I was thinking recently about where to find information/knowledge/wisdom. Often times, we expect information to jump out in front of us – the top link on a Google search for example. Often times, though, I think we need to look for information in more subtle places. A couple of examples come to mind:
During the Bow to Bluff project, we installed a series of Sounding Boards – places where community members could share their ideas for improving the Bow to Bluff corridor in that space. Through this method of engagement, we received nearly 1,000 ideas in a month. Pretty astounding. There was no shortage of great ideas and information to be found on the notes themselves, but it occurred to me that there was another layer of information that the boards provided over time. As the days turned into weeks, the boards were used/abused in different ways. As you can see from the images below, the first Sounding Board (with the orange post-it notes) was in a more secluded, hidden location. Over time, moving from the first picture during installation to the second picture during the end of its tenure, this was the most tagged and abused board. Conversely, the Sounding Board that was most in the open (with yellow post-it notes) was left at the end with only one tag on it – a stencil saying “Do what you love.” The last picture isn’t great – it’s what the board looked like after 3 straight days of rain, but you can see what I’m talking about. Note to self: build an awning over your Sounding Boards next time.
The hidden information? How these boards were treated provided insights into the overall visibility and safety of the spaces in which they were placed.
The second example comes from a recent snowstorm we had here in Calgary (the crazy-warm weather has subsequently melted all of the snow). The morning after the big snowfall, I had to walk up 29th Street NW to the Foothills hospital. Already, people had chosen many ways of navigating the hill, as you can see in the image below.
The hidden information? How people choose to move through and around the space. This is what designers call desire lines. Winter cities can really benefit from the traces of evidence provided by snow. For example, I am currently working with a local permaculture consultant to design a food forest in my front yard. The snow provides us with great insights into how the local neighbourhood rabbits move through my yard, allowing us to refine the permaculture design so that the food we plant ends up mostly in my belly, not the rabbit’s.
So the next time you’re searching for some information or insights or wisdom, take a minute and see if you can’t find insights that are less obvious, but perhaps more meaningful.