Category Archives: Methods

Civics and Arts Practice

New Herberger Institute of Design and Arts (HIDA) Institute Professor Michael Rohd and his HDA 494/598 Civic Body: Art and Public Health class have been running graduate workshops with invited professionals and advanced graduate students to help his students frame their own work. Each guest uses civic engagement as part of their art, activism or other practice. This report includes descriptions of the sessions themselves and the two main methods Professor Rohd used to encourage dialogue.


I participated in two sessions with the class as part of the GISER  (Graduates in Integrative Society & Environment Researchstudent group and my interests in transdisciplinary and participatory design practice. The main group was a class of graduate students being run by Professor Rohd and other participants included members of the Center for Performance and Civic Practice (CPCP) and Sojourn Theatre and members of the ASU community. Several participants at the seminars had backgrounds not specifically related to health but all either had a creative practice, had worked in healthcare, worked in some related field or all of the above.

The first session involved meeting with the students in HDA 494/598 in a set of interview-and-report discussions. Each guest discussed their work in relation to civic practice with a few students, then the students reported to each other their findings. This was followed by a general discussion. Topics included sustainability (especially of arts), systems, connectivity, finding common language and academic silos. Questions that emerged included what are the incentives to communicate; and whether breaking down barriers is enough returning value. One participant suggested figuring out how to build community in splendid ways. Another suggested that even labels such as ‘creative capital’ & ‘social justice’ are already silos.

University-specific topics included critique of practices that turn universities into “management tools instead of places of investigation” and the university as a place of “ideological warfare”. One participant, who researches a vulnerable population described it as “I don’t want somebody else’s non-freedom to pay for me.” Another topic discussed was the difference between caring about an issue and actual policy and budget prioritizations that make a difference.

The second session involved more participants from outside the class, including members of CPCP and Sojourn who were visiting as part of a workshop series. Held in the old Ceramics Research Center, it featured a huge whiteboard wall that was used for recording questions on.

Some of those questions involved the civic body, health and how art can stitch fields together. Another topic was the difference between working in “intersectional space” versus silos. On the whiteboards, Professor Rohd had written a definition and six questions.

The group discussed the definitions of Civic Body posted, see image below. After some discussion the phrase, “Civic Body: embedding new practices into existing organizations.” was used as a working definition.

  1. What are challenges for your field for working on current problem?
  2. Who frames the challenges, priorities and goals in your field?
  3. What does your field strongly disagree about?
  4. In what ways do you currently collaborate to solve problems?
  5. What partners are in other fields who might help tackle issues in your field?
  6. What supports you working with these partners and what barriers?

Some of the discussion around these questions and the group’s answers included creating new “grassroots think tanks” around emerging issues and wicked problems. A student said they liked the “Yes, and…” energy in the room. Yes-And is used in design research, improvisational acting and other fields as a potent dialogic spur. Slowing down to experience the world and the gap between attention spans and current profit models was brought up, with a suggestion to stop for a moment and figure it out. Time and attention span came up repeatedly as enablers and limiters in both sessions.

A participant indicated that we were using many “connector” words – Doer, Maker and that we were discussing a lot of community versus individual work. Another pointed out that one person’s barriers are another’s support system. Another suggested that where money comes from, for arts in particular, influences the work. Both philanthropic organizations and Federal government funding affect the work while effecting it. This boiled down to what one participant described as “Do we actually have to have buy-in from large organizations to get the work done?”

One of the visiting performers described their personal work as working inside and dissolving fields. They also expressed an interest in why various work but centered around creative, non-profit performative arts has become so professionalized.

A guest graduate student suggested that people work together when their success is interdependent. Figuring out where and why to highlight communities of interdependence was the challenge. This also related to the discussion on time and attention spans.

