Created by the DDJC, NodeRunner uses traffic cones, ribbons, and lots of organizational chaos to demonstrate how a mesh network is established and maintained.

James Vorderbruggen and Edward Burnell

Through a year of co-learning, Ujima and Mass Mesh will organize a community-owned wireless mesh network in Roxbury and Dorchester to provide home broadband access.

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hello from Ned!

I’m delighted to be working next to y’all in this codesign studio. 🙂 Rather than starting with a bio, I’m going to try leaping straight into the work I hope to do, tagging in my background as it comes up. (we’ll see if that works into something readable lol)

I’m intrigued by the formation of shared ideas (aka joint-cognitive design concepts) during creative group work. For example: imagine a group of people discussing something they’ve agreed to work on together: it starts out as just a name or label, but as they come together they build it up by talking about their perspectives on what it should be. Then a fascinating thing happens: someone at the table asks another person “what do you think [a particular part of the concept] looks like?” At this point the asker is referencing a shared idea, something that isn’t physically real (though it may be referenced in sketches), but that the asker can imagine, and what’s more knows the person they’re asking the question of can imagine, and further, that that person can see things in this shared reality that the asker cannot.

This kind of conversation has happened in many of the engineering, product design, and teaching teams I’ve been a part of, and it generally isn’t remarked upon. But in my experience it’s during this formation of the shared idea where many of the voices, perspectives, and concerns that are marginalized or less powerful are prevented from shaping the direction of a project. The shared idea, especially as anchored in sketches, CAD, spreadsheets, can serve as a secret language, excluding those who were not given the chance to build bridges from their experience to the shared idea from having a hand in the project’s vision and organization of work. For me, a powerful realization of this came while teaching in Ghana, where when we presented hands-on activities students held back on telling relations between chemistry (which they’d learned in English) and everyday life (in a city that spoke Fanti) until the classroom became a comfortable place for them to switch between the two languages.

My hope for this class is to focus on co-creating those moments and representations of shared ideas in ways that build power at and amplify voices along the margin of who we consider “designers”. This is currently my research for a Mechanical Engineering PhD, but it started when I was working in the engineering industry: I wanted the machinists to be critiquing the modelers’ concepts just as much as the modelers were currently critiquing the machinists’. However, the aerospace research engineering that I started with began to feel a bit too privileged to hold some of my hopes for co-design. As my expertise is in interviewing practitioners about the shared ideas of their work (which are by their nature difficult to put into words) my hope is to work with a community of practitioners to build power and knowledge such that their shared ideas are more listened to and given more weight in the rooms they bring them to.

In particular, I’d love to work with a local union and unionized workers. I have a few connections to labor organizers in this area, and am beginning to reach out, but am also definitely feeling my inexperience in co-design as I try to understand how to do so and what the opportunities might be! From my current perspective, the way organizers reflect on, share, and build their practices seem like a very interesting set of shared ideas to work with. I’m quite open though to other suggestions of communities and partners. 😀