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PARTICIPATION 
IN MINOR KEY

Anne Jenster

Coach: Caroline Hummels

Experts: Cocosmos, Gemeente Eindhoven

Video

PROLOGUE

“ What are you studying? Industrial design, oh I would not have expected that”. It's a conversation I've had countless times. Yet, in the world of design, a notable shift towards addressing societal issues is visible. Next to that the term "design thinking" bombards us from all sides. Despite this, I still hear the surprise in people's voices: "I wouldn't have expected that."

 

Immersing myself in politics and engaging with communication specialists and other students from alpha studies, I find myself shaping the definition of what it means to be a designer in this world. Not just making an Instagram post aesthetically pleasing or creating a house style. Over the past few years, I have been active in participation and co-determination. A young person's pathway into politics.

 

Surrounded by these experiences, I'm becoming more aware of the unique qualities that my background as a designer bring to this field. My Final master project being a further development of myself as a designer in the field of participation and governance. The report you are about to read delves into how, as a designer, I navigate, speculate, and experiment with participation. It sheds light on how I, as a design researcher, employ philosophical, anthropological and design theories to fuel speculation. 

IDEX

INDEX

What can be found in this report
The links will navigate you through
the report

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01

Introduction 

Participation, the cornerstone of our democracy (Arnstein, 1969). With Cornerstone, we mean ‘An important quality or feature on which a particular thing more...

03

Methods

Our education system primarily adheres to a major key paradigm, often ending a formal study around the age of 25. more...

07

Discusion

Not concluding this project, in alignment with a minor key perspective, I'd like to address the limitations of my research and discuss its future possibilities. more...

04

Process overview

Due to the lack of pre-planned steps and clear iterations in my process, explaining the process becomes a challenge. more...

08

Acknowledgements

During the course of my fmp I worked together with a lot of inspiring people, all contributing to the work I put into this report, thank you all for your wisdom, inspiration and energy. more...

Introduction

INTRODUCTION

Participation: the cornerstone of our democracy (Arnstein, 1969). With ‘cornerstone’, we mean “something of great importance that everything else depends on” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2024). But what depends on participation and how can you base something on a thing that is fluent and ever-changing? 

 

Participation literally means to take part and the Dutch word ‘participatie’ was first observed in the Dutch language in 1408. The word is derived from the Latin words "pars" (part) and "cepere" (to take)(Fokkema & Swart-Beekhuis, 2023). When we talk about participation, according to Wikipedia, it involves active involvement, where there is a person or a group (subject) taking part in what is being discussed (the object)(“Participatie,” 2023).

 

Participation is used in various contexts and therefore has different implications. For example, in the Social Support Act (Wmo), it is described as 'taking part in society' (Koninkrijksrelaties, 2015). In the explanatory memorandum of the Environmental Law, it is described as 'involving stakeholders (citizens, businesses, social organisations, and other governments) in the decision-making process of a project or activity at an early stage’ (Staten-Generaal, 2014). According to the knowledge hub on participation (Kennisknooppunt Participatie) of the Dutch government, the definition is: 'participation is a process in which individuals, groups, and organisations exert influence on and share control over collective issues, decisions, or services that concern them' (Kennisknoopunt Participatie, n.d.).

 

All these different definitions and meanings give the word a buzzword status and result in complexity. Is it something that we need to define or is it something that we should just do? 

 

“Participation” or “participatie” in Dutch, is one of the most said ‘buzzwords’ in meetings within the field of design and governance. This is one of the findings of my research project on the design of government dialogue (Jenster, 2022). When you pay attention, to the pervasive use of the word participation it has reached a point where it can be quite irritating. It is almost as if it holds an elevated status as the ultimate solution or way of working in governance and social design, a holy grail. This made me curious about the meaning of participation and to critically examine whether the ways in which the word is used, truly live up to its perceived significance. How could we speculate a future for participation in our over-complexing world? 

 

Over the past months, I explored the domain of participation within Dutch and European governments and governmental organizations, employing the academic lens of the Minor Key, by looking for open-endedness, unpredictability, and experimentation over standardisation and predetermined outcomes (Ingold, 2019). This perspective guided my explorations as I navigated through the entanglements of participation. I experimented with commoning as a concrete example, through cases where I participated myself and cases where I facilitated participation. This project itself also served as an experiment in applying Minor Key principles. Through concrete examples and reflections, I show the experience of working in this way, all while challenging the more rigid perspectives of governmental stakeholders, the university, faculty, and fellow students.

 

My journey, guided by a design research approach, involved case studies, observations, experiments, organization of events, visualizations, and recordings. All add up to an insightful overview of reflections on participation, examples of participation in the Minor Key and speculations. Through unravelling the layers of participation, my research aims to question whether the way we organise participation now truly lives up to its perceived significance and in what ways we can challenge the status quo. 

Context

CONTEXT

History and Demand

The demand for citizen participation in (local) governments in the Netherlands is on the rise, particularly with the current implementation of the new Environmental Act (Omgevingswet) in January 2024. This law states that governments must involve residents, businesses, and organizations in plans for the environment. The Environmental Act provides rules for government participation, requiring finalized plans to specify who was involved, the outcomes, and how participation policies were implemented. Next to government initiators, like residents and entrepreneurs, must indicate their participation efforts and results when applying for an environmental permit (Waterstaat, 2013). The change of the environmental act originated from the Nooren motion. 

 

Adopted by the Dutch Senate (Eerste Kamer) in early 2020, the Nooren motion urged governments at the municipal, provincial, and water state (waterstaten) levels to formulate participation policies. These policies have to outline how they engage in public participation and specify the associated requirements. The motion also requested the government to encourage these authorities to start this process as soon as possible, preferably before the implementation of the new Environmental Act (eerste kamer, 2020).