A student said that often all the intelligence needed for community change exists inside that community. Often the only thing lacking is the resources to effect change. Collaboration is popular, but messy and it’s often uncertain how to collaborate. One student wanted to know what it means to be an infiltrator or accomplice and whether people are, or should be willing, to disrupt the status quo? The first  student said that there was lot of imposed language and that sharing dialogue before actual work begins is useful. They also said that struggle achieves equity. One of the guests wanted to know if the concepts connected with the reality of change and emphasized how important spirt is. All agreed that change and collaboration are messy and hard but needed.

Professor Rohd suggested a tactic for change was to turn allies into partners and that this leads to action. The critical question any organization needs to answer is how to build alliances that thrive in the struggle encountered? A guest suggested bonding time among collaborators helped and constantly doing things to maintain participant interest.

Another participant mentioned the importance of time, that sometimes a project needs twenty years to achieve it’s full potential. Some things work best when created quickly, some need these long incubations. Community means different things to different people, said another day-to-day survival is what leads to change, terms like social justice and community organization are tools, language.

There is a Tragic Gap that according to Rohd is the difference between “What does home mean to you?” and “How do we provide equitable housing?” This gap includes water, housing, infrastructure and institutional access inequities. Dangers include undoing other organization’s work or being involved in dreamy instead of grounded work. Grounding language and supporting infiltrators, disruptors and other allies inside institutions could be useful tools.

Pictures of the filled out question boards from the second session. A wide range of opinions and needs were expressed but all center on ways of engaging people, institutes and capabilities together.


The active discussion phase of the dialogue circle. The moderator is in green, students in gold and guests in maroon.

Generally, the methods used by Professor Rohd in these sessions were to encourage dialogue between participants. Any props such as notebooks, whiteboards or laptops were curated to remain as backdrop, even while prompting vigorous discussion. This is similar to the Dialogue Circles by Glenn Aparicio Parry of the former SEED Graduate Institute, but with whiteboards instead of talking sticks.

The active listening/student discussion phase of the dialogue circle. The moderator is in green, students in gold and guests in maroon.

Both sessions centered around a dialogue model that involves cycles of expansion and contraction, with participants being active listeners for a while then active discussers. Some of it happens organically, but the cycle between listening from the outside and being part of the discussion encourages reflection in a way that just being in a circle can limit.

The first session with the class consisted of a series of interview, report and discussion activities. Guests were matched up with pairs of students who had done some research and prepared questions for the visitors. The Q&A lasted about 10 minutes, followed by the students comparing notes in a circle. After that they brought the guests into the circle to talk. The session was finished with the guests having a few minutes to discuss while the students just listened.

The second session featured introductions and a short discussion on definitions, especially of the term Civic Body. This was followed with each guest having 30 seconds to answer each of the six questions on the wall. This fast format worked well with the questions posed because it kept everyone on point.  The questions were generic across practices and framed to spur short answers, which helped make it engaging. This data-gathering phase only lasted a few minutes. These question boards provided a record to discuss over for the rest of the session.

After the questions the guests gathered together and talked about the results. Then the students gathered in an inner circle and talked about the results, then brought the guests into the circle to continue through a final Q&A session. This cycle of discourse contraction and expansion can be repeated for longer workshops. It provides alternating analytic and observational phases for all participants. These formats could be combined with Six Thinking Hats technique, roleplaying or possibly some forms of active listening. Journaling segments and more cycles of contraction and expansion could be added during a longer session.

Participating in one of these sessions would have been interesting enough. Both sessions featured some great discussion and Professor Rohd’s techniques can be applied to almost any discussion session.


  • De Bono, E. (1985). Six thinking hats (1st U.S. ed.). Boston: Little, Brown.

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Space Horizons 2017 — Destination: Alpha Centauri

“Space is caffeine for learning.” A.C. Clarke

Space Horizons 2017 — Destination: Alpha Centauri was held February 15th and 16th at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The annual Space Horizons conference covers almost-ready-for-flight space topics. The subject  was centered around sending swarms of tiny, postage-stamp sized spacecraft to our nearest neighboring star systems.

