How is Community Co-Design Like Playing the Game "Human Knot"?

This week The Social Impact Lab Alberta kicked off the Brooks Design Lab: a series of community-focused workshops designed to help us consider and problem-solve around a topic chosen by the community. Every two weeks from now until October, we’ll be gathering with a consistent group of community members and anyone from the Brooks community is welcome to participate and learn alongside us.

At our first session last week, we focused on building trust within the group. One of the activities, human knot, left us with some poignant reflections on the similarities between designing solutions alongside community and tangling ourselves up together and then attempting to untangle.  

A group of The Brooks Design Lab participants playing the game "Human Knot"

Here are some of the connections we made:

  • “It feels like we’ve made it worse!” – Sometimes, it feels like things get more complicated before they resolve and become clear. Just like a group of people pulling on one another’s arms, sometimes work in the community leads to more questions and confusion before we can get to the answers. Even finding the right problem to tackle in the first place can be a complex task!
  • “If you step over there, then I have to as well” – Where one of us goes, the rest must follow! In human knot and in community co-design, we all carry the tension of the people around us and ensuring that we’re pulling each other in a similar direction. Every small tug or step has an impact on the larger group.
  • “What if I pop my head through this way?” – The what-ifs are where the magic happens. Even when we try something that doesn’t quite work out as planned, we’ve learned something new that helps us move forward and informs our next step.
  • “You’re almost there!” – This is what I exclaimed from the outside of the group when it seemed like a particularly important tangle looked more stretched out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the big knot of hands in the centre and the group sighed in exasperation and asked, “What are you talking about?!” From the outside, it can be hard to see the intricacies of the work and the investment of those involved. My reflection wasn’t helpful for those in the thick of it! Even when I tried offering advice, it truly wasn’t helpful because I couldn’t see who else was connected. Just like in human design, the people experiencing what is happening are always the experts and the best ones to guide the process.

What other connections do you see between a game of human knot and collaborative community design processes?