Despite these recent developments, we can say that forms of participation have been a longstanding theme in Dutch governance. Starting with the fight against the water, in 1255 the first water state came to be in a participatory way (hoogheemraadschap Rijnland). This showed that in times of crisis, working together is beneficial. But also in the famous painting of Rembrandt (de nachtwacht), we can see an early form of participation. Namely the militia (schutterij) a form of citizens taking a public role upon themselves. After that participation became more visible through petitions and protests. Dutch history has seen some historical cases of these for example with the arrival of nuclear plants in the Netherlands (Kennisknoopunt Participatie, n.d.). In 2013 it was even mentioned by the Dutch king in the yearly king's speech (troonrede):

 

“Undoubtedly, in our current networked and information society, people are more articulate and independent than before. Coupled with the necessity to reduce government deficits, this results in the gradual transformation of the traditional welfare state into a participatory society. Everyone capable is expected to take responsibility for their own lives and surroundings.”

 

“Het is onmiskenbaar dat mensen in onze huidige netwerk- en informatiesamenleving mondiger en zelfstandiger zijn dan vroeger. Gecombineerd met de noodzaak om het tekort van de overheid terug te dringen, leidt dit ertoe dat de klassieke verzorgingsstaat langzaam maar zeker verandert in een participatiesamenleving. Van iedereen die dat kan, wordt gevraagd verantwoordelijkheid te nemen voor zijn of haar eigen leven en omgeving.” (Zaken, 2013).

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Embracing the idea of participation as a continuous process is of great importance as governmental plans are rarely finished, it is a continuously changing space. Our world is becoming more and more complex, facing challenges such as climate change and migration, and multi-stakeholder approaches are becoming more and more important (Gardien et al., 2014). Collaboration between citizens and the government within a process becomes imperative.

 

Participation and design

An interesting way to see participation in this multi-stakeholder approach is in terms of commoning. As cities develop, there is an emergence of culture-driven small practices for managing urban spaces. These projects adopt a horizontal decision-making process, operating in terms of "commoning," introducing innovative co-creation in city-making processes (Barbosa et al., 2016). "Commons" refers to the collective use of resources, claimed as a common good, which is not fueled by money (Hardin, 1968). Commons are mostly supported by communities that establish rules and share resources, not necessarily bound to one space. Commoning as a verb refers to a continuous social process that creates and plays the commons (De Angelis & Stavrides, 2010). “Commoning is not focussing on what you have in common or not in common to begin with but the act of casting your experience forward, carrying on a life together” (Ingold, 2019).

 

Designers can play a role in facilitating this collaborative, and experiential approach, they already have ways of empathizing with the users and have the ability to embody and visualize complexity (Gardien et al., 2014). Design, now often plays a role as a facilitator of collaborative and experiential approaches, and encourages public participation in innovation processes. Design activism takes this a step further by not only focusing on people's perceptions but also on changing and researching power dynamics, allowing for new ways to establish relationships and collaborations (Barbosa et al., 2016)

 

It does not have to be repeated that design can play a large role in working on complex societal issues. It can build new democratic relations between places, living beings, and things. It gives different perspectives through for example making, playfulness and the possibility for open interpretations. 

However it is important to also reconsider the roles of designers, they can be developers, facilitators and generators (Binder et al., 2008). Designers should work as design agents to adopt and explore different roles, in this way developing the profession. 

 

Minor key

Focusing on experimentation and collaboration through commoning connects to minor key thinking. Written in Caroline's NWA proposal, "Sustaining (in) Minor Key: Creating Practices for Commoning." Hummels underscores the minor key as "an attitude that advocates open-endedness, unpredictability, and experimentation over standardisation and pre-defined outcomes" (Hummels, 2022). Quotas such as the Green Deal or the goal to solve poverty seem a disguise for governments to say that they are working towards solving a problem instead of attending to the complexity of the challenge itself. Anthropologist Tim Ingold, who speculates this way of thinking, contends that in the evolution of our now mayor key world, we work towards often material realizations which are implicitly exhaustible. In education, we take an immature being and educate them to their full potential, granting knowledge. Ingold sees the opposite of knowledge wisdom. Wisdom can be seen as minor, considering it inexhaustible and undestined. You can never say that you are closer or further away from wisdom (Ingold, 2018).

 

Ingold employs a counting analogy to illustrate the major key world's approach: "we add and we add". We can count the number of people present at an event but certain things are challenging or impossible to enumerate, such as waves or clouds, which keep emerging due to various factors like wind, the moon's position, and currents. When you start counting waves of clouds you can question the meaning of these numbers, it leads to just time passing. When doing so you are ignoring the complexity of the event. Ingold asserts that in a concrescent world, everything perpetually undergoes creation together, be it trees growing in woods or people living in society (Ingold, 2019). This philosophy circles back to the need for participation. As we coexist, participation should allow us to create together and be involved. Unfortunately, participation nowadays often resembles the counting example Ingold provided. For example, when conducting surveys, importance is often placed on the number of respondents rather than the quality of engagement. Participation has become a checkbox and a goal in itself rather than a continuity. Participation means to exist in the spaces between things, within their ongoing changes (Ingold, 2018).

Importance and goal

The goal of citizen participation is to incorporate local needs and desires into shaping the future of public spaces, minimizing conflicts and costs for local governments (Berman & Schnell, 2012). Dutch local governments often use the participation ladder, an academic theory that facilitates discussions on power distribution between citizens and government (Omlo, 2020). Arnstein defined this ladder for the first time in her typology, coming from a heated controversy about citizen control, citizen participation and the maximum feasible involvement of the poor. She plays with the difference between an empty ritual of participation and having the real power needed to affect the outcome of the process. The ladder exists out of 8 steps divided into 3 forms of participation, degrees of tokenism and degrees of citizen participation (Arnstein, 1969) (See figure 1). Arnstein wrote this typology in 1969, which was provocative for that time. However, over the years, we have seen that municipal plans and the needs and wishes of citizens are predefined. Something implicit to this approach. Resulting in participation often becoming an isolated event rather than an ongoing process (Bekkers et al., 2021).

