Before I came over to the UK and began in earnest on ‘Modelling Play’ (we’re working on a better title) I had some idea of what the final showing in November might look like. I imagined two performers each at the ends of a long wooden table, half a dozen audience members on each side. The performers would communicate with each other across the table, telling stories of characters weaving their way through the city block that was built from bleak grey craft on the table. At the time, I thought the final scenario would probably be a city block. As the characters and their stories intertwined, the performers would play music and perhaps stand up on the table to deliver a moving monologue about…infrastructure? Public transport? Knife crime? There might be an electronic voting device in front of each audience member and the model would play out in ‘choose your own adventure’ style.
I had a copy of David Finnigan’s research report, and some links to other articles and reports on modelling. I read them all with the blithe disregard of a Year 12 student thinking they would probably ace the HSC so why bother studying, and anyway they did well in Year 11 so they’re probably a genius. WRONG.
I’m exaggerating. I read the articles, understood most of them, and felt I had enough pieces of the puzzle to be a part of creating an interactive performance.
After a week away engaging in extracurricular activities while David, David, Nathan and Nikki kept on working, I have returned to the UCL meeting room. On Tuesday we were invited to play with a computer-based modelling program assisted by Chris Brierly (creator of program) of the UCL Environment Institute. I went in cocky and came out terrified.
So this is what a real model looks like.
It was like HSC Chemistry all over again. It was too complicated for me. I sat back as Nathan took over the reigns of setting up the program and tried to take comfort in the fact that I’m not the target audience, having no training in environmental science, IT or mathematics, and no need to predict nuances of climate.
It made me question everything we had been doing. How can we, with games and funny little character stories, even begin to communicate something about modelling to a mixed audience? Our models cannot be anywhere near as complex or accurate as the UCL demonstration, and even that model was not as complex or accurate as it could possibly be.
I started to question what an audience might get, if anything, from our watered down systems model. They might learn something about game design, about decision making…but how would we incorporate anything about the process and value of modelling?
One of the reasons this project began was to see if modelling as a practice could create and then be at the heart of an interactive performance. I spent a while mulling things over, trying to pick out what was important and what was just colouring. Colouring can be important but if that’s all there is, we might as well be colouring IN. (ka-ching).
I finally got a grip on the showing. We aren’t trying to create a complete complex model to demonstrate to an audience. We can’t possibly give them an understanding of everything a model can be. What we can do is use the games, feedback loops and tradeoffs that make up our model to promote cognitive attitudes.
cognition |ˌkägˈni sh ən|
the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.
• a result of this; a perception, sensation, notion, or intuition.
The cognitive attitudes are what is important. We have a list of them that we refer to, and some that we have decided to try and incorporate into the showing. David Finnigan had included them in his research paper and at the moment the original source is escaping me (I will amend when I find it). Modelling promotes cognitive attitudes, and provokes us to subconsciously or consciously:
Think about the way we formulate goals
Interpret outcomes against expectations
Balance emotional responses (humility, frustration, curiosity, blame-shifting)
Tolerate high levels of uncertainty
Search for counter-evidence
Discover new questions
Illuminate core uncertainties
Bound outcomes to plausible ranges
Demonstrate tradeoffs/suggest efficiencies
Make the simple complex and the complex simple.
AHA. Phew. OK. It doesn’t matter if our model is entirely built on fiction and assumptions – most models have to rely on assumptions in any case. What an audience can engage with during the performance and through our little games and maps are these cognitive attitudes. I think they’re really neat, and I guess I like playing board games because I can also engage in them in that situation.
It’s not all about cognitive attitudes, but I think for me they are at the heart of what this interactive performance will be. And we probably won’t even mention them during the performance – by engaging with our model, you will be engaging with cognitive attitudes.