This report includes a general proposed architecture, the workshop schedule, some take-away observations and my initial design research output from the lunchtime poster session.

As always, Professor Rick Fleeter (Brown/La Sapienza) organized the workshop, this year with student lead Kat Pisani. The format varies some years, but this year it followed the pattern of a Wednesday early-arrivals talks followed by an intense, all-day workshop on Thursday consisting of panel discussions, talks by professionals and . The official website is

General Proposed Architecture

Destination: Alpha Centauri examined proposals, research and funding to develop and fly swarms of postage-stamp sized spacecraft called WaferSats or ChipSats at relativistic speeds (0.3c is commonly cited) to the Alpha or Proxima Centauri (Rigel Kentauri) star systems. Rigel Kentauri is the current most-interesting target due being the closest star to our own Sun and confirmed to have planets.

Generally, a large phased-array laser Directed Energy (DE) cluster in the 100-300MW power range would be installed on the lunar Farside in such a way that it can’t ever face Earth or our geosynchronous satellites. The propulsion laser is automatically going to be perceived as a “weapon” so it needs to be emplaced cautiously for policy purposes. The laser array boosts each individual WaferSat to 30% light speed (.3c) in ten minutes and can propel about 40,000 chips per year in a continuous stream that extends between the stars. The result, in theory, is a massive, low resolution, interferometer stretching across several lightyears that contains the needed sensors to image planets and moons in the star system(s) they pass through. At .3c the WaferSats require about 20 years transit time to fly by the closest target stars.

Additional uses for the laser propulsion system include power transfer to other spacecraft as part of a space-based beamed-power network and for boosting much heavier payloads like crewed capsules. A 1-gram WaferSat can achieve .3c, a 10-ton capsule can be accelerated to get to Mars in a few weeks instead of six months, using the same system. Professor Fleeter describes this as, “The opposite of missions is infrastructure.” The technology advances could include in fiber laser amplifiers for photonics applications and system-on-a-chip devices for everything from aerospace to medicine to environmental monitoring. “There’s a lot to be done along the way and the more it has other uses the better.” according to Jordin Kare.

The teams working on various aspects of this include The Breakthrough Foundation, Dr. Lubin’s Experimental Cosmology Group at UCSB, Dr. Cahoy from MIT’s StarLab and LaserMotive, among others. Breakthrough has a budget of $100,000,000 dollars in overall funding between Starshot, Listen and their other space projects. This massive injection of private capital is important as it circumvents any protesting over government funding plus they award prizes to researchers doing useful work. UCSB’s Phil Lubin is developing WaferSat spacecraft and the phased-array lasers to drive them. Dr. Cahoy models communication systems at light-year distances and poses questions such as “How many photons do you need to form a bit?”. Jordin Kare of LaserMotive is turning his work on space elevators and laser-powered quadcopter drones toward the practical aspects of launching these relativistic WaferSats.

Other proposed technology paths and questions include using a diamond-wafer particle accelerator or other particle beam instead of lasers, using larger CubeSat-scale craft and whether each chip should communicate with Earth directly or intercommunicate in the swarm first.

Two Wafersat Prototypes, courtesy Phil Lubin, UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group. It’s not every day that you get to hold two space probes in one hand. These are flight-ready prototypes, Lubin’s lab continues to refine the devices and laser propulsion.

The schedule

  • Wednesday February 15
  • Michael Walthemathe, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, on importance of extending human reach beyond the solar system
  • Phil Lubin, UC Santa Barbara, on progress toward realizing interstellar missions
  • Thursday, February 16
  • Larry Larson: Welcome
  • Rick Fleeter : Introduction to Space Horizons
  • Pete Klupar: 2017 Keynote Address
  • Jim Head: The Science Imperative
  • Philip Lubin: ChipSat and laser propulsion
  • Ruslan Belikov (NASA Ames), Gregory Tucker (Brown University), Pete Klupar (Breakthrough Foundation) and Emily Gilbert (University of Chicago) on: The value of going to Alpha Centauri plus remote observation from near Earth
  • Panel: Going There vs. Observing From Here
  • Lunch and student posters
  • Kerri Cahoy: Communication link from a low power chipsat 4+ light years away
  • Zachary Manchester: Flying ChipSats
  • Jordin Kare: Separating Power Source and Vehicle
  • Michael Walthemathe: engaging society in exploration
  • Panel: Societal impact of interstellar exploration


