In mid January we, the Commonfare consortium, met in Zagreb to discuss what we did so far and to organize the next phases of participatory design activities. There, we worked with Croatian participants on the design of the platform and we engaged in collective discussions about the research activities that pilot partners are carrying out in Croatia, Italy, and The Netherlands. A pressing issue arising in several contexts concerned the language we adopt to describe the project, its goals, and its ethical and political aspirations.
We realized that several words we used to define the original proposal turned out to be troubling, if not displeasing, to the people who participate in research activities. This issue affects many words defining the project, starting from its very name: PIE News. We used the “PIE” acronym to point to the three social issues our action-research aims to confront (Poverty, lack of Income, and unEmployment), yet the participants involved in design workshops rejected it insofar as they do not — or do not want to — necessarily identify themselves with the conditions the project aims to tackle. Such feedback from Croatian participants resonated with the results of the field research that pilot partners conducted in Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, and Zagreb, which in some respects reflect growing concerns and doubts within the consortium as well Other words that emerged as contentious are ‘users’, ‘stakeholders’ and ‘reputation’, which we discover do not belong to the worlds and stories we are encountering.
Such encounters gave us useful directions to improve and transform the project language, narrative, and aesthetic. As part of the participatory practices that characterize this project, we have decided to take ‘Commonfare’ as the leading word describing this research and political action, while necessarily keeping ‘PIE News’ as a label to interact with our institutional counterparts, mainly the European Commission that is funding the project. Commonfare.net, which is the original name of the digital platform we are designing in a participatory way, seems in fact the best language choice to shape the entire project when connecting with the people we meet everyday in the pilot sites and interacting within the consortium, as it underlines the positive aspects of our project: making things together.
Moreover, we are starting to build a glossary to let the participation of people actually shape the key concepts we work with. Such a language transformation will affect all our communication materials and media: website, Facebook page, flyers, press releases, posters, and face to face interactions. We consider this decision a crucial improvement in the process of nurturing the conversation with the publics whom we aim to engage, in order to foster the Commonfare collectively.