Part Four

A reflection on workshop findings

The workshops trialled in this research reflect a small sample size of participants, and are therefore still largely inconclusive in their insights. The participants present at these workshops represent a particular demographic of individual—while they differed in age, educational background, gender and cultural identity, the participants had all completed an undergraduate degree recently (within 5 years), or were undertaking Higher Degree Research. This commonality of a university education implies that the workshops were biased towards particular participants.

The difference in results and impact amongst participants also highlighted the limitations of these workshops in affecting certain types of participants. In previous conclusions, particular ecological mindsets were identified which the workshops impacted most; the ‘Cautious’, the ‘Concerned’ and the ‘Open-minded Changemaker’. While this begins to demonstrate the scope of participants that these workshops can effectively impact change within and is something to consider in the recruitment of future participants, this is only a precursory understanding of the factors that can influence participant responses to the workshops. Testing these workshops with a broader range of participants would clarify these factors further.  

Workshop conclusion and future considerations for this research
These workshops highlight that participatory design can be used to facilitate speculative storytelling and conversation about the persistent existence of plastic, which can shift consumer perceptions of plastic’s disposability. This confirms that my methods of experimentation and story generation—which were translated into workshop prompts—are suitable for generating understandings of the longevity of plastic waste for some consumers. It also confirms that thinking through the lifespan of plastic can stimulate ecological reflection in them. Most notably, it was the conversational structure of these workshops which allowed many of the participants to give voice to these ideas and concerns, and to share them in a mutual ecological discussion about deep time longevity.

This highlights potential for these workshops to be repeated with different and wider groups of participants, and suggests a path forwards should this research be continued in the future. In their ability to facilitate nonhuman story generation and a consideration of the deeper timelines of plastic in some participants, these workshops also make arguments that participatory design workshops can execute and disseminate the theories of Bennett, Tsing, Colebrook and Stoknes.

Further clarification, however, is needed on whether the outcomes of a workshop depend on the professional background of the participants, and whether having more knowledge about plastic can limit the ability to adopt alternative perceptions and worldviews. Including more demographics of participants will better define the personas that the workshops best speak to, and will give better indication of the impacts of the workshops. This is something to consider for future workshops.

The majority of participants also exhibited a distinct lack of connection to the plastic—no one was particularly excited at the prospect of custodianship. Future workshops could consider changing how participants are introduced to the plastic—is it possible to get people to search for and bring in their own piece of collected plastic? Will this inspire further ownership? From this, it is clear that there is still more to consider with these workshops, and more experimentation to be done in the future. A wide circulation and dissemination of these workshops—like Wertheim and Wertheim’s Crochet Coral Reef project (2015)—would assist in clarifying the workshop designs. It would also assist with continuing to build on the seeds of change begun with these workshops.