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Extending Empathy

Published date
29 May 2019

Principal Investigator: Professor Lorraine Gamman

College: Central Saint MartinsDesign Against Crime Research Centre

Project summary

This network will share knowledge about empathetic tools and processes from 3 different creative communities - Design, Performance and Restorative Justice (RJ) - via four planned workshops with international speakers. The ambition is to share case studies, findings and improve knowledge of best practice regarding how best to build empathic processes.

Crime, conflict and ineffective delivery of justice detract from the quality of individual/collective life, disrupting social cohesion. One response has been RJ. This brings those harmed by crime or conflict, and those responsible for the harm, into direct communication, enabling all affected to engage in empathetic processes that play a part in repairing harm to find a positive way forward. RJ lets victims tell offenders the real impact of their crime, get answers, receive an apology and get on with their lives. It also lets offenders understand and take responsibility. RJ has some elements in common with co-creation and participatory approaches employed in design, as well as those delivered via performance studies within the criminal justice system by members of the Arts Alliance.

How all these different specialists use 'empathetic processes' is the crux and deserves further exploration. The workshops will provide a context that promotes new connections/understandings about empathetic processes by practitioners currently working with diverse communities. In sharing existing insights from different practice-based styles of engagement, the network's workshops will build community capacity and help subject specialists and the communities they engage with better understand the issue of empathy. In particular, how creative strategies may be used in relationships to help deliver conflict management or to aid engagement with building empathy in groups who had previously not shown remorse, for example.

Furthermore, sharing information about what have been called 'proxy processes' (traditionally understood as a process whereby some members of a decision-making body delegate their voting power to other members of the same body to vote in their absence) delivered by arts practitioners working within criminal justice system in the UK will occur. Such processes appear to play a significant role in creating empathic opportunities that help kick-start healing, and subsequent engagement with RJ by victims and offenders.

Sharing good practice is needed because there are real obstacles to implementing RJ, including fear of offenders in being involved in the first place, resistance and suspicion by one or more of the parties involved (offenders, victims, practitioners, other community members with a vested interest) and a lack of the skills to offer empathetic tools or even access to proxy processes. Given that empathy and how to establish and apply it, is often the unspoken question of RJ, the workshops will address how to engage participants in empathetic processes. Design usefully engages with building empathy through roleplaying, drawing on tools and techniques from theatre to engage users as partners in participatory design activity. Design and performance go beyond the creation of products and into the field of social innovation, including strategic processes of engagement with hard to reach groups or communities.

Cardboard Citizens, Clean Break and the Geese Theatre Company are exemplar theatre organisations that teach empathetic processes to prisoners and have much tacit knowledge to share with other creatives.

Different creative communities work using a variety of diverse interventions to reduce alienation, build empathy and/or catalyse effective community connections, but rarely do they have opportunities to share understandings which will be the central focus of this network. It is needed because what works to improve empathetic engagement will also contribute to improving social cohesion.



Gamman, Lorraine and Thorpe, Adam (2015) Could Design Help to Promote and Build Empathic Processes in Prison? Understanding the Role of Empathy and Design in Catalysing Social Change and Transformation. In: Transformation Design: Perspectives on a New Design Attitude. Board of International Research in Design . Birkhäuser/ BIRD, pp. 83-100. ISBN 978-3-0356-0653-9

Willcocks, Marcus and Russell, Steve (2016) Graffiti and Street Art Dilemmas in London. [Show/Exhibition]