Figure 1: Arnstein's participation ladder
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METHODS

Our education system primarily lives in the major key paradigm. We often end our formal study around the age of 25. Assessment mechanisms involve tests, reports, and course completion, with the outcome resulting in a numerical grade between 0 and 10 (in most European systems). It has its logic that this approach is taken, for example to establish standards and ensure clarity and fairness in granting diplomas. However, I believe it is ill-suited, especially for design education. Design has a subjective nature which challenges the conventional binary of right and wrong. It being said that we cannot have the one without the other; “the major always trails the minor” (Ingold, 2018).

In the context of my final master project, I wanted to challenge the norms of this educational paradigm and explore these minor-key ways of working. My approach did not include end goals and avoided focus on rules and regulations set by the faculty. Additionally, I refrained from describing a specific form of participation, choosing instead to trust the process an find focus on the way. This does not imply a lack of forethought; when starting the project, I carefully considered the methods, main projects, and cases I would undertake. The work I did was mainly divided into cases where I either observed participation processes and had expert interviews, I participated myself and let other people participate. On a topic like this, you cannot work alone, logically you need different people and perspectives to experiment with commoning. In the cases, I often worked in teams with other industrial design students, design researchers and a diverse group of young people in Eindhoven. 

 

The case studies within my project predominantly followed a research-through-design approach accompanied by ethnographies and made field notes to gain and document insights out of these activities. Adding to that I conducted expert interviews, using a flexible, topic-driven conversation rather than an interview script with thought-out questions. I followed design methodologies, such as co-creation and showroom approaches, to facilitate collaborative creation and to spark discussion on the streets (see figures 2 & 3). I used making also as a tangible tool for personal understanding and communication of the topic and insights I got, I incorporated techniques like drawing to visualize data.

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Figure 2: Using designed tool as presenter
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Figure 3: Co-creation session for the low-key expo

While I acknowledge the usefulness of intermediate goals and deadlines to propel the project forward, I saw them as steps in the process rather than endpoints. This perspective allowed for intrinsic motivation, avoiding the fatigue that some students experience toward the end of their projects. I firmly believe that recognizing the ongoing nature of development, even beyond the assessment, keeps motivation alive. For me writing this report is not just a task for assessment; it marks a step in the continuation of the project, incorporating feedback from assessors and industry experts. Next to that, it is a moment to communicate your findings and start a discussion. This is why I experimented with the form of the report.

Metods

PROCESS OVERVIEW

Due to the lack of pre-planned steps and clear iterations in my process, explaining the process becomes a challenge. Demo Day has been my first try to do so, providing me with the opportunity and urge to visualize my accomplishments without compromising the distinctiveness of my working methodology. See here the steps I took throughout the course of my final master's project. 

1.
Working at Cocosmos
2.
First meeting with the mayor
3.
Burgerberaad conference
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Literature research

4.
5.
Jong 040 advise presentation
6.
National youth council event
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7.
Jong 040 voting brainstorm
Low-key expo co-creation

8.
9.
Midterm demoday
11.
Low-key expo
12.
Brabantse jongeren top
13.
Heb jij ook schijt aan de politiek?
14.
Podcast on youth participation
Dutch Design Week

10.
15.
Filming Commoning for the commons
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Conference in Stuttgart about the Future mentors program

16.
17.
Low-key expo evaluation
18.
Making visualisation
19.
Demoday
process
cases

CASES

To truly immerse myself in the essence of the Minor Key experience, I did the following cases. Driven by a curiosity to explore Minor Key thinking and gain a more personal understanding of participation, I chose a hands-on approach. Given my active involvement in youth participation and social design, I did a variety of activities, tailoring them to align with the central theme of my final master project. Because of my extensive network in Eindhoven's participation landscape, I was able to engage in enriching conversations with individuals from diverse backgrounds across the European Union, bringing in different perspectives on the topic of participation. (See appendix 1-8 for more elaboration)

Future mentors program

The goal of the Future Mentors Programme is to let the city leaders of today, be inspired by the city leaders of tomorrow. In this project we want to connect youth to city leaders and let them design the city of the future together; because the youth of today will be living in the city of the future (See Figure 4). The Future Mentors Programme first started in 2022 during the European Year of the Youth, which was organized by the European network Eurocities. During this year, the Future Mentors Programme took place in 26 cities (Dragonetti, 2022).

Figure 4: Part of the future mentors

In 2022, we mentored Mayor of Eindhoven John Jorritsma. We collaborated with him to brainstorm ideas for a future-proof city, with the use of creative design methods including engaging games (See Figures 5 & 6). In the first half of 2023, the Future Mentors Programme underwent further development. This phase involved in-depth research in Eindhoven, conducting interviews with network experts, and expanding our European connections. Positioned as a participation process in the Minor Key, the program thrives on openness, and experimentation and in this way goes beyond bureaucratic norms. Its character is defined by the confidence and audacity of young individuals, being bold enough to engage with figures like the Mayor of Eindhoven or the director of ASML.

Figure 5: Conversation tool with mayor

Adopting a reversed mentoring approach, youth actively mentor city leaders, offering fresh perspectives to them. Rather than waiting for city leaders to seek feedback, we initiate conversations, leading with the youth perspective. Creative methods replace traditional document-heavy meetings, creating a discourse that breaks barriers and encourages creative thinking. 

 

Another interesting element is the strong European network, wherein we exchange knowledge with various cities on best practices. There are similarities with other European cities: in their characteristics, but also in the challenges they face. We are young and we want to make a big change and work on complex issues in our society (such as segregation or the housing problems) - our energy for this ambition is our strength. However, we are aware that our city is not able to solve these challenges alone. We believe we need to work together on a European level to face these challenges (See Figure 7).