“Low reliability ideas, high reliability hardware.” – Rick Fleeter

Professor Fleeter pointed out that there are thousands of ideas about what to do in space but only a few of which ever actually fly. This appears to scale with the extreme reliability of space hardware.

The main point of the workshop was that we could do this right now but some components are to expensive for it to be practical. A few more years and some developments in manipulating laser light and it will be affordable. This could create the next leg of a transportation network for developing our solar system while exploring neighbors like Rigel Kentauri. Such a DE array could help build massive space telescopes and provide a range of technical advances to any industry that uses lasers. The people developing the first trip to the stars are clearly focused on the technical and economic journey and it’s inspirational potential more than a single end goal. The amount of time, money and careers going into this project require long-term thinking.

Some combination of ChipSat swarms and phased-array laser clusters are probably the best way to fly. Separating thrust from craft is probably essential as Dr. Lubin had a presentation that showed how getting matter to relativistic velocities requires propulsion with relativistic exhaust velocities. This mostly excludes putative fusion drives and leaves only antimatter and Directed Energy as propulsion source candidates.

Example of COTS in this type of research. This 19-element phased-array laser uses standard DSLR camera lenses to provide focus for fiber-optic lasers. Courtesy, DeepSpace Lab at UCSB, J. Madajian and A. Cohen.

Much of the focus is on commercial-off-the-shelf hardware (COTS). For example, Dr. Lubin’s test arrays use standard DSLR camera lenses hooked up to fiber optic lasers. One issue made clear by all the researchers involved is that fiber laser amplifiers need to become much cheaper for Destination: Alpha Centauri to make economic sense. A goal of $1 or less per watt seems achievable, Dr. Cahoy pointed out that the fiber amplifier in a DVD drive costs about ¢.10 for the 1-watt element. Mass-produced, space-rated fiber amps should be able to be priced within an order of magnitude if enough are being made.

At Space Horizons 2016, Dr. Phil Metzger presented an idea of a boot-strap outer space industrial economy of self-replicating machines. At first, they just make low-efficiency solar panels or other simple objects. Over the course of several decades, the machines create an exponentially increasing industrial base. This topic came up separately this year as a way to enable interstellar flights through automated manufacturing and assembly.

Directed Energy boost creates in-system superhighways for nearby payloads to Mars and other destinations. DE may turn out to be a preferred means of propulsion, electricity and process heat for future inner solar system development, especially of Mars and Lunar craters.

A potential research point I’d like to see addressed before hardware is completely specified is whether microwaves, specifically in the 2.45 and 5.8 GHz ranges, can achieve similar results to a laser array. This would be specifically for integration in a putative Space-based Solar Power (SBSP) demonstration network.

Wafersats might be able to be propelled by a demonstration-level Solar Power Satellite (SPS) in Earth Orbit. This would involve a 100-300 kW beam-forming microwave antenna, likely in polar orbit and powered by solar panels. An assessment should look at recent advances in phased-array microwave sandwiches and life cycle assessment of both systems as part of an integrated beamed-power system. The analysis would look at the trades between lasers as an end output of a power system whereas the SPS would be part of the power system. There should be an effort to include power-beaming in some form in whatever external propulsion system is developed.  One immediate issue is beam-focus and whether active beam-forming could address some of the concerns without also flying relativistic mirrors as proposed by Dr. Forward in Vulpetti, Matloff and Johnson (2008). Proposed microwave “sails” have footprints that are orders of magnitude larger than proposed light sails.

