brainstorming for “purpose”

8 Oct

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I have just spent some time with Chaka Films brainstorming on the purpose of their current i-docs project: Quipu.

Quipu is one of REACT’s Future of Documentary Sandbox projects, they have started research and pre-production and they are now defining their interactive proposition: what will the website look like? which function should it cover? what is the user journey? who is the user? what does he wants? what is his motivation? etc…

Although the team has a clear idea of what excites them in the project they are at that phase that they are almost too excited about it and cannot narrow it down to a single statement. This is typical of i-docs projects, as they are often very layered: they can offer different functionalities to different users and they can also actively involve the subjects in the narrative so… how can one boil down a full project in a single sentence when subjects, users and authors all get something different out of it?

The route we took was the one of starting from complexity: first state all the aims of the projects (as they come, not in order of importance and without thinking about the beneficiary). We had a full page of notes, but some where clearly more important than others. We kept the one that gave us a “ahah” effect.

Then we concentrated on our audience (the primary and the secondary) and we mapped how each media could fulfil each purpose through a different media proposition. Interesting enough in the Quipu project the subjects (and their families) are the primary audience, but they will probably not have access to the internet proposition (because they live in rural Peru). So while the primary audience needs to have access to the content through low-tech technology (phone and radio) it is the secondary audience that will see the internet product. We therefore have two audiences that will use two different media to make sense of a common content. That is where things get more complicated, but also more exciting!

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As this is work in progress, I am not going to go into the details of the Quipu project, but what I will like to share are the reflections that matured in my mind during the day:

1. Purpose in i-docs: how do we define it?

Purpose is NOT the “tag line”, “the theme” or the “one sentence pitch”. That is the story. Purpose is the “why” of the project: why do we want to tell this story? It is the author’s purpose. This is often hard to pin down, but once this is done it gets easier to decide “how” should the story be told and “to whom”.

2. the audience and the subjects can both be part of the purpose, but in different ways.

This is quite obvious, but it took us a while to be clear about it. The subjects can be involved in a participatory i-doc to a point that they also become the main audience, but they do already know the story (or at least part of it) so their motivation in browsing it will be different from a wider audience that knows nothing about the story itself. So if our purpose is to involve both the subjects and a wider audience we need to think about different interfaces, different entry points and maybe different media.

3. motivation is linked to an emotional journey

While the author normally has a strong emotional link to the project, the audience doesn’t. One can be very accurate in choosing an clear target audience but still, since the user (inter-actant) will have to be active for the story to move on, there must be  an emotional tie  behind the intellectual curiosity. Each step of the user experience should balance curiosity and emotional bond: why should I continue? what is next? how do I fit into this story? Although some people say that motivation is about rewards, I personally think that it is more about emotional cause and effect: I go ahed because this is relevant and feeds my emotional state. This is why testing and designing an emotional journey is important: even if the user is interested in the story he will only participate if what is asked of him in that precise moment fits with his needs (intellectual or emotive).

4. coherence is essential: the interface, the user journey and the user actions all need to be designed so that the purpose can be reached.

If an interactive narrative needs to be experienced, then the options given to the user need to be strictly linked to the main purpose. Actions fit into place, and make sense to the user,  if they fulfil the purpose in some way or another. Clarity, in an i-doc, is not about simplicity of navigation or linearity of a story, but about coherence with the intent of the project.

5. If “purpose” if clear, then “impact” is easier to establish

Impact of an i-doc still tend to be quantified as number of clicks and duration of user action or presence. I personally think that this obsession with numbers might bring us to miss the whole point of a project. A participatory project might be made for the use of a small community of subject-participants. If this is the case audience numbers might be small, but if the purpose was to involve that specific audience then the project is a success. Impact should be measured against purpose,  and not audience numbers.

 

My next step will be to try a series of methodologies to ensure that the coherence between the purpose & the interactive proposition is maintained. I am thinking of mixing techniques coming from totally different worlds: user centred design, brand design, design thinking and life coaching! This is obviously a strange cocktail and I am myself curious to test the different approaches and see what they can bring to the development of an i-doc.

But one thing is very clear in my mind: from the moment we involve a user (inter-actant) we cannot  pretend anymore that we are the sole authors of a project and we therefore need to find ways to test, and work with, our inter-actants. We need to work on ways to create the hybrids that i-docs are by using hybrid methodologies that mix the cultures i-docs come from! “How” could this be done is what we are all looking to find out! Work in progress…

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Storytelling as resillience | The Quipu Project - November 6, 2014

    […] Karen Tucker and I travelled to London on Friday to meet up with Chaka at the Centre for Creative Collaboration. We spent a day working on the scripts for the Quipu phone line, which is being tested as I write by our promotoras/storyhunters in Peru. One of our principal goals is to make the phone line flexible and accessible enough for our participants to own the structure and share with us the construction of a narrative. Here, we all want to avoid casting our participants as purely passive victims of the sterilization programme: the quipu project wants to find a way around the stories of victimhood that tend to characterise provincial Peruvian women when they appear in the national or global media. We reflected a lot on the advice given to us by Sandra Gaudenzi, which she has blogged about here. […]

  2. Storytelling As Resistance | Proyecto Quipu - November 14, 2014

    […] Karen Tucker and I travelled to London on Friday to meet up with Chaka at the Centre for Creative Collaboration. We spent a day working on the scripts for the Quipu phone line, which is being tested as I write by our promotoras/storyhunters in Peru. One of our principal goals is to make the phone line flexible and accessible enough for our participants to own the structure and share with us the construction of a narrative. Here, we all want to avoid casting our participants as purely passive victims of the sterilization programme: the quipu project wants to find a way around the stories of victimhood that tend to characterise provincial Peruvian women when they appear in the national or global media. We reflected a lot on the advice given to us by Sandra Gaudenzi, which she has blogged about here. […]

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