Figure 6: Talking to mayor
Figure 7: Conversation with deputy mayor Espoo

In the recent semester, the development of the Future Mentors Programme continued. Balancing my involvement with my Final Master Project, I led the team, focusing strategically on our way of working. We have mentored (and still are) the new mayor, Jeroen Dijselbloem, we have attended conferences and organized our first open event. The approach became more aligned with the Minor Key ethos, with no standard funding, focussing on doing things and making connections. The first meeting with the mayor was very important; it was implicitly needed that he grasped our way of working and recognized the value of our activities. Beyond delving into discussions about the future of the city in the first meeting, we engaged in a dialogue about our organizational structure. What intrigued me was the level of conversation with a high-ranking politician, similar to conversing with a professor. His intellectual ability and experience allowed for a nuanced understanding without the need for elaborate explanations. He not only comprehended our methodology but also acknowledged its value, providing informal approval for the continuation of our project. Also in later encounters the energy between us and the mayor was that of familiarity and understanding. 

 

An insightful realization of this semester was the necessity of guidance from someone who understands the system and has a big network. Before, we already saw the value of our supervisor, but after comparing our way of working within the programme with other European cities we realized that he gave us not only inspiration but also confidence. Confidence is of great importance to our way of working and maybe even to minor key working. It takes courage to go against the current. 

 

This year, we tried to focus on one theme, namely culture. In conversations with Cultuur Eindhoven, we discussed the isolation of young people in Eindhoven and how they are living in distinct bubbles (DAS, Stehven & Six Fingers, 2022). Out of our own research, we have seen that young people do have the need to mingle and want to break out of their bubbles. We decided on using culture and design as part of the solution and proposed to hold the Low Key Expo, during Dutch Design Week. 

Low Key Expo

The Low Key Expo took place on October 28 and 29, 2023, showcasing the work of 11 young artists, makers, and designers from diverse backgrounds. What made the Low Key Expo unique is that these artists were a group of individuals who wouldn't typically cross paths and who experienced a threshold to exhibit their own work or certain work. All participating artists were aged below 27. The artworks could range from paintings, sculptures, and photography to fashion design, shoe design, film art, light art, music, or any other form of creative expression. We invited young individuals from institutions such as Sint Lucas, Design Academy, Summa College, Fontys, TU/e, and through street flyers.

 

It aimed to provide a platform for unconventional artists while also fostering interesting conversations and discussions by bringing together a group of young individuals who wouldn't normally interact. The exhibition was shaped by the artists themselves, and through this collaborative activity, they get to know each other, leading to unexpected outcomes. With this, the exhibition became a new way of telling what young people think or want through art. The lowkey expo displayed the voice of young people to be heard because everyone has a voice but sometimes to be heard you need a stage.

The Low Key Expo was an experiment in commoning, trying to connect different kinds of people and let them work on something together, including ourselves. We started it with an extremely tight deadline. We needed money a location and artists to exhibit. We found students and young people through our network and via sheets that we hung in the city (See Figure 8). We immediately saw the power of the name of the exhibition because it allowed us to work quickly and experimentally, low-key.

 

Securing the location through municipal connections at Plug-In City (Ketelhuisplein), we navigated funding uncertainties with agility, including a fast-money request from Cultuur Eindhoven and additional funding from Stevhen. Of the 30 artist replies, we selected 10 artworks and 11 artists based on diversity in educational backgrounds and artistic forms. A co-creation session with the artists determined the exhibition's setup. It was important to set the tone of the purpose behind the exhibition. We let the artists visualise their social bubbles and created a discussion around this (See Figure 9). We then let them explain their artwork and tried to make up some connecting themes between the art and started with organizing the room.

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Figure 8: Low-key Expo promo
Figure 9: Bubble visualisation co-creation session

Together with artists Belle and Bjorn, we added unique elements to the expo that worked as connecting factors. Belle, a poet, created a poem for all the artists, serving as a didactic panel. Bjorn and I conducted research at the entrance, exploring what made people happy in Eindhoven or in general. Incorporating elements from Bjorn's brand, HEY PIEM, known for spreading positivity, we utilized a big bird suit to engage participants. With this bird suit people could shit on things that suck to get rid of negativity and be able to think positively. A method that worked surprisingly well (See Figure 10).

Figure 10: Positivity research
Figure 11: Visit of Mayor Jeroen Dijselbloem

Before the exhibition opened the mayor visited us and we could give him a tour and let him talk with some of the artists (See Figure 11). The visit proved highly successful, ending with a handover of an artwork that was created as a result of the prior coaching sessions. Additionally, Belle composed a poem for the mayor, drawing inspiration from the insights he shared during their conversation, that was about how he believed people should connect more, admiring friction:

Ik kom in contact 

met vreemde werelden

met mezelf zo op de kaart 

vind veel liefde

en alles is wat waard

 

blijf met verbazing zien

hoe alles bij anderen werkt

en vind daar wrijving mee

misschien

 

maar wrijving maakt warmte 

en warmte omarmt 

dus doe maar een beetje moeilijk

zo worden we allemaal 

een beetje verwarmd

gedichtjes van Belle AJ

On the evening of the first exhibition day, we organized an evening program, also giving a stage to young and upcoming musicians together with light artists (See Figure 12). In total we made everything happen with 26 young people. The low-key expo received positive feedback (See Figure 13), with attendees expressing their appreciation for engaging in conversations about the voice of young people through art: 

 

The Low-key expo is like how Strijp-s started years ago. A frayed edge of Eindhoven city. This is where the people go to shape and materialise their creative ideas. It is good to keep spaces that offer “lowkey, might be brilliant, the majority does not see it (yet)” creative mind and confront us the “ignorant” with it. “young Eindhoven” creates such a platform during ddw 2023! great initiative!” 

