Playing in the City: the list of things I know nothing about just keeps on growing

A picture of a computer taken from the side; in the background 2 more open laptops can be seen and the table is covered in books, wires and papers.Pervasive media, interventions in public urban space, interleaving the physical, social and digital, flashmobs, subtlemobs, meshmobs, explicit embedding in the physical, superimposition of augmented reality, hyperlinks… I’ve just spend a week in Bristol at Watershed working on the Playable City Sprint and am just looking back through my notes from the first day.


Before that week I knew nothing. I’m still no expert but I now know loads of people who are.

I was there to collect discarded ideas. Great job. Sitting on the edge of the three groups of international artists, observing how their plans develop, mesh and form; picking up the ideas that don’t or can’t quite fit in. Awesome.

There is plenty of documentation about the event – introductions and online journals, video of their final presentations – so this isn’t about that. This is about what I learnt through being there.

Knowledge: No one thinks you are stupid for asking questions

People willingly share knowledge. People are excited to tell you what they know. Also, there is never just one answer – there are multiple perspectives on all subjects. Take in the knowledge, process it and work out what you think.

Group dynamics: groups really do form, storm and norm

Group dynamics is fascinating. You can see the ebb and flow of dominance, the impact of tiredness, cultural dynamics, numbers-based dynamics, the power of expertise – both owned and perceived. Note to self – must spend more time watching groups not being in them, lots to learn.

Observation: it means different things to different people

The role of observer isn’t universally understood. Some people give the role power, some simply choose to ignore. For others it becomes a tool – for confession, as a sounding board, a way to get information on other groups and to check status and hierarchy.

Openness: it’s infectious

Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio has a policy of openness – everyone is interruptible, there’s Open Studio Friday (where anyone can come in and work / network), and the culture encourages exchange, cross-fertilization and collaboration. It’s infectious. It only takes minutes to impact on artists, creatives and producers – you can see them relax, unwind and start to share.

Creating creative processes: it’s all about control

The Sprint was incredibly complex – international, public and private, cross disciplinery… so how best to devise, develop and shape? The success was in the balance between giving away and keeping control; the skill in how much to let it run, when to intervene and when to stand back. All beautifully done.

It was a privilege to be there. Thanks.

My own image this time,  and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.

One thought on “Playing in the City: the list of things I know nothing about just keeps on growing

  1. Pingback: Reflections on the year (part two). To boldly go…. | Jo Verrent

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *