The New Zealand Association of Scientists conference 2019 focused on ‘Changing the Culture of Science’, with keynotes covering equity, diversity and inclusion. Acknowledging the potentially difficult content, conference curator Kate Hannah sought a creative and ‘kind’ activity as a counterbalance. Our response was A load off your mind: a playful installation to elicit dialogue and participation. Its form was a low-fi cardboard laundromat: a place to congregate and share thoughts about scientific culture: what it is, what it could be, and personal experiences that have shaped it. NZAS was the first iteration of this experimental engagement device for collective reflexivity, which has since had a second spin at an art gallery (where the culture of design was ‘rinsed’) and subsequently at AAHPSSS, where the NZAS responses were used as further prompts to explore the culture of both science and the disciplines attending the conference. Next week, it gets another spin at SCANZ, where we will be using it to probe the ethics of science communication.
Why a laundromat? The catalyst was the idea of ‘airing and rinsing’ issues, and pertinent puns flowed: taking ‘a load’ off our minds; being ‘pressed’ into action; ‘cleaning up’ our acts; getting ‘all in a lather’ over vexing issues; ironing things out; perhaps ‘agitating’… These metaphors’ humorous simplicity belie the serious possibility of a laundromat as a transformative ‘third place’ or ‘third space’. After all, laundromats are ordinary and familiar, but in a sense shaped by nostalgia and popular culture more than first-hand experience, so their role – people know them as a place to undertake a somewhat intimate ritual in public, in a space where there is shared purpose – can be adopted and moulded as an engagement vehicle.
A Load off your mind uses ‘cultural probes’ as projective techniques, with paper garments sheets containing design prompts that feel straightforward, but attempt to elicit the articulation of motivations, attitudes and biases or ‘thoughts, hopes, and fears’ without specifically asking for them. Garments can be placed in a washing machine for cathartic symbolic cleaning, then pegged out on the line to share. This design-led approach seeks informal qualitative responses (drawings, statements, stories). In this context, the laundrette format is exploratory, not confirmatory and is not seeking specific data, rather it allows autonomy for participants to shape their own engagement.
Inspired by Maja Horst’s ‘make an intervention and see what happens’ approach, and conducted as an iterative human-centred design practice, we extend the offer for ASC to host the next cycle of the A load off your mind laundromat. This can be used to present and extend SCANZ’s work on the ethics of our field, or could be tailored to pose questions related to the ASC conference theme, and can be further illustrated with a presentation to take you on a spin through A load off your mind’s history, giving a wash-up of what we’ve learnt so far.
 Boucher, A., Gaver, B., Kerridge, T., Michael, M., Ovalle, L., Plummer-Fernandez, M., & Wilkie, A. (2018). Energy Babble. Retrieved from https://www.matteringpress.org/books/energy-babblehttps://doi.org/10.1145/1015530.1015555
Jo Bailey, Senior Lecturer and PhD candidate, Wellington School of Design, Massey University / Centre for Science in Society, Victoria University of Wellington
Rhian Salmon, Kate Hannah, Rebecca Priestley