Henk Kok

 

A few weeks later an evaluation was held with the artists where we asked 14 questions about the organisation of the expo and the continuation of it (See Figure 14). One question I would like to zoom in on. It was the question, did this expo bring you something new? Answers were that they made new connections with each other but also one artist answered that she got more confidence about where to go after. On the other side, one artist mentioned that he liked exhibiting but that he still felt that his work was too different from the others resulting in not feeling new connections. This decision ensured that we collectively celebrated our achievements and kept opportunities for the future open. Looking ahead, to the future of the low-key Expo we connected with DEMO, a group within Stadsmakers dedicated to finding spaces for creatives. This group has similar ideas so this was a great opportunity to continue the concept of the low-key expo

Figure 12: Evening progam
Figure 13: Guestbook
Figure 14: Evaluation 
ambience movie of the low-key expo

Jong 040

Jong040 is a group of youth ambassadors that represent and gather input from various youth groups in the city. Additionally, they conduct brainstorming sessions and formulate advice for the city council on topics they select themselves (Gemeente Eindhoven, n.d.) (See Figure 15). Originating from the idea of Eva de Bruijn (also an ID Alumnus), Jong 040 now secured funding for five years and is currently coordinated by the company "Jong en je wil wat,". A company situated in Eindhoven and specializing in youth participation. My involvement with Jong 040 dates back to 2019, during which I contributed to formulating advices and participated in discussions on multiple topics.

Figure 15: Jong 040

This form of youth participation is very different from future mentors, being more connected to the municipality and coordinated thoroughly.  In the beginning, when I joined it was more open and we the youth were more in the lead. However, with funding and external organization, the group diversified, fostering more extensive discussions and varied opinions and way more structure. Nonetheless, this external support resulted in a decline in intrinsic motivation, leading to less depth in the advice. As Jong 040 is now structurally funded,  I have the feeling that we are occasionally utilized as tokens. I've experienced personally being used as one, Imagine being a  young person of colour or having a different educational background. Attending meetings of Jong 040 disrupts my usual perspective and bubble, giving me different perspectives and a deeper understanding of the world around me. I believe this change in Jong 040 articulates a great dilemma in participation, the one of diversity. When you want a diverse group you need to do other types of effort. 

"Heb jij ook schijt aan de politiek"

During this project, I found myself in a unique position as the Dutch national elections were in the period of my Final Master Project unexpectedly. This presented an unforeseen opportunity to explore the most apparent form of participation, voting. I attended a national event on youth participation (NJR; Je bent jong en je wil wat), which featured sessions on increasing youth voter engagement. This inspired me to implement a similar initiative in Eindhoven. Collaborating with Jong 040, I organized three co-creation sessions to form what kind of activity we were going to do

Our approach began with a small research study within the group to understand why young people choose not to vote. Starting with a non-political poll on food preferences, we aimed to broaden the group's thinking about voting beyond politics. We asked, "What makes you vote on this?"

 

Responses included:

  • Understanding the impact on short-term results, affecting oneself in the next meeting.

  • Viewing food as a one-dimensional desire, making it an easy choice.

  • Negotiating with groups one dislikes or seeking exemptions.

  • Perceiving a lack of individual impact on a broader level.

Figure 16: Voting brainstorm

Following this, we asked why young people choose or choose not to vote. They listed three reasons each, and after clustering them, the group voted on which reasons not to vote provided an opportunity for improvement and which reasons to vote were interesting to work on (See Figure 16). Three areas emerged, focusing on why young people do not vote: it being boring and unappealing, feeling unheard or that they do not have an impact, and not being informed. 

 

Three groups then brainstormed about these areas and answered questions we devised, such as how to make voting more enjoyable. We later merged these ideas to formulate a unified direction. We came up with the concept of making voting more engaging with the playful phrase "Heb jij ook schijt aan de politiek?" (Do you also shit on politics?). 

 

In the session that followed this, we brainstormed about the visual elements and the information to be presented in the installation, resulting in the following plan:

"Heb jij ook schijt aan de politiek?" (Do you also shit on politics?) Many young people feel the same way. As the youth of Eindhoven, we observe that a significant number of young individuals in our city choose not to vote. This is partly because they feel they can't make a difference or are unsure about how to vote. Politics seems distant from their daily lives. What if we introduce these young people to elections in a fun and engaging way? Something that initially captures their attention with humor, so that afterwards we can then delve into more serious discussions.

 

We plan to take the slogan "Heb je ook schijt aan de politiek?” (Do you also shit on politics?) to the streets, using a portable toilet (Dixi) as a focal point for organized activities. The concept involves approaching young people on the streets, inviting them to express the things they find annoying in politics. Topics representing political issues will be presented, allowing individuals to 'take a dump' on issues they don't care about by throwing something at the statement. If an issue matters to them, they can step into the portable toilet. Inside, they'll have a private moment to use a voting guide and take a piece of toilet paper with additional information. In addition to assisting young people in deciding how to vote, we emphasized that their vote counts. For instance, we'll explain the concept of preferential votes and clarify the significance of blank votes.

 

I submitted a grand request to NJR to fund the activity. And arranged and made the big parts of the installation. I had to do a big part of this myself because of the time limit of others, we created the details of the installation with some members of the core team. 

 

Initially, we planned to stand on the streets for three days, we skipped one due to rain, we ended up standing at Stratums Eind in the evening and 18 Septemberplein during the day. The initiative was highly successful, engaging with more than 100 young people, receiving media coverage, and encouraging numerous young individuals to vote (See Figure 17).

Figure 17: Schijt aan de politiek action

Reflection from Jong 040:

In conversations with other Jong 040 members, the consensus was that it was enjoyable to take direct action and witness its immediate impact. The experience of doing something tangible, as opposed to prolonged discussions, was fulfilling. Additionally, receiving acknowledgement for our work was important to them.

 

Personal Reflection:

The experience was particularly interesting when compared with the Lowkey Expo. The organizational dynamics, participants, and intrinsic motivation were quite different. The circumstances leaned more towards the major key, with a more structured organization, a focus on one-time events, and increased external constraints. I also learned that I had some difficulty delegating because of this, the structure of jong040 did not allow me to lead in minor key. Participooping once again proved effective as an icebreaker, allowing individuals to shift from negativity to positivity.

