As part of last months State of Design Festival, Dan Hill, Senior Consultant with Arup ,was discussing some of the design innovations occurring around the world, and the potential they have to fundamentally change the way we interact with the physical environment.
One area he touched on that I found of particular interest was a traffic experiment in the city of Drachten, The Netherlands.
In 2002, all traffic signals were removed from a busy inner-city intersection that handles around 17,000 vehicles per day. The results can be viewed below…
I watched this short clip with a mixture of both fascination and horror as I waited to witness the imminent disastrous collision. However it never occurred, and Dan assured us that this intersection has proven to be essentially accident free!
The notion that a somewhat chaotic approach to traffic control, where anything goes and motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are left to sort out the rules amongst themselves initially seemed absurd. Yet upon further consideration this relaxation of the rules began to make more and more sense.
Perhaps, in many ways, it is actually the rigid rules and regulations of some activities that can lead participants to ‘switch off’. When expected to follow the prompts and directions prescribed to us by others, could it be the case that our level of engagement diminishes simultaneously?
When left to our own devices, armed solely with the desire to avoid smashing into something or someone else, we are suddenly required to pay attention, to increase our awareness and to apply a further level of consideration to our thoughts and actions.
Rolling this idea around in my head got me thinking about some of the unmoderated activity that happens everyday in our online research communities. The common assumption is that all of the real ‘nuggets’ of insight are derived purely from the research discussions we as moderators initiate.
However, when left to their own devices, our members not only initiate a great deal of their own discussions, but also show a great commitment toward ensuring the community runs smoothly; in many ways, they moderate each other. By practicing tolerance and embracing the different ideas and opinions of others, members prove to be very effective at creating a safe and harmonious place to interact.
Observing these interactions between community members is essentially very similar to observing Drachten’s traffic experiment. By removing the formal rules and regulations, and allowing individuals to navigate and negotiate themselves, we have the opportunity to gain a powerful insight into what they observe, what they pay attention to and how they respond.