Always Working with Artists

Play:Disrupt has grown from a theatre company. Creativity and collaboration is at its heart. Our projects can bring together storytellers, technologists, neighbourhood planners and social value experts to meet a brief.

Outside of specific projects, we commission creatives to play with open invitations, to offer alternative perspectives and generate new ideas. In November 2020, with support from Arts Council England, we asked a group of artists from diverse backgrounds to think about alternative approaches to online surveys. 

We are interested in ideas that subvert the notion of an online survey, questioning this traditional way of extracting data from people. Take this opportunity to experiment, try something new- and have fun with it. We are open to any medium you would like​ ​to respond in and how you share the ideas back with us.”

Many of the contributors shared concerns about the level of impact participants’ opinions actually had.  What expectations were set up by the surveyor? Was it assumed that input would have impact? Would feelings, thoughts and ideas be listened to? Asking for people’s time, to tick box a tick box only erodes public faith in meaningful participation and change. 

“What compels me to partake in this manufactured, highly-controlled form of democracy?”  Rachael Clarke

There was a lot of thought about how to ask the questions. Online surveys are not a one size fits all format, yet particularly over the last 12 months they have been used to capture opinions about everything from shopping app user experience to racial discrimination in the workplace. There is no room for discussion, feedback or to see others points of view. 

Artists considered a range of game based tactics; drew on sensory and immersive experiences; riffed on children’s books and family arguments; designed unusual platforms for considered conversations and considered choice, chance agency and control.

One collaborator who works with poetry considered  the etymology of ‘survey’ and invited us to think about the implications of power in extracting opinions and data.

survey (v.) 

1400, “to consider, contemplate,” from Anglo-French surveier, Old French sorveoir look (down) at, look upon, notice; guard, watch,” from Medieval Latin supervidere “oversee, inspect,” from Latin super “over” (see super-) + videre “to see” (from PIE root *weid- “to see”). Meaning “examine the condition of” is from mid-15c. Related: Surveyed; surveying; surveyance (late 14c.).

survey (n.) 

late 15c., survei, “oversight, supervision,” from survey (v.). The meaning “act of viewing in detail” is from 1540s. Meaning “systematic collection of data on opinions, etc.” is attested from 1927. 

Following the theme of power dynamics, Survey for a Developer flips the balance and invites the participant to take on a role, completing a set of playful, provocative and uncomfortable questions about social impact and responsibility. 

Ideas as wide ranging as mail order mini playgrounds and sensory flip books sat alongside catapulting participants at velcro walls and measuring responses via heart rate, pupil dilation and saliva level. 

By inviting artists with very different lived experiences to play, we collectively thought about how to target and include demographics that were often excluded. 

A variety of ideas for deliberation tools arose, and a set of starting points for codesign exercises. We aim to hold a residency in the summer where we can explore ideas further, and test with public participants. 

Freelance artists are often brought in to realise a brief. More open invitations can generate new avenues, challenge your own assumptions and force one to really think about socially engaged practice.

Artists who contributed to the alternative approaches to surveys commission:

Rachael Clerke

Simon Day

Constance Fleuriot

Anna Horton

Tara Sachdeva

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