene, your own body, your team's body.
b) Next collaboratively
And then they come back and we'd say, Okay, now you're a team again. Go back to the dead body crime scene that you originally created, but you're going to realize that there are all kinds of clues there now.
5. "Solve" the crime
Now we'd challenge them to be a collaborative Sherlock Holmes, by making up a story about what happened here. They could pick and chose what they wanted to respond to. But then they crafted these narratives about the scene that were incredibly dynamic and they did it very quickly.
SCALING THIS EXPERIENCE
So we workshopped what to do through a series of meetups and then with a global community, which probably came close to 2000 collaborators from 60 different countries. Last year, there were 70, self organized events all over the world. There's been a ton already this year.
FOUR DESIGN PRINCIPLES emerged from this prototype. And remember we tested this thing all over the world.
People really responded well, whenever they could see some element of themselves within the story, you know. And what's interesting is when we first started this, the very first prototypes, we thought we'll write the stories will populate the crime scenes. We'll lay out the bodies and then people can come in and be Sherlock Holmes and Watson and they'll love it.
But what was actually more engaging was when they were creating everything themselves, and we were just letting it happen. So that one step of the trace was really important where they could see a contribution of themselves within the story.
2. GRANT AGENCY
Breaking the event up from a group task to an individual task and back and forth led to these really these potent moments that allowed people to feel like they actually had an impact over what was going on.
They didn't feel like they were just following somebody else who might be a dominant personality within a team. And that was that was interesting.
3. USE AN EVOCATIVE/ACCESSIBLE THEMATIC FRAME
Most people probably know Sherlock Holmes, even if they don't they know what a detective mystery is. And if they see a body on the ground, they probably know there was a crime. So there's a common language there that that really helped quite a bit. It made the experience accessible and quickly gain context, mutual understanding, engagement and back story.
4. SERENDIPITY MANAGEMENT
A classic screenwriting principle is that you're supposed to show, not simply tell, but interactive designers often get very concerned that people won't know how to interact with something in the proper way, so end up telling too much.
But we left a lot of gaps in this experience and because we left those gaps, the imaginations of the participants filled them, leading to these really wonderful kind of moments where they would collide into each other in unexpected ways. And these collaborative, creative sparks would pop up out of it, which was really exciting.
When we were trying to work out how to manage the creative process of thousands of people. We ended up running an open MOOC usually known as a massive open online course, but we called it a massive online offline collaboration, open to whoever wanted to participate.
So it was interesting how something so simple was so effective in terms of people being able to organize themselves.
We had this road rotary phone that had a Raspberry Pi with a text to speech engine. So you could write to it from a distance and it would ring, it was also beacon aware so whenever the phone got near something, it would recognize that it was there and ring, right. So then all of a sudden, somebody would start interacting with a character, you know, a killer and a cat mouse game or whatever.
We made that code open source because we want these IoT objects to be something that stimulates creativity within a group of people.
Ubiquitous computing is like calm technology, it's all about being in the peripheral, it's not necessarily about being buried in your device. And in fact, when we did have a device and we used it, it broke the flow, because everybody became very interested in the screen. So what we're trying to do with this is say, can we use objects that are enchanted in some way or smart objects that people can use as a way to tell a story. So it becomes about the human interaction and not necessarily solely about a screen interaction.
And the other thing that's interesting about the project is there's no win scenario. We remove that, you know, there's not one right way that a crime is solved or crime is created. So it becomes very much a collaborative form of story and play.
At TheDigital Storytelling Lab we’re now exploring participatory urbanism and the collaborative design of neighbourhoods through storytelling. For example we partnered the City of Los Angeles and did a storytelling innovation lab with them. The project was called My Sky Is Falling and it was shaped with foster youth in collaboration with the students.
70% of whom tend to end up addicted to substances, pregnant or homeless. It was heartbreaking. But together with the students they made an immersive science fiction story. We also teamed up with MIT and they gave us a bracelet that participants could wear to track their emotions as they went through the experience. And instead of relying on pre survey and post survey, and audio video transcription we came up with 26 different feedback loops within the experience itself. There's a really cool white paper on it if you're interested you can find it at myskyisfalling.com
When it pointed to and, just like Sherlock was this idea that stories can spark a really interesting innovation because that prototype was made for a couple hundred dollars. And then the UN invited us to run it there - and now it's being adapted in three different states as a framework to train, potential foster care parents and social workers to understand the emotional journey of a foster youth because when you go through the experience. .So this idea of inspiring greater understanding is really interesting and making use of technology to do so is something that we are very interested in doing
STORIES ARE NOW EVENTS
This is an amazing time to be a storyteller. A story maybe isn't just by one person anymore, it’s a collaborative community event. And increasingly now we’re seeing the rise of creative technologists who are using stories to create a common understanding.
EVENTS CAN CHANGE THE FUTURE
I did a project with David Cronenberg called body mind change. And it was kind of about this idea of a personal recommendation engine that you just put into the back of your neck through synaptic entanglement. That's a word we made up it didn't exist. The engine would know everything you wanted needed and desire before you did. And so that story was all about the quantified self and about artificial intelligence and about this idea of emotional intelligence. But what is interesting about this the moment is that we have the opportunity to change the way that these stories are told.
For example, if an object is connected to a network it can send you media. You could build subscription models off of that. That object could change over time, it could change state, it could recognize other things around it and it could change the way it interacts. It could do simple things like change colours, it could change the lights when you walked into a room, whatever you want.
This idea of allowing those formerly known as the audience to be collaborators in the creative process allows them to create something or co create something that they care about, that can evolve over time. And new business models can come from it.
But this apparoch also breaks from permission based culture, so you don't have to spend years trying to convince somebody that you want to make something, you can just make it.
Weiler, Lance. 2018. Story Driven Innovation. U.S.: fitc events.
Lessons from Escape Rooms:
The USW Audience of the Future research team is compiling a summary collection of recent research in the field of immersive, and enhanced reality media