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A sense of change: media designers and artists communicating about complexity in social-ecological systems

Joost M. Vervoort, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford; Soil Geography and Landscape group, Wageningen University; Alterra
Diederik H. Keuskamp, Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Amsterdam
Kasper Kok, Soil Geography and Landscape group, Wageningen University
Ron van Lammeren, Laboratory for Geo-information Science and Remote Sensing, Wageningen University
Taconis Stolk, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Arts Academy
Tom (A.) Veldkamp, Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation, University of Twente
Joost Rekveld, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Academy of Art
Ronald Schelfhout, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Academy of Arts
Bart Teklenburg, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Academy of Arts
Andre Cavalheiro Borges, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Academy of Arts
Silvia Jánoškóva, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Academy of Arts
Willem Wits, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Academy of Arts
Nicky Assmann, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Academy of Arts
Erfan Abdi Dezfouli, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Academy of Arts
Kate Cunningham, ArtScience Interfaculty, Royal Academy of Arts
Berend Nordeman, Media Technology, Leiden University
Hannah Rowlands, Oxford Martin School Programme for the Future of Food, University of Oxford


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To take on the current and future challenges of global environmental change, fostering a widespread societal understanding of and engagement with the complex dynamics that characterize interacting human and natural systems is essential. Current science communication methods struggle with a number of specific challenges associated with communicating about complex systems. In this study we report on two collaborative processes, a short workshop and longer course, that aimed to harness the insights of interactive media designers and artists to overcome these challenges. The two processes resulted in 86 new interactive media concepts which were selected by the participants and organizers using set criteria and then evaluated using the same criteria by a panel of communication and media design experts and a panel of complex systems scientists using the same criteria. The top eight concepts are discussed in this paper. These concepts fell into the categories of serious games, group interaction concepts, and social media storytelling. The serious games focused directly on complex systems characteristics and were evaluated to be intuitive and engaging designs that combined transparency and complexity well. The group interaction concepts focused mostly on feedbacks and nonlinearity but were fully developed and tested in the workshops, and evaluated as engaging, accessible, and easy to implement in workshops and educational settings. The social media storytelling concepts involved less direct interactions with system dynamics but were seen as highly accessible to large scale audiences. The results of this study show the potential of interdisciplinary collaboration between complex systems scientists, designers, and artists. The results and process discussed in this paper show the value of more structural engagement of interactive media designers and artist communities in the development of communication tools about human and natural systems change.

Key words

communication; complexity; participation; scale; serious gaming; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087