Women in Design

April 4, 2017

 

Is there a unique perspective to design that only women hold? What is the contribution of the feminine to design systems? Why do we not see more women being featured in the futures and design spaces? I spent some time with Fernanda Ibarra, founding partner at the Emergence Project, to explore these questions and more.

 

Fernanda Ibarra is an internationally recognized figure in the fields of collective intelligence and the next economy.  She is co-founder of the Collective Intelligence Research Institute (CIRI) with Jean-François Noubel’ and co-inspires with The Metacurrency Project to build infrastructures for the next economies. 

 

I met Fernanda through the MetaCapital Framework (MCF) Master Class. She co-designed and co-facilitated the program along side MCF designer, Dr. Sean Esbjorn-Hargens. In a recent interview, I asked Fernanda to share about how she got involved with currency design, a particularly male dominated field, and what her contribution has been as a designer building infrastructure for the next economies…

 

Fernanda:

In currency design, currencies and coding, there are not many women in this space. I actually don’t come from a coding background, that is, I’m not a geek.

I bring collective intelligence work to the space.

 

Susanna:

Is that how you know George Por?

 

Fernanda:

Yes, George was one of the first mentors in collective intelligence. That’s how I came into the field. Then Jean-François Noubel’ and I started the Collective Intelligence Research Institute in France. Collective intelligence is a comprehensive science - computer science, behavioural condition, bio-mimicry - that encompasses the whole field, as well as process arts.

 

Susanna:

Process arts, what’s that?

 

Fernanda:

I believe that to be able to design an experience for a group of people to achieve an outcome is an art. Just like the art of harvesting or the art of hosting. Process art is about how to keep together a visual collective space to make sense of our collective outcome, and includes aspects of facilitation, hosting and harvesting so that completing the cycle of the whole body of collective questions is achieved.

 

Susanna:

How is process art different from say, program design in education?

 

Fernanda:

I’d say it’s an issue of semantics ... I learned this as an art through action learning that transcended and included traditional design. It’s really about helping a group achieve an outcome in a learning process.

 

Susanna:

So, how did you end up working in the field of currency design?

 

Fernanda:

Collective intelligence creates the social conditions that enable emergence. Whether that occurs, or not, depends on so many factors.

 

In my search to create the conditions for and scale collective intelligence, it became obvious that we cannot cultivate global collective intelligence if we are fighting over a scarce resource, which is money!

 

Asking people to shift behaviours, to change their perceptions when they are only using the one currency, money, to exchange and share value… this does not necessarily enable collective intelligence or emergence.

 

So, that’s how it happened for me between money and collective intelligence; I bring the science of collective intelligence into the field of currency design.

 

Susanna:

What is it like for you to be a woman working in a male dominated design space?

 

Fernanda:

I am working in the field of money. At the MetaCurrency Project, I am the only woman amongst 20 men. I am constantly surrounded by powerful, beautiful men, who are mostly coders.

 

I hold the feminine of organisational development. If shadow emerges I’ll be there, if we need to create social agreements, I’ll be there, holding space as catalyst for projects. When visible flow comes, I pay attention to the underground current.

 

I’ve also created a lot of explicit, measurable value in the projects I’ve been involved with. I’ve implemented currency to test the prototype. To activate a currency you need to build the market, generate trust beyond just distributing the token. It’s about people. The measurable success of a currency is directly dependent on the feminine, receptive capacity to create the conditions for this to happen.

 

Susanna:

Tell me more about the tacit work you do in this space that is so valuable?

 

Fernanda:

First, I connect again with when men are generators of certain models or tools, what I call there, ‘creator part’. That happens so much in my life, so I commit myself to make that visible by spreading their work around the world. I start by growing consciousness through workshops, advocacy, articles, community development. Tools AND consciousness need to run in parallel. If these tools are not adopted by the community, then it won’t matter. The feminine builds the receptivity. This is a big part of my work.

 

Susanna:

Have you felt seen and valued by the men you have worked with for holding tacit value?

 

Fernanda:

Sometimes I’ve felt that I had to compete in order to share power. I thrive in conditions where the masculine brings boundaries. This becomes the space I want to occupy. A metaphor with my partner, Geoff, would be, he builds the dance floor so I can dance.

 

Susanna:

How do you think tacit value can be made more visible culturally?

 

Fernanda:

One way is through metrics. For the value that’s not visible, subjective measurement is the right space for that. Things like 1st or 2nd person metrics that we discussed in the MetaCapital Framework Master Class.

 

Another way is through shining light on tension. When you think about tensions in the field – turning tensions into something productive requires that a space is created in which they are welcomed and surfaced. Once you do that, harness the energy of the shadow, the work flows better to produce more energy of a project.

 

Basically it’s about intentionally designing spaces for acknowledging the feminine value. For example, asking questions like, what is the value we are creating together? It’s in the creating of space in which collectives can consciously have these conversations that these things can be valued.

 

Until next time, this is Susanna Carman inviting you to invite the feminine into your design process. For more information about Strategic Design or how SC Design can support you in your organization, please contact susanna@susannacarman.com

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