 

I have done more activities this year regarding Jong 040, such as speaking on a podcast made during a conference listen here.

Cocosmos

Cocosmos is a design company focused on co-creation and participation in Eindhoven and the Brabant region. Based on Design Thinking, Cocosmos helps to respond decisively to transitions. For instance, by providing tools to disentangle complexity and understand stakeholders. Or help organizations to embrace an innovative working method full of experimentation. Making is an important part of their way of working, creating physical installations to guide their research. I am working part-time as a design researcher at this company so was able to do some analyses on how to guide participation processes on for example area development (See Figures 18 & 19).

 

I performed ethnographies to understand participation from the perspective of a design researcher and to learn more about effective strategies for guiding participation processes. One notable observation was about challenges that come with working on a project basis and the importance of establishing continuity. What happens with the information after you leave? A thought that I was playing with, as a research company like this you can take a helicopter view, however, you will not become an integrated view in the organisation, which makes working in minor key difficult. However, I did gain insights into the efficacy of adopting a minor-key approach in this major-key environment, a solution to this is focussing on improving plans instead of trying to solve problems. 

I already did internships in companies like Cocosmos, but working here gave me an understanding of the entire process and is the first time carrying responsibility. Noteworthy was a project undertaken for the Ministry of Social Affairs, which exposed me to collaboration with national governments. For the same ministry, I worked on a tender that provided new perspectives on participation, it was about how to get civil servants (ambtenaren) to citizens instead of the other way around. I worked on the problem statement, noting that participation in policy-making is becoming increasingly important. However it is often difficult to get everyone involved, and we find that we mostly see the same people at meetings. Though, many citizens have pressing concerns, such as their basic needs, making it difficult for them to actively participate. It is essential to hear the voices of these people, even if it is difficult for them to form opinions on issues outside their immediate environment. This does not mean that they cannot participate, because they already do so. Everyone participates in society in their own way if we look at this we can learn a lot from what someone needs or even thinks. Only sometimes this requires a different way. We can also turn participation around, and see it as requiring officials to participate in the living environment for which they make policy.

Figure 18: Interviewing using design
Figure 19: Testing toolkit

Another notable experience was attending a conference on burgerberaad, which provided insights into participation extending beyond the realm of social design. This allowed for a comparative analysis of the methodologies within social design. These other companies (more focused on communication) are often contracted by governments to facilitate participation processes. This experience prompted me to reflect on my standard ways of working and expanded my view on the field of participation.

 

Cocosmos has not only equipped me with the skills to work within diverse groups but has also broadened my perspective on participation. It became evident that certain individuals may face barriers to participation due to more immediate and pressing concerns in their lives. Consequently, traditional participation methods often exclude these voices. Cocosmos has taught me the importance of disrupting these patterns and actively engaging with such communities. I have worked with these groups on some projects regarding energy transition which facilitated a broader understanding of Eindhoven. It taught me valuable life lessons, highlighting that financial limitations, time constraints, and spatial considerations often enable people to participate.

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findings
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FINDINGS

From the cases and observations I did, I found some results. Of course, the events I organized already led to outcomes, like the Low Key Expo during the Dutch Design Week, which was an achievement on its own. In this chapter, I'll explain the most obvious results, smaller ones can be deduced from the case descriptions and context. 

Map

From the various activities I have undertaken, I have acquired quite some knowledge, perspectives, and opinions. These insights and standpoints have been captured in a visualization of my speculation on participation. To delve deeper into its meaning, hover over the specific sections. It is essential to note that this visualization shows my viewpoint, recognizing that it is not the sole perspective. Purposefully, I have kept open spaces to acknowledge alternative viewpoints (Appendix 9). This map served as a ‘script’ for conducting expert interviews on the subject and to get fresh perspectives during the demoday. For the results of the most notable outcomes from these expert interviews, see the second image and click on the elements to zoom in.

Companies fly in to lead a participation trajectory and provide an helicopter view
When the project is over they leave, not able to provide guidance for continuation
In this building you can see some tipical ways and terms dat are used to execute participation processes. some are more standard than others. 
Ladder of particpation, fits to the way of working in this field now. click to read more
Protest are a typical example of citizen participation from bottum up. 
Design Methods to enhance partipation already happens now but also fits in the future vision
In the future this helicopter view of companies would be integrated working on long time on projects or being integrated in the organisation
Taking some inspiration from the past where in the time of the greeks we could vote on everything and in the curch we could meet everyone, bubbles collided more in these third spaces. 
I forsee a future of more exerimentation, doing things togheter in spaces with freedom. Spaces where everyone can participate toghether. Where we do not focus on end goals but the procces and where we have eye for details as much as the bigger picture
In a world with open-endedness, unpredictability, and experimentation over standardisation and predetermined outcomes. Would participations be a means or an end?
Map empty
plaat met expert view.png
Map interview results

Minor key

While immersing myself in the mindset of minor key thinking, I acquired valuable experience. Being able to extract 3 main learning points that could serve as guidelines for minor key working. This mindset became a constant presence in my thoughts, influencing my reflections on various aspects of my life, for example, politicians featured in the news and my own behaviour. I realized that in my academic work, I excel in navigating the uncertainty associated with working in a minor key. However, on a personal level, I find this challenging, dealing with uncertainty, a struggle shared by many in my generation. Constantly being occupied, such as playing music while biking or listening to podcasts, is the norm for me. When I engage in activities that lack a clear purpose, I experience a sense of dissatisfaction or guilt. 

 

I believe that there is a notable contrast between my personal and academic confidence. Academically, I am confident, encouraged to experiment and able to embrace failure. This confidence, is a result of the way that I am coached and (very major key) the fact that receive good grades. My first learning point is that confidence is crucial to trusting the process with this the minor key ethos, and effective coaching and guidance play a pivotal role.

