Playing with Real World Labs

Mar 2023 | News & Notes

By Tabea Glahs and Maria Nørregaard

Tabea Glahs and Maria Nørregaard are students at the SOD executive master program while working with service design in Oslo Municipality. Here they report on experiments with a more playful approach to Real-World Labs.

Playing with Real World Labs to influence the stream of conversations

We all know it by now we ought to consume less and decrease our footprints on the climate – so do we as authors. So how come we find ourselves in a situation where we go to work, try to ask critical questions, and improve the services of Oslo City, yet altogether forget to ask the perhaps most important question – how to live more sustainably? And even more importantly, how do we discuss this matter with colleagues in an encouraging (as opposed to a judgemental or instructive) way?

How can play, creativity and systems-oriented design change conversations in a public service digitalisation agency towards including considerations on sustainability? To find answers to this question, we introduced the Laboratory for Complexity at our workplace at Oslo Origo, the digitalisation department of the municipality of Oslo. In this real-world lab, we used the emergent properties of conversations and the element of surprise from game dynamics to guide us from one intervention to the next.

First intervention: starting from a point of curiosity: aiming to find out what our colleagues think about sustainability in digital service development. Do they consider it to be important? What role does sustainability play in their everyday work life? Playfully mixing qualitative and quantitative methods.

Second Intervention: Initiating conversations about sustainability with our colleagues during lunch time and gigamapping these conversations in real-time, making connections between seemingly unrelated topics.

Third intervention: weaving together the loose threads from the previous conversations to create a story about the future: where could Origo be in terms of sustainability in just a year? Involving the audience in the storytelling at an internal gathering for all employees.

Fourth intervention: designing the future takes imagination, therefore we invited colleagues to make their own future sustainability mascot. These functioned as physical reminders to keep our conversations alive and to bring things that appear separated and unrelated together.

Through small physical actions like filling liquid in test tubes, singing together, eating and making, we invited colleagues to participate in reflections with mind and body. Thus, not only understanding and reflecting on the role of sustainability in digital service development from their mind, but using their whole self to reflect and engage in the matter.

Influenced by organizational theorist Ralph Stacey, we understand organizations as streams of conversations – this is both our joyful and humble attempt to influence the flow of the stream.