Miniature Worlds as Empathy Icebreaker

I have to tell you a secret. For more than a year, I have a silver bag full of stuff. All sort of weird things can be found in this bag. Bean seeds, golden nails, neon sponges, tiny bags for jewellery, and more.

Last week, this bag of stuff traveled with me into an ideation workshop for cultural centres in the countryside of Lithuania. The session aimed to give a quick practical example of how to activate imagination and empathy when planning community events. The background story of this workshop is the same riddle facing all industries. When creating, it’s easy to forget about the people who will be the consumers of the end product. Now imagine the product is a community event. The same rule applies. How might we ensure our ideas match the needs of the people we serve?

The Methods

To activate creativity and empathy towards the community’s diverse needs, we constructed ideas hands-on with the physical objects and through role play.

Activation of Creativity

Constructing with the hands is also called “tinkering”. The magic happens in our minds when our hands hold objects. Indeed, our abstract thoughts become much easier to explain through hands-on modelling. We can discuss the idea immediately when everyone can see what we mean. In our workshop, we used random things like nails, plasticine, bean seeds, etc., as material for building the ideas. The less curated the objects were, the easier it was to activate the curiosity with no labels attached to the objects themselves. Things also became an ice-breaker for building in pairs. One person adds a thing, another adds a thing, and the idea gets into shape.

Activation of Empathy

Role play is a quick way to activate empathy and wear the target audience’s shoes. In our workshop, instead of going the tedious way, like let’s play the community members and represent “moms”, “kids”, “adults”, etc., participants played the characters of fairy tales instead. Yes, to the heroes and the magical objects themselves! The making has started with the question in mind – how might we build ideas to reflect the needs of the communities? Here, the new roles activated empathy in an instant.

For the curious readers, I’m sharing our workshop plan you can repeat:

The Activity Plan

2min – Interests (Things)
What’s your hobby? Choose a thing from the bag of stuff.
Write down a Hobby on a sticky note. Put into a magical hat.

2min – Places (Ice-Cream)
Where did you have ice-cream last time?
Write down a Place on a sticky note. Put into another hat.

2min – Names (Fairy Tales)
What fairy tale character or a magical object do you like?
Write down the new Name on a sealing tape and put it on.

2min – Teams (Senses)
Walk around and find the place where it feels cozy.
The person next to you is your pair for the activity.

20min – Making (Stuff)
Each pair:
– Takes 1 Place and 1 Interest from the magical hats.
– Gets a white sheet of paper with a title “City”.
– Has 2 things from before. Can take more stuff for building the idea.

Activity: In pairs, create a community happening from things. Make sure that the idea reflects the needs of both characters that represent entire communities.

10min – Reflection
Idea presentations in the group (those who want to share).
Reflection as a group.

At the end of the workshop, participants reflected on how a role-play reminded them about the needs of the community members, how collaboration in pairs became more comfortable when wearing the names of fairy tale characters, and how building with things got the creative juices flowing.

This workshop was co-created with my colleague Eglė Nedzinskaitė for the closing of the project “Community Dialogues” run by Kūrybinės Jungtys. The activity reflects the methods we used in the 3 months project: design thinking, prototyping with objects, co-creation, active listening, storytelling, and more.

Now, your turn. What’s your takeaway? How could you use role-play or magical objects to activate your creativity and empathy when building ideas? 🙂

Let me know! In the meantime, I’ll go play with my bag of stuff!

Follow my thoughts...

Subscribe to notes from my forest walks. Only new blog posts sent to your email. I respect your privacy.