 

The second key learning point comes from the absence of strict boundaries and end goals in minor key work, which innnitially provides us with guidance. Following Ingold's notion that the mayor will always be in the shadow of the minor (Ingold, 2018), I believe that intermediate steps or changeable goals are important to give guidance. Another form that can give guidance is setting a tone,  I believe the key in minor key is finding your tone. The tone-setting example from the low-key expo illustrates this point, the name low-key sets the tone of the way of working.

 

A third significant learning point revolves around the importance of details. When tackling large, complex societal issues, the overwhelming nature of these issues often leads to the formulation of end goals. I believe that minor key work does not need to continuously focus on the big picture, I argue that specific zooming in and out is an integral part of the process. Small details, can carry significant weight. The decision-making process regarding leftover funds from the low-key expo, highlighted the nuanced impact of small details. We first wanted to put these leftover funds into a gift card for the artists. However, by giving a gift card you are saying thank you for what you did for me, marking the end of the collaboration.  A small detail that would have had a big impact, when doing the evaluation almost everyone showed up still feeling ownership.

Even when writing this report I reflected on major key habits, such as including components like conclusions. 

 

Engaging in these cases and experiments has equipped me with guidelines and deepened my understanding. However to be said that it is still hard to fully grasp the topic which is why Aya Bergkamp, Wesley Hartogs, Caroline Hummels and I are making a film/documentary to grasp this topic and provide it with examples. Using film as a way to make things concrete and understandable for ourselves but also for the person watching. Making the film, responding to questions for my own interview, and extensively interviewing Caroline were already a significant step in my process of understanding. You can view the teaser of the pilot episode here.

Participooping

During the course of my FMP activities, I formulated a novel concept that originated from my initial weariness with the term "participation." At times, I jokingly referred to it as "participooping," eventually realising its potential utility. Participooping revolves around the notion that occasionally, one must get rid of negativity to create space for the positive. This concept can be compared with the path of expression proposed by Sanders and Stappers, wherein the initial focus is thoughts on the surface before delving into the deeper layer (Sanders & Stappers, 2012).

I experimented with this concept two times, recognizing the effectiveness of humour as an icebreaker, particularly during street interviews (See Figures 20 & 21). Provocative and amusing elements tend to capture attention, and the lighthearted reference to "poop" added a humorous touch. I highlight this concept as a significant outcome because it motivated me to demonstrate that research doesn't always have to maintain a serious tone. Moreover, it illustrated that such methodologies could be executed not only by designers but also by individuals outside the design field due to its simplicity.

Figure 20: Participooping #1
Figure 21: Participooping #2

Place-making

When speculating about the future of participation, I wondered why citizen engagement has suddenly become such a hot topic. Reflecting on historical moments where such involvement occurred more organically, I noted a shift away from spaces with no specific purpose towards a more isolated existence in our own bubbles. The availability of places where individuals could simply coexist is disappearing. A place where a policymaker could sit next and conversates with a plumber. Ray Oldenburg says in ‘the great good place’ : “Third places exist on neutral ground and serve to level their guests to a condition of social equality. Within these places, conversation is the primary activity and the major vehicle for the display and appreciation of human personality and individuality”(Oldenburg, 1999).  This made me consider the rise of social media as our modern "third space." However, this virtual space tends to reinforce our existing bubbles through algorithms. This observation raises questions about the growing demand for participation, maybe this is because we do not bump into the people we design or make policy for. 

 

During a coaching session, Jeroen Dijselbloem remarked that Eindhoven lacks spaces for aimless wandering (ronddwalen), despite there being plenty of things to do. This resonated with these third spaces, which are low profile, playful and a home away from home (Oldenburg, 1999). These all being elements needed to wander.  

 

While place-making is already a prominent subject within public governance, in the upcoming semester with future mentors, we aim to concentrate on creating spaces for young people. This involves identifying existing ‘third’ places and potentially contributing to making the city more explorative, fostering opportunities for aimless wandering.

 

Money

Another notable outcome was the acquisition of financial support for the activities I organized. In total, I secured three grants. Two for the Low Key Expo and one for the "Schijt aan de Politiek" action. Handling finances in minor key initiatives poses a challenge, as the nature of money inherently aligns with major key principles. It is a numerical value attributed to things. When someone gives you a fund, you need to be held accountable for what you have done with this money. With two out of the three grants, a post-project accountability assessment was required. This process was a good experience for me, particularly with the Low-Key Expo, where plans and expenses were initially unclear. We had to articulate our intentions in a manner flexible enough for plan adjustments yet sufficiently concise to secure funding.

 

The challenge with money is that you need it in order to get more, grants claim to be inclusive but I doubt if this is true. Money, especially in minor key endeavours, presents a paradox. It is a necessary resource for conducting activities and experiments. However, its association with goals often signifies the conclusion of a project when the funds are finished. This is also a paradox that I am experiencing while working at Cocosmos.  

 

In the approach with future mentors, we work without a fixed funds from the municipality and only ask for financial support when starting a project or going on trips. This helps us stay sustainable, it becomes simpler to apply for funds when we have more experience and examples.

Designer in government/visibility

Throughout my master's program, I have focused on exploring the role of designers in government and, more specifically, in politics. This semester, I extended my efforts in this area, actively putting myself in these roles to expand my professional network and further develop my identity as a designer within this field. 

 

During these experiences I learned that news serves as a crucial medium in politics, possessing great influence. I got valuable insights into this way of performing politics during my involvement in previous political endeavors. Collaborating with Tim Hofman and witnessing firsthand how media can be harnessed to bring issues into the political spotlight. I recognize that this influence can manifest in both positive and negative impacts. Using these ways of playing politics the project "Heb jij ook schijt aan de politiek" garnered attention in the Eindhovens Dagblad (See Figure 22).


