WDE Spotlight: Bureau Ruimtekoers

In WDE Spotlight, we give the floor to several designers from the Embassies. This time, we speak to Yosser Dekker of Bureau Ruimtekoers, part of the 2022 Embassy of Inclusive Society. What is his background? What inspires this design studio? What do they hope to achieve with their work? You can read about it in this Q&A!

Type Update
Published on 18 April 2023
Part of Embassy of Inclusive Society
WDE Spotlight: Bureau Ruimtekoers
Part of Embassy of Inclusive Society

Can you tell a bit more about yourself, your background and your design practice?

Well, hi! I am Yosser, the founder of Bureau Ruimtekoers, where I work as director and programme maker. Once trained as a civil engineer, I switched to the creative sector. In 2020, I obtained a master’s degree from the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten in Utrecht. And founded Bureau Ruimtekoers.

With Bureau Ruimtekoers, we develop and organise all kinds of art, culture and design projects that involve people in collectively solving or engaging with social issues.

We work on the basis of design anthropology. A design approach to participatory design and social design with which we involve residents, policymakers and artists in future policy. And we use design anthropology as an artistic framework for participatory art projects. So we have used the design approach to create our own approach for all our projects in both the spatial and social domains.

And this is important because I see participation, or participating, as a prerequisite for an inclusive society, but not all forms of participation are accessible. As a result, privileged voices make policies and these policies do not match residents’ needs.

Like in the social domain where people are supported through participation pathways to develop towards work that suits them. But this succeeds only to a limited extent because the pathway does not match their needs and because they face a standard that does not suit them.

Or in the spatial domain, where, for example, people are invited through participation to play a role in energy transition themselves. But only well-connected residents take solar panels and large groups of people are not involved because they cannot.

We develop our projects on behalf of municipalities, housing associations or cultural institutions. Or work on our own initiative. Always based on the same approach in which, in five steps, artists, residents, local partners and policymakers conceive, create and present tangible images of the future for the issue within which the participation takes place. Among other things, this results in long-term involvement of residents not previously reached by policymakers. Another result are the new collaborations through which artists, residents and policymakers contribute to improving the living environment with fresh perspectives.

Oh yes, good to mention, of course I don’t do all this alone. Together with a very fine team of seven, we work on Bureau Ruimtekoers every day!

What kind of project would you like to realise in the future and why?

I am a huge believer in the longevity of our approach. Participation is about repetition and maintenance and therefore benefits from long lines that remain interesting and challenging for those involved. As a designer, that is where the added value lies; designing long-term processes in a refreshing way.

Then you quickly end up with governments. How do you involve residents in such a way that they feel seen, that cooperation arises and in such a way that everyone can participate? For me, this always involves major themes in our society, from youth welfare to climate adaptation and poverty alleviation. How can we make policy with people? So that it meets their needs? Let’s go beyond the focus group, and take artistic participation as a starting point.

Within WDE, we believe that design thinking is fundamental to arriving at new solution directions for complex social issues. How do you see that as a designer?

Yes, design thinking is essential to arrive at innovative solutions that work. Old and linear thinking has led to the many crises we now find ourselves in. That can and must change. Design thinking is a fine tool for that. 

Let’s not attribute design thinking only to designers. Design thinking will have to land throughout society. After all, if we want to tackle the issues, it is even more important that everyone is involved. The designer holds one of the pieces of the puzzle and could design the process within which all other stakeholders are given an equal place, each also having their own piece of the puzzle. That way, we solve the puzzle together.

I am a great believer in our approach. With anthropological methods, we are able to involve people who do not yet feel involved. And with art, we can create images of the future together with them that are so real that you start to believe in them for a moment. Design thinking – but just a bit more accessible!

Design Anthropology in context of social issues - credits: about.today

How do you think/hope your work makes an impact?

Well, we know it does.

Currently, there are projects where we have made ourselves redundant. Participants, makers or policymakers have embraced our initiatives and found a way to implement them in a new form that suits their own context. That’s what we do it for in the end! Sounds crazy maybe and it doesn’t happen overnight either. That takes time, which is why time is also one of the things we don’t want and can’t enforce in projects. For us, that’s where sustainable support lies.

