Yesterday I attended the Ghana Think Tank session at Mobility Shifts. I went there not knowing much about it, but very interested to learn about their work to basically reverse the flow of knowledge and expertise between people in “developed” and “developing” nations. That is, they gather local problems from individuals in developed nations and send them to think tanks in various developing nations, who then propose solutions to be implemented (humorously, some of it made me think of White Whine).
The session began with your standard PowerPoint presentation about the project and a short video. But the projector turned off suddenly in the middle. We resumed, but the projector turned off again, and there we sat in a pitch black room, confused.
Suddenly, the session was commandeered (or so I thought…) by a woman at one of the tables who wanted to “do something different”.
Keeping all the lights off, she led us through a series of Theater of the Oppressed-inspired exercises to move us around the room and make us feel increasingly uncomfortable (as evidenced by the handful of people who quickly left the session). When she said “stop” we had to walk. When she said “walk” we had to stop. And then she added more commands. “Clap” meant hop, “hop” meant clap, “arms” meant bend your knees, “knees” meant put your arms in the air. Needless to say, it was an amusing, confusing, surprising, awkward, (insert adjective of your choice here), exercise. It broke our expectations, shifted our thinking.
We did a handful of other exercises – statues, repetitive motions, sounds – intended to have us demonstrate the conditioning, urgency, impatience that we felt technology could create within us. The exercises generated this interesting, albeit semi-abstract, parallel with international development work that, as the facilitator said at the end of the workshop, showed us how it could feel to have people inserted into a population that hasn’t necessarily asked for “repair”.
It turned out that we were actually participants of one of the solutions a think tank, I believe in Gaza, proposed to the challenges of boring PowerPoint presentations. As they’re a community accustomed to random power outages, they suggested presentations using community theater and, in a sense, I think it worked.
What’s very interesting — and I think quite daring — is that the Ghana Think Tank tries to implement the solutions no matter how awkward, impractical or brilliant it may seem. For example, for a wealthy community in upstate New York who complained of a lack of diversity, the think tank in El Salvador proposed they hire day laborers to attend social functions. The presenters said it was a terribly awkward experiment (and personally I could think of a number of objections), and yet some of the local community-members said it was eye-opening.
And overall, I have to admit the workshop experience was pretty eye-opening for me as well.