Thinking About Scales


I’m very much enjoying being back in the (London) room. It’s great throwing ourselves back into this show and trying to make it better than it was last time. I feel that in the intervening two years I’ve gained a much better grasp on the ideas we’re playing with, and more tools in my belt as an artist to help communicate them.

Something that I took note of early in revising our reference material was the idea of scales. At risk of repeating this blog after two years, this is from Resilience Practice:

Self-organizing systems operate over a range of different scales of space and time, and each scale is going through its own adaptive cycle. What happens at one scale can have a profound influence on what’s happening at scales above it and on the embedded scales below.

For example, politics can happen on a national, state, and local scale (and indeed more), as well as in the immediate present, yearly, through election cycles, governments, and more. The environmental slogan ‘Think globally, act locally’ illustrates a key point in resilience thinking: in order to manage a system effectively, it’s useful to be aware at how it operates on many scales, not just the scale you have the most influence over.

Our festival system, particularly for most of the show, operates within the physical boundaries of its fence. By using a few characters, we can follow the story of the festival and examine smaller scales at the same time. But we cannot ignore larger scales, that a festival happens in a particular environmental landscape – for us a farm – and amid a particular community – for us, a nearby small town. The music festival affects and is affected by both of these, and considering these scales is important.

We’ve been talking about ways to feature this in the show more, and it seems that a farmer character might provide a useful voice to do this. A farmer also sets up a separate stakeholder for the festival, who has different priorities and needs. This is reminiscent of our very early prototype, Batemans Vegas, where locals and tourists were often diametrically opposed. Using a farmer in the show (or at least, a stronger awareness of how the festival operates on larger scales than the immediate one) can allow for more complex decisions, and a greater understanding of how resilience thinking can aid system management. Again, from Resilience Practice:

But what is the lesson for managers these days? If anything, it’s this: It is all too easy and a bit of a trap to become focused on the scale in which you’re interested. This scale is connected to and affected by what’s happening at the scales above and the embedded components at the scales below

As a side note, we’ve found these ideas somewhat useful for our actual creative process in working on the show. Best Festival Ever is a strange beast, and it’s difficult to work simultaneously on the science, story, and games, and to consider side-by-side the small details and larger picture. But by regularly shifting our focus between the different scales of the show, we can keep it in context, and make the show more consistent, robust and clear.

This is something that I think is quite useful for creative process in general. And, if I’m honest, most things. We spent a lot of time two years ago talking about the skills and cognitive attitudes that modelling and resilience thinking can foster, and I think they’re still relevant. They remind me of part of a lovely speech by David Foster Wallace:

learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience

Are the elements of systems thinking that are feeding into our process the most useful? Or just the most useful for this situation?

– Nathan


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