Score ❸ The Institutional Investigation Course Assignment #InstiInvest

Written by Samantha Hookway (HDK-Valand), with contributions by Danielle Heath (HDK-Valand), Xavier Gorgol (erg)

Edited by Eva Weinmayr John Moseley

  • institutional body, entering institutions, scores, pedagogy, first assignment, support structures, methods

What it is

This score is a long-form assignment for students to help them get to know an institution when joining it and enabling institutional critique from the start.

Students are asked to investigate, in groups, an aspect of the institution they have just entered and create a visual proposal for an intervention, reflecting on a gap discovered while investigating.

This score is based on a common starting project in design and architecture that consists of mapping the building as an introduction to spatial drafting.

It is, however, the critical mapping of relationships that is at the core of this score. It includes basic introductions to the space, people and systems while, also, heavily encouraging a critical reading of the institution from day one.

Why it is

While entering any institution, one begins to collect keys that unlock the literal doors, but also knowledge of the institution’s tools and access to its spaces of shared engagement. We asked: what are the measurements for succeeding at this handover?

The point of this score is twofold: unleash an analytical eye while entering a new institution and give participants the keys, the context and the contacts to navigate the new institution they have just entered.

The goal is to enable students entering new environments to navigate the infrastructure and draw on available support resources, thereby building their capacity for agency within the institution.

We first tested Score #3 at HDK-Valand, Academy of Art and Design, Gothenburg in the framework of the MA Embedded Design Programme. This course aims to prepare students for a practice that dares to enter complex and systemized contexts: organizations, companies and institutions. Using a strategic plus an artistic approach, the practice embraces, on the one hand, a role as a “friendly collaborator” and, on the other, of “critical disruptor.”

How it works

The exercise asks not just how can we help students navigate the new institution, but how might we scale down the institution's newness? How can we set up engagement that is dialogue-based rather than staff informing via monologues?

In this score, students investigate the institution in a range of interactions, including workshop intros, ceremonial startups, and seminars with different design educators etc.

Students should be reminded not to forget to include any insights or understandings of how the institution and the department functions learned through these interactions. It might be in these that each group finds the most pertinent information needed for institutional intervention. They should not forget to take field notes, field observations, and field imagery along the way.

Themes

Investigations are around four major themes:

❶ Spatial
❷ Programming
❸ Management
❹ Support Structures

We organized workshops on each of these, expecting groups to dive deeper according to where they decided to focus. No team was intervening on the entire organization but found an area in the investigation with the most need, most interest.

Model displaying the four organizational themes that were used to frame the activities i.e., the workshops, support interviews and etc. of the #InstiInvest assignment 2020.

The above model of the four organizational themes was used in multiple course activities. The model and the course activities that were designed to reveal the space are in the centre. The following list was presented to the students during the introduction to the assignment:

❶ Spatial

An investigation of the building and the space the institution occupies.

❷ Programming

An investigation of the many aspects of programming that happen within the institution. At HDK-Valand this included design’s many programmes, other educational disciplines, verkstad protocols and procedures, and research groups.

❸ The Management

An investigation of management. At HDK-Valand this included the Head of Department being booked for a three-hour session, answering questions presented by students about his perspective on HDK-Valand, its vision and managerial structures.

Beyond this interaction, groups should do further investigations into other lines of management.

❹Support Structures

An investigation of any support functions to the main organization’s objective. This includes but is not limited to the administrative bodies. Support Structures include (but are not limited to): Communications, Economy, Building Managers, Admissions, HR, Study Counsellors, GU Services, Cleaning Staff, Student Health Services, Neighborhood Cafes, etc.

At HDK-Valand, on a given date, the groups took on an administrative body to go and get to know and later there was a peer-led exchange of the information gathered.[support^]

Prompts

The following prompts were given to students to structure their investigation and submission of the test case #InstiInvest as part of the Embedded Design at HDK-Valand in 2020.

