From Iris Garrelfs
At our all-hands-on-deck meeting in Southampton earlier this week I was asked to write a little about one of the other envisaged applications of Procedural Blending: how it may aid the process of inter/cross-disciplinary collaborations. These can, as we know, be fraught with difficulties, especially where concepts of participating collaborators differ widely. At the same time, collaborations are ever more important in all research domains. Procedural Blending offers an approach and a potential structure for fruitful collaborative activities across domains. The diagram below gives a basic graphical overview of the idea, but let me flesh this out a little.
To begin with, we may understand each discipline or participating collaborator, say an artist and a scientist, as a distinct blend field, each of which will come with a set of key inputs or themes, elements of which will need to find correspondence in the envisaged output. As a reminder, an input describes everything that flows into the process in question, from concepts or project parameters to tools or physical interactions. Less important inputs and their elements will also be present, although they might not have to appear in the output at all, or at last not to the same extent.
It’s worth spending a little time on identifying and communicating what these inputs/elements consist of; making these aspects explicit methodically may facilitate connections between even very diverse subjects. We can then ‘drill’ into each input or element as deeply as needed until connections between them are established – or a blend is achieved, to use a bit of jargon.
Of course, as an iterative process, the whole procedure may take some time and joint evaluations are very important before moving on to the next stage. These will allow all participants to reflect and comment on the value of the achieved blends/connections, considering individual perspectives as well as joint goal-oriented view points.
There are a host of established techniques that can be inserted to facilitate making connections at each stage. Two of my favoured ones are what I call the “flipside approach” and the “throwing-the-spanner-in-the-works technique”. Roughly speaking, the flipside approach involves taking one thing, perhaps the first obvious idea that comes to mind, and then trying out its exact opposite as a spring board for further development. It might not sound much on paper but the results can be quite surprising!
The spanner-in-the-works technique is a little more elaborate. Essentially, one takes something completely random and tries to establish a connection between it and key ideas that where perhaps difficult to get to grips with (bearing in mind that both the “key idea” and “it” may be an artefact, concept or process) and see what result that connection attempt yields. In all likelihood, nothing directly relevant to what you are working on will emerge straight away, but this activity does uncover “hidden” values (key meta-elements), and in being fun and overtly beside the point, frees up blockages and changes persepctives.
On the whole, the view embedded in Procedural Blending, where elements from inputs are connected through an iterative process of engagement to arrive at outputs, lends itself to unpacking different concepts, working practices and so on. And unpacking such inputs can ultimately help us finding ways to connect elements that are important to individuals taking part in a collaboration.