The emergence of designers in politics is a novel phenomenon, and I believe that leveraging news coverage and visibility can draw more attention to our endeavours. This holds particular importance, given the substantial demand I observed for the kind of work we, as designers, are doing. The relative unfamiliarity with our field's activities may lead to frustration among designers, potentially steering away from this field. This is counterproductive, especially considering our efforts to navigate the unconventional landscape of policy-making and governance. Eva de Bruin, a politician and designer in Eindhoven, echoes these sentiments. After the Dutch Design Week, she published an article ‘more designers in the house of representatives(De Bruijn, 2023), where the Low Key Expo, a part of our initiatives, was highlighted (See Figure 23). She mentioned in this article that designers are needed here to engage more people, design innovative solutions and outline alternative futures.

Figure 22: In the news
Figure 23: Eva de bruijn visiting the Low-key expo
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DISCUSSION

Not concluding this project, in alignment with a minor key perspective, I'd like to address the limitations of my research and discuss its future possibilities.

 

Just a few days ago, on the first of January, a new environmental law came into effect. The government went to great lengths to provide frameworks, checklists, and guidelines on how to navigate this novel mandatory form of participation in area development. This appears to contradict the essence of a minor key approach, a methodology that advocates addressing issues in multi-sector ecosystems through open-endedness, unpredictability, and experimentation. It seems that whenever faced with ambiguity, our instinct is to seek something concrete to hold on to. When dealing with something new, we often crave steps and frameworks to guide us. Viewed in this light, this inclination is quite logical.

 

As highlighted in my findings, using minor key methods, especially in a major key world requires confidence and guidance. I would like to delve into the idea that these guidelines, similar to what the government is now providing, might serve as confidence builders in a new topic, acting as a metaphorical fire lighter. Recognizing that different individuals require different approaches, some may need explicit guidelines.

 

Another facet I'd like to explore within Minor key is connecting it to personal experiences and finding significance in the smaller aspects of life. Over the past couple of months, I've engaged in practices that might not necessarily enhance my professional capabilities but significantly contribute to my understanding of the topic. While it may not directly improve my work, it has deepened my comprehension of the added value. I sense a recurring theme in my generation: the need to learn to let go, to not worry excessively.

 

While writing this report, my favourite Dutch artist (Froukje) released a new album featuring a song titled 'We Hebben De Tijd' (We Have Time). The lyrics, "Het loopt allemaal wel los, Want we hebben de tijd minstens tot morgen, het is stom en het spijt me, Maar ik maak me zo’n zorgen over alles, altijd,". The contradiction between embracing time and trusting the process, alongside the persistent worry that we experience is recognisable. We want answers and solutions to our problems and that is hard to let go.

 

Understanding the importance of experimentation and focusing on a process leading to letting go is easier in our daily lives. This philosophy, which brings about less stress, could be applied to how we deal with societal issues in multi-ecosystems. In the documentary ‘commonning for the commons’ we try to convey this message. The idea of creating multiple episodes with examples and stories of individuals already working in this way makes the topic more digestible. I see opportunities for an episode on these more personal approaches to the topic of minor key. 

 

Returning to participation in a minor key, I provided examples of how to guide participation processes using commoning and design. However, I don't present ready-made solutions for performing participation in a minor key, which might align with the essence of Minor key itself. Nevertheless, I did find some lessons that could aid in thinking this way: confidence, finding your tone, and paying attention to details. I haven't gone beyond providing examples, and I acknowledge that experimenting with commoning in participation processes needs further exploration by different actors. I will pursue this journey as well in my career.

 

Regarding design methods in participation processes, while I haven't elaborated on them extensively. They are built into my way of working and developed over the years of my design education. Within participation, I view them as a minor key way of working in a major key world. The use of creative methods and questioning the conventional means of gathering people's opinions is an intriguing approach. However, it's important to note that creative methods on the streets aren't always the holy grail, as sometimes a longer process with a few individuals and a handful of sticky notes can be more valuable than a flashy field approach. Design methods, while embraced in social design, may not always be the correct way.

 

At the end of this semester, I became familiar with the concept of placemaking, third spaces. I found them similar to commons, but also the public sphere. My research lacks depth in this topic, but it is something that interests me, especially the popping up of all of these terms meaning similar things. I think there is a great opportunity in place making within the future of participation, it has the possibility to lower thresholds. Allowing literal space for minor key. It might be the tone for participation in minor key. Place-making will be the focus of future mentors in the upcoming semester, this way I am able to explore the topic further. As for my own career, I plan to explore my role as a design researcher within a government, preferably a ministry. 

 

After all these activities I am able to argue that participation is indeed a cornerstone or better said it might be the foundation of our democracy. But who says that you cannot renew your foundation? Within my experiments, I found that Minor key thinking is able to challenge this foundation and thus the status quo. Providing room for experimentation and challenging the question behind the question. 

discussion
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

During the course of my fmp I worked together with a lot of inspiring people, all contributing to the work I put into this report, thank you all for your wisdom, inspiration and energy: Caroline Hummels, Aya Berkamp, Rob ter Steege, Anna van Houten Slump, Renate Voss, Wesley Hartogs, Ludger van Dijk, Sander van der Zwan, Philémonne Jaasma, Milou Bruinenberg, all my Cocosmos colleagues, Lara Hekma Wierda, Lucas Bakker, Filip van der Vegt, Jurre Wolters, Bjorn Nieuwenhoff, Belle van Kempen, Jef Rouschop, Nicolae-Andrei Miuta, Elke Bevers, Esmeralda van Werkhoven, Oliwia Migas, Lars Vroegop, Julija Cesnulaityte, Simon van Vliet, Laila, Jelmer Bontje, All the members of Jong 040 core team, Milou van den Hurk, Nina Hoek van Dijke, Youri kok, Roos Vlaar and Eefke Smits

acknowledgements
reference

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I used chat gpt 3.4 as a paraphraser using the prompt: correct my grammar

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