That sustainable support we measure since the beginning, that is our social impact on an individual, collective and community level. Participation starts with being able and willing to do it. Last year, almost 1,500 people participated in our projects. 66% of them developed social competences and 95% creative competences that enabled them to participate in our project and in follow-up projects.

More than 75% of our projects get a follow-up. That is an important indicator for us, that longevity. It shows that we are relevant. Moreover, this longevity helps us convince policymakers that participation can indeed be a lot more inclusive. If you just take a bit more time for it.

Suppose you get to choose one person for THE ultimate collaboration (a scientist, artist, philosopher, biologist, designer, politician, whoever). Who would you choose and why?

I think … with the second chamber as a body…. Or the Ministry of General Affairs? Because… what if we could design art, culture and heritage into our decision-making and control in The Hague? I think that, for instance, theatre directors or visual artists, together with members of the parliament and inhabitants – for instance, through a citizens’ council – could come up with very interesting, accessible and equal participation processes.

So that we in the Netherlands feel more involved in what happens in The Hague. That policy is made more collectively, so it better suits residents’ needs, can be better explained, is more accessible and can be better monitored and tested.

When I look at where we are now, I think it is mainly about driving public-civil partnerships rather than public-private partnerships. The government and industry have completely worked out their collaborations over the past decades. From content to legal matters, everything is set up accordingly.

But… collaborating with residents as a body, i.e. public-civilian, is so new that everything still needs to be developed and figured out. That’s also why you see climate groups – just citizens uniting – having to go to court. There have yet to be any models on how the government can collaborate with residents on an equal and long-term level. I think this is the future of what we currently call participation; equal public-private partnerships.

Your project Design Anthropology in context of social issues was part of the Embassy of Inclusive Society during Dutch Design Week 2022. What can you tell us about the project and its phase?

The project was an exhibition about our approach from design anthropology. We shared the five steps with concrete examples from projects we have done, or are still developing.

Such as the project Iedereen wordt mens (Everyone Becomes Human), in which people in an Activating Work Path at recycling shop 2Switch and theatre makers Karlijn van Kruchten and Maxime Schräder visualise a future in a film in which the residents themselves are their own norm. With this theatrical film, they respond to the current norm from society, which they experience as compelling. Participants in the project experience a faster and deeper development of their Activating Work Programme. Together with the municipality of Arnhem, we investigate whether cultural participation can become a regular part of Activerend Werk.

Or the Zonnestof project, in which residents of Immerloo – the poorest neighbourhood in the Netherlands – and solar designer and researcher Pauline van Dongen visualise a future in which energy from the sun is taken for granted. By weaving together solar fabric, a solar textile becomes applicable as a curtain that can be used to charge a phone. The project has led to ambassadors who are also helping other neighbours to make their households more sustainable. Together with the municipality of Arnhem, new workshops are being organised in the neighbourhood to reach even more neighbours.

What are the next steps for the project?

With the municipality of Arnhem and social partner thrift shop 2Switch, we are working on a service for reintegration in the municipality of Arnhem. Residents can then reintegrate by collectively devising, creating and performing theatre performances. 

And in Immerloo we are now working with the municipality of Arnhem on heritage projects to reach and involve residents in this super-diverse neighbourhood on the basis of their own personal story, their intangible heritage. For instance, we are again recruiting ambassadors for informal care networks so that the social neighbourhood teams can connect to them.

But also the exhibition. We always reflect on our approach and method. We are now developing a publication based on the exhibition and will launch it before the summer. So that other designers and policymakers can also get started with inclusive participation.

What has your participation in the Embassy brought you?

A lot! Reflection on our approach by presenting it in an exhibition. We also organised a workshop around our method, which was well attended. We met all kinds of new people and are now giving the same workshop in different places!

What tips do you give to policy staff when working with designers on an issue?

Well, give space. Space in process, space in time, the outcome is often still uncertain, and that … is very exciting! Because everyone wants to be able to experience a sense of direction. Discuss clearly with the designer which points you want to direct and be open to other suggestions from the designer. In turn, the designer must remember that the decision-maker must also answer to their team and client. From both sides, openness and equality about these mechanisms of responsibility and accountability is a prerequisite for good collaboration with impact.

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