The visualized project description will have the basic components of any project description and the design methods practiced in creating such a document: the what, why, how, and project timing:

❶ The what

Introduce the focus area of the institution chosen by the group.

Each group should narrow down the point of engagement their design intervention will investigate. The institution, in itself, is too large and complex for a single project, and part of the investigative purpose is to identify areas in need of work. This most likely means each group will find a focus area where some aspect(s) of the four themes – Space, Programming, Management, and Support Structures – collide with an area not clearly acting within the four themes.

❷ The why

Display field notes and the mapping that exposes the crucial need for the proposed intervention

❸ The how

Validate and clearly argue the design approach used by the group in the final proposal. Be sure to cite theoretical underpinning(s) and sourcing inspiring design practices

❹ The timing

Provide a plan-of-action including next steps and far-future speculations

Examples of student-led approaches

These examples resulted from the first iteration of this score at #InstiInvest as part of MA Embedded Design, HDK-Valand in 2020.

One team created a proposal for students to participate in the organizational merger that had already been affecting staff for about a year. The project called “Merge Now” asserts that students could also be more informed and engaged in the process of merging and asked the main question of why students seemed so ill-informed while staff seemed so stressed?

Another team proposed an orientation tool for students entering transdisciplinary design education that distinguishes HDK-Valand from other schools. The project called “Where is the state of the art?” defined the gap between the ambitions of the design unit’s pedagogy to be transdisciplinary and the experience of navigating this openness as a student.

The third team proposed an intervention in how staff communicates with each other in the project called “The missing of the Big Kahuna.” Identifying the fact that communication seemed to be a top-down strategic process, this group proposed a more democratic approach and created a newsletter campaign, tested on the design unit to start the conversations. See student projects as presented in Open Windows, a one-week public online event of the Design Unit at HDK-Valand.2 Download “Open Windows” PDF

Running the assignment

The exercise was designed to be assigned in the first course of any study programme. It is tailored for courses in need of wayfinding or support mechanisms on top of the subject pedagogy.

We tested it for approximately eight weeks of full-time study, but we can easily imagine that elements of it could be simplified into a smaller assignment or expanded into a larger one. The assignment size depends on the learning outcomes that are to be examined, programme curriculum and necessity of introducing students to the tools and facilities, e.g., the wood workshop, computer room, study counsellors, etc.

It is highly recommended that students do this assignment in small groups to be able to work more personally and confidently while investigating spaces and systems new to them. Running such an assignment is not a simple task. There is much for the community to organize and coordinate (community includes teaching staff but also other members of the institution, such as leadership, administrators and even students in other programmes and courses) The following step-by-step guide outlines the score for realization in a higher education context, such as an art school or university, with a defined curriculum and prescribed learning goals.

Preparation

Final Presentation

Students are examined on a detailed design intervention proposal pertaining to the institution they investigate. They are to both formulate and publish their description of this project, using the prompts (see above) for final presentation structure.

The expected quantity of pages can be finalized together in the publication workshop, but a starting rule of thumb for us was to have one spread for each of the four prompts.

Reflection

We strongly recommend that you schedule a moment of reflection after delivery of the presentations. Pedagogically, reflection is a very potent tool for students to frame their own learnings and can be effective for staff as a deepening of any systematic course evaluation and in redesigning the assignment for future groups. It can be done in many ways: discussion, workshop or writing assignment, for example.
This segment was found to be particularly relevant in the EMD11A case. Here, the learning objectives were clearly about defining a practice using examples from the field juxtaposed with an introductory Embedded Design project experience. Hence, for the final two weeks of the course (and after project delivery) the students were given a writing assignment. A writing assignment was chosen for the following reasons:

What we learned – practical tips to take elsewhere

Background, Influences

A reference for this project is the book, Institution Building by Hirsch, Misselwitz, Miessen, and Görlich (2009) and in particular by the project “Spaces of Production” 3. Although this book was written within an architectural context originally, it is a good departure point for an investigation of ours, and particularly with the added organizational lens we will add.

