When a member of the Dublin 12 cycle bus wanted to change the convoy’s route it was awkward, says Aodhán King.

The loop chosen by the group of parents and children biking to school together, didn’t swing near their house, says King, one of the parents involved. “They were, kind of, a little bit annoyed, I suppose that they weren’t part of the original discussion around routes that we would take.”

He told them, jokingly, to set up their own cycle bus, he says. “Obviously you don’t want to offend people.”

It’s the kind of thorny disagreement that can come up in local groups, and one that two design students at National College of Art and Design want to help groups navigate.

They’ve come up with a game called Sorgen, says Rachel Mulqueen, and they’re looking for community groups to test it on.

While researching, they saw community groups deal with serious issues like misinformation or climate change and thought they might need help being empathetic with one another, says Mulqueen.

“People weren’t getting their ideas heard, which meant that they didn’t feel included, which meant that they didn’t go,” she says. “It wasn’t the most inclusive way to deal with problems that are going to affect people.”

Impossible to Avoid

People can really complain, says Mulqueen wryly, cradling a cup of tea in the Fumbally cafe in Dublin 8. But it isn’t always constructive, she says.

Mulqueen and her co-creator Laurence Mac Donald researched and held focus groups, and found that when groups are talking about big problems, like threats of flooding, dangerous roads, or insecure housing, it was often emotionally charged.

“Frustration, fear and worry about the future were acting as barriers,” she says.

In King’s case, the member who brought up the issue lived off the cycle route and wanted it closer to their house. “It’s fair, I mean why wouldn’t you?” he says.

“Sorgen” means “worries” in German, says Mulqueen, and the hope is that it would help members bridge any empathy gap.

“The game is more to just kickstart the imagination, get the worries out so that they can then be put to the side,” she says, and make the meeting more efficient.

Each person gets a card that says, “I worry that …”. They write whatever it is – whether it’s concerns about the future of whatever’s being discussed, or about something that will be brought up at the meeting, says Mulqueen.

Each worry is read out to the group, and members vote on a worry to discuss. The chosen worry is put into a card holder, so it changes from “I worry that …”, to “Imagine a world where …”.

“That kind of frames it into a scenario,” says Mulqueen. “It turns a personal worry into a shared experience.”

Then, combining “future technology” and “object” cards will prompt members of the group to creatively invent a solution to the worry.

Like a 3-D printed rocket which projects artificial sunlight onto earth, imagined from the “3-D printer” and “vehicle” cards – any crazy idea, says Mulqueen.

Then together, the group comes up with a “hopeful news headline” that will make them feel positively about solving the worry.

The game uses people’s lived experience and personal worries and lets them move on with creative thinking and play, she says. “It’s more powerful as not just an imaginative thinking tool and, like, to get creative, but also as an empathy tool.”

“It’s a simple enough idea, I guess. But it appears to be quite effective,” she says.

Trevor Clowry, chairperson of Crumlin Community Clean-up, took part in a focus group, which discussed the potential worry of climate change-related effects in the future.

“I don’t think it would help with conflict,” he says. But “the tool is great to allow people to have their voice heard about their worries about climate change and it’s very accessible”.

A Way to Listen

King says he tried to keep the disagreement about the cycle bus route civil. To do that, he migrated the discussion from WhatsApp to email.

“So it could just be more comfortably discussed,” he says, with a knowing laugh.

“We’re trying to share our vision to try and make something better, so you’re trying to take on board what they’re saying,” he says.

He tried to listen to their concerns and to share his own.

“Once they saw that was really the mission, it was about connecting people rather than trying to do something for one area. It’s just that that was practically all we could do,” he says, “until somebody decides to take up the mantle somewhere else.”

It’s worked out now, he says. “We all knew our positions better, you know what I mean? We all understood something then, by having it out.”

Ruth Powell, the coordinator of Dublin City Council’s Public Participation Network (PPN), which helps to link community groups in with the council, says that when issues crop up, some groups don’t always have the resources to deal with them.

“When you put very passionate people together to work on very serious issues, you’re going to come up with conflict. It’s almost impossible to avoid conflict,” says Powell.

Powell sent the Sorgen initiative in an email out to the PPN’s 800 members, so that they could volunteer for the pilot.

“Maybe something quite small, like this, really could help the group with some of those complicated issues that don’t need to really be complicated,” she says.

Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at claudia@dublininquirer.com.

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