Development of the Wafersat system could potentially benefit from this sort of integration with a beamed power network beyond supplying a Farside laser array with electricity. The SPS satellites could potentially serve as a DE propulsion system that can’t work as a weapon.

Design Research Exercise: Technical & Social Imaginaries of Destination: Alpha Centauri

Instead of a poster, I ran a simple design research exercise during the lunchtime poster session. The exercise consisted of a SWOT Matrix and an I Like/I Wish/What If list. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats; it is a very fast and efficient method for dissecting an idea, situation or scenario. I Like/I Wish/What If is a technique utilized by Stanford’s D.School for team ideation. Participants filled out each section, then ranked all the entries with dot stickers to indicate what they thought were most important in each category.


The most important Strengths of the concept were the vision and inspiration it can provide for children, the infrastructure aspect of multi-use directed energy arrays and having that kind of high-energy laser technology for other applications.

The greatest Weaknesses cited include the very large upfront costs and the possibility of the laser location not being under US control, which was also cited as an opportunity.

Opportunities behind Destination: Alpha Centauri include routine, fast access to our own Solar System (again, infrastructure that plays many roles) especially “student ChipSats of infinite types”, technical spin-offs, public engagement and interstellar dating. Several allusions to social networking with aliens were made across the exercise but ranked low. Everyone involved seems to hope the project will help us find life or even intelligent, technical species but aren’t holding those hopes to high. The last opportunity that was ranked by another participant was the so-called Overview Effect, the change that people experience in seeing the world from space.

Threats cited include the perception of these tools as weapons and their potential to spark a space arms race and the loss of interest should the first project fail.

Participants Liked that the laser arrays would likely be a multi-use,  multi-party piece of infrastructure. One entry suggested piles of large, unmarked bills.

Participants Wished that there was a near-term and smaller scale space-based test “to start playing with photon delta-V”. This is in some ways an obvious stepping stone between laboratory benchtops and megawatt facilities on the Lunar Farside but is also the exact kind of policy nightmare regarding space-based weapons that no government would allow to fly, private mission or public. One unranked idea that was discussed elsewhere in the workshop was “brakes” of some kind at the destination star. As it is, the individual WaferSats pass through the target star system in a few hours traveling at relativistic speeds. The advantage to Dr. Lubin’s proposal is that thousands of these craft make that journey in a continuous mesh.

What If questions included “What if I could change the gravity constant” and whether there are aliens and how that would impact the project and our understanding of our place in the universe.

Complete dataset:

These process photos include the final results, two development pictures and one of researchers participating in the exercise. In my experience, space scientists and engineers are often surprised and excited when designers bring our research tools to help them analyze their chosen fields and projects.

Final data snapshot. Participants wrote ideas for each category then ranked all the ideas using dot stickers.
Wall test, any wall will do.
Initial slide of concept, shared with colleagues online for feedback.
Dr. Phil Lubin and Peter Klupar interacting with the exercise.

Space Horizons is always an interesting conference. Professor Fleeter knows all the interesting people in the space sector and brings a keen sense of understanding what is nearly possible and about to happen in space projects. This year’s topic was closing a circle as the first Space Horizons was about ChipSats when they were a completely new concept. Now the discussion isn’t whether ChipSats or Wafersats for Dr. Lubin’s team are possible but whether they are appropriate as our first interstellar emissaries.

Real action is happening on this right now at, Breakthrough Foundation, Lasermotive and other labs across the US. This concept, whether as StarShot or another team, presents enormous commercial and academic opportunities along with workforce development, youth inspiration and the potential of a new  “Earthrise” moment from 4 lightyears distant.

Apollo 8 Earthrise. Image courtesy, NASA.


  • Vulpetti, G., Johnson, L., & Matloff., G. L. (2008;2009;). Solar sails: A novel approach to interplanetary travel. New York, NY: Springer-Verlag. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-68500-7

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