This method helps participants to consider perspectives and worldviews that are not necessarily human-centred. It does this by giving these other entities (plants, animals, buildings, products, systems) a voice in debates, around the discussion table, across different meetings, and across different locations. It can involve role-play, but it is not only based on one person taking another identity for a short period of time. It relates on a thorough, often interdisciplinary research about a non-human of interest, and within the biophysical, cultural and specific project/stakeholder context. It is a powerful tool that is able to open up perspectives that usually stay invisible and therefore neglected.
In which way is this method alternative?
It brings the agency of non-humans into the learning and discussion of the future/change. It becomes different when the group considers the active agency of a non-human, instead of observing it as a passive object, or assuming all its needs and properties.
By giving non-humans the active voice, their rights, emotions, ways of operating, their flexibility/adaptability and their non-negotiables/inflexibility come to the surface, in a specific context. The method is alternative as it gives agency to what we have considered inanimate for a long time.
Requirements for applying the method
The tasks needs to be designed with careful consideration of the goals of the course/project and learning objectives for the group.
Settings and participants the method is best suited for
I have used it in different contexts, with students and with residents of different ages. I think it works the best in interdisciplinary teams that can understand a specific non-human from different perspectives. Otherwise, we might miss to represent the non-human in the right way.
Experiences with the method
I have applied the method in different ways. For example, in a project that used green technology for solving the water and sanitation systems in informal settlements, I brought the Wetland as a non-human into design workshops with residents, with engineers, and in the explanation of the entire project. This is the video in which this Wetland speaks about her experience in this project: https://entangledwithwater.com/Wetland
Then, I used it in a neighborhood regeneration project, where residents and students were interviewing selected buildings from the area. Here, choosing the questions that you would ask to a building was an interesting exercise, as well as hearing the responses that different residents would give from the perspective of the building.
I have also used it in a course where I assisted a colleague in teaching digital tools for designing. Students had a task to build a doll in real life, and then also to model that doll in the virtual world. As they were doing some design exercises, they were filling out bi-weekly Google Questionnaires from the perspective of the doll (sometimes the one on their desk, sometimes the one in their computers, and sometimes it was the conservation between the two of them). Asking the students to actively take the perspectives of ‘objects’ in these two realms, enabled us to open up valuable conceptual themes with them.
Recently, I came across this video from a course at University of Groningen: https://youtu.be/ig_CK9cmLb8 . I am not related to this research group or project, but I think they used this method in a brilliant way.