This work has been informed by Celine Condorelli’s work on “Support Structures,” a “manual for what bears, sustains, props and holds up. It is a manual for those things that encourage, give comfort, approval, and solace; that care for and provide consolation and the necessities of life. It is a manual for that which assists, corroborates, advocates, articulates, substantiates, champions, and endorses; for what stands behind, underpins, frames, presents, maintains, and strengthens.” (Condorelli 2014, 6).

This score’s pedagogical approach is inspired by the progressive pedagogy of Dori Tunstall, first black Dean of Design at Ontario College of Art and Design University, who emphasizes the facilitator role’s agency: “If you are able to create conditions that open up their [the participants’] possibilities for self-determination, self-definition then they will themselves change the system and you get the honour of being able to facilitate that. They will appreciate and recognize your role in that facilitation.” (2019).

References

Condorelli, Céline. Support Structures. Berlin, New York: Sternberg Press, 2014.

Hirsch, Nikolaus, Philipp Misselwitz, Markus Miessen, and Matthias Görlich, eds. Institution Building: Artists, Curators, Architects in the Struggle for Institutional Space. Berlin, New York: Sternberg Press, 2009.

European Kunsthalle, 2020.

Tunstall, Elisabeth (Dori) and Grandoit-Sutko, Alice. “On Designing for Respect”, Deem Journal, W/S 21(two), 96-99, 2021.

Tunstall, Elisabeth (Dori) and Kett, Robert J. “Respecting our Relations: Dori Tunstall on Decolonizing Design.” Jacobs Institute, 2019.

#InstiInvest 2020, an example case

#InstiInvest, short for Institutional Investigation, was designed as an introductory course for incoming MA Embedded Design students in autumn 2020 at HDK-Valand, University of Gothenburg. It is based on feedback and reflection within the TTTT working group and although it has been designed for master's level students, it could easily be adapted for any other new student group.

#InstiInvest’s first iteration ran in Autumn 2020 and project work ran across seven weeks of the ten-week course “EMD11A: Introduction to an Embedded Design Practice” (15 credits). It was the largest project and ran between two other examined assignments. Due to COVID-19, 80% of the course took place on video conferencing platforms: Zoom and Canvas. Students had access to the building and to individual studio desks. Overall, we met for ca. three days in person. The course was run in English, students come from all over Europe and had been awarded a Bachelor in Design or in other artistic fields. This course as a whole was taught by a team of teachers, one of whom also participated in the TTTT project while developing and implementing the course as the Course Responsible.

Teaching Team Hours

Hours conducted for this course were divided for the teaching staff in the following ways (Reporting Autumn 2020 specific to this assignment and not including full course hours):

Course Responsible: 110 hours
Including course planning, admin, workshop or seminar leading, group tutoring, grading and feedback
Sidekick: 50 hours.
Including course planning, workshop or seminar leading and feedback
Time demand for staff reaching outside teaching: 10-15 hours.
For interviews, across multiple people
Extra Design Teaching Resources: 80 hours.
For workshop or seminar leading and feedback.
TOTAL: ca. 255 hours

Numbers

Three teams of 3-4 students experienced this project briefed to create a visual proposal that intervenes into the institution they have just entered, to develop a description, reflection on a gap discovered while investigating.

Further Documents


  1. Support Structures is loosely based on the book of the same name edited by Condorelli (2014). 

  2. Open Window is an exhibition opportunity for current and graduating students and a way for the school to promote itself to prospective students. 

  3. “Spaces of Production”, was a project that gave an exploratory example of investigating an arts institution via theory or conceptualizations while also developing a practical knowledge that informed the setting up of the European Kunsthalle in Cologne in 2020. It formed also the base of the book Institution Builidng: Artistis, Curators, Architects in the Struggle for Instutional Space (Hirsch et al. 2009). 

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