Events change the world. They act as catalysts for Social and Cultural Transformation.
Events are powerful because they provide permissive and temporary spaces to experience the new or different. They can be playful and non-threatening. Try something different for a few minutes, an hour, a day, a week, a month. Since the change is not permanent, it is easier to engage with.
But once another way of behaving, or infrastructural alternative is experienced, it allows for an accurate evaluation of alternatives to be assessed.
Good examples of Events as a means of Social and Cultural Transformation include.
Going Car Free
Car Free Days, Weeks and Months are being used to inform discussion around creating car free cities.
Car Free Days create immediate tangible benefits such as reduced pollution, and also challenge the concerns voiced against going car free in the long term. For example in Los Angeles, Businesses were concerned about loss of traffic (it increased) and citizens were concerned about criminal behavior (it decreased).
Transition to fully car free city takes time, but the biggest obstacles to change are often political. Prototyping what the actual impacts are of car free cities, rather than discussing the theoretical threats allows for informed discussions to take place. Decisions can be made based on data and experience rather than assumption.
The Burning Man festival is often reported as having profound social changes on it’s participants. It allows for attendees to experience on a city wide scale, an entirely new mode of co-existence.
Burning Man is attributed by many tech founders as having profound effects on the outlook of Silicon Valley.
In the spirit of Burning Man, it has been my pleasure to facilitate and instigate a number of self organised festivals and maker events. These “Makerlabs” have explored the boundaries self organised events – exploring how much or how little structure is required to create an event which is beneficial to both participants and creators.
My last iteration was a self organised wedding – my own, having met my partner at a previous event. There’s something incredibly freeing about not knowing what will happen at your own wedding celebration, the outcome of which was beautiful and created with love by everyone in attendance.
A full breakdown of learning from the makerlab and past events can be found here.
Often the greatest power of events is created by the expectation of the participants, the context of the event, and the behavioral permissions granted within the space. Such permissions are easy to grant, if you have confidence and a sense of mischief.
When I perform as a master of ceremonies I like to push the crowd. At my last event I encouraged an austere looking yet diverse group to “scream like they were girls at the peak of Beatlemania, or Beaberettes (depending on their age), or they’d just seen the most mindblowing TED talk”. I told them “when else in your life to you get the time to go nuts, to let out all your energy, to really go crazy? Well this is that moment”
The room went wild, for a short moment, even though it wasn’t directed at me – I knew how it felt to be a rock star.
An easier permission to grant is Talking to Each Other. An incredibly powerful medium, that is often under used.
Talk to Me Bubbles is a very lightweight process, that cuts through conversational norms, and fills the room with great conversations in an instant.
With the Talk to Me Bubbles, the space is a personal one, a social object and an invitation to enter into a discussion.
On an even more personal level, I’ve experimented with behavioral change with Placebo’s. “Physical Experience Events”, that grant permission to adopt new behaviors for a short period of time. Although such rituals can be used to bring about more permanent behavioral change.
Events can bring about profound behavioral and organisational changes.
No change is ever permanent, however one which is explicitly temporary is much easier to instigate. Events allow you to prototype the new in the short term, so you can create lasting and sustainable change in the long term.