The Value of Disruption: A Reflection on Collaboration and Thought Exercises



Present and future problems related to mobility in Mexico City, as well as the legibility of public policy that sets out solutions to those problems, were the focus of for three days of intensive work for a small, multidisciplinary and binational (UK/ Mexico) group of which I formed a part. Faced with the urgent issues of present-day urban centers, our projections tended toward the immediate (rather than long-term) future, and we concentrated mainly on contemporary dysfunctions.

The groups’ work confirmed my belief in several principles. First, disruption is politics, and ideas that irrupt into the established map of beliefs activate individuals, politicizing them. This is a desirable procedure in contexts of art, design and technology, but it features less commonly in public policy, despite the fact that its capacity to create exceptions reactivates interest in a topic, and its potential to affect the current state of things makes everyone want to know how much the implementation of a disruptive idea will favor to their day-to-day existence. Second, it affirmed to me that attention has political value. Without it, it is not possible to start a process of change within social or communitarian dynamics that largely depend on the will of individuals, and less on the conditioning of their behaviors by the exercise of the law.

Perhaps, thanks to the profiles of the members of the work group—designers, artists, architects, curators, researchers, and academics linked to creativity—we all agreed on a disruptive approach to the problem of mobility, as well as the indispensable communication and awareness-raising of the problem. Ideas floated included the design of new uses for modes of transport to make long commuting times useful; payment systems in public transport in which the user chooses which type of mobility their fee will go to support; mechanisms that make the uses of resources transparent; real-time data on the road network embedded in objects; economic value given in exchange for civic conduct. These were just some of the many approaches, some of them so radical they seemed to come from a writer’s imagination, and others, more concrete, thought up with a view to making them doable. Creativity was an important element in the equation, to think up solutions, and communicate them effectively.

This brings us to the legibility of a public policy—its clarity, its ability to engage the public, that aspect of communication that complements the systemic conception of a solution, added to variables that are architectural, related to design, financial, legal and many more.

Legibility is a mediation for the true objective, which is to mobilize or activate the conduct of individuals that promotes a public policy. Comprehensible, however, does not mean actionable; this is only the first step towards being able to count on the will of the individual and make them take consequent action. This is why, during the sessions, many ideas were orientated towards an understanding of legibility in the sense of a conversation between institution and community—a conversation that will shape public policy over time and, for this reason, in an open and iterative way, will allow the elements of the equation to be moved from public policies to politicized publics.

To politicize in this context does not necessarily imply disagreement. It assumes that indifference is less productive than involvement, and that part of the problem stems precisely from indifference. It also assumes that the complicity of individuals with public institutions and policies takes place principally at a micro-political level: family, friends, private spaces, and the habitable space of design—many ideas addressed this approach. Ideas related to micro-mobility, trying to bulwark and promote the responsibility of the individual who in the end has the capacity to advance larger-scale community processes.

In conclusion, the thought exercises touched on above were made possible by the synergy between fields of work that address social problems from distinct methodologies: on the one side, fields like design, art, architecture, affective computing, trend researchers, etc., and on the other, governmental institutions. The first start with the individual, her ergonomics and affective relation with her environment, as well as the value of innovative disruptions; the second start with the community and basic concepts. These are two different approaches, one micro-political and one macro-social; both, however, allow for the construction of the individual from individual relations.