Dear Solly,
My attention has been drawn to your post of 28 March on the Sarai Commons-Law mailing list.
I am usually pretty relaxed about criticism. After all, if our events failed to provoke discussion and disagreement, they would be feeble events indeed. One reason I was so happy to be introduced to your work, and then to be able to ask you to come to speak, was that you bring such clarity and sharpness to the issues we set out to understand and discuss.
I am especially sympathetic to your pointed question about “our attempt to constantly map our cities in a un-questioning way”. I raised similar questions myself, before and after Doors 8 – but your doubts are more sharply stated. You are right: we need to think far more critically about the use of cartography and mapping by designers in the context of research and product development.
But one sentence in your posting is upsetting and, frankly, demeaning. You write (about the programme) that it contained “Little on improving corporate accountability though, but then, the sponsors would hardly approve of that topic as a session heading”. The clear implication is that our corporate sponsors were able so to determine the agenda so that nothing that might have discomifted them appeared.
The facts are as follows. First, I did not solicit the approval of our sponsors, or their input, on any aspect of the the programme. The agenda for the Doors 8 programme was determined by me personally according to a policy that has applied very publicly to all Doors events since 1993: corporate agendas (or those of any special interest group, including designers) shall not influence or impinge on the programme in any way, period.
For Doors 8, we did discuss with several companies the content of one pre-conference workshop on “Service Design In Emerging Economies”; this was conceived and executed as a special interest event about business issues; it would have been strange (if not impossible) to prepare it without involving business people. But apart from that one workshop, which was one event among nine days of events, the entire programme was developed independently.
Second, the total amount of money contributed by commercial sponsors to Doors 8 was a rather small proportion of the total costs of the event when the time of staff members is counted in. We wish we had raised a lot more sponsorship. But by far the largest part of the global budget for Doors 8 comprised time and resources donated by the two organisers: the Doors of Perception Foundation, and the Centre for Knowledge Societies.
The suggestion of improper corporate influence is especially damaging considering that the event was only possible because our modestly paid staff colleagues worked 18 hour days for weeks on end. Another success factor in our event was the work, time and enthusiasm of dozens of unpaid student volunteers from Indian colleges and universities.
I am writing to you publicly like this because your comment follows a series of jibes that, until now, I had decided to ignore. During the months before Doors 8, we heard continuous reports of ill-informed chitchat to the effect that Doors was a “commercial” event at the service of corporate interests. The fact that such comments were, are are, totally untrue does not stop them being damaging. They should stop. Hence this letter.
For the record, I am as delighted now as I was a month ago to have discovered your work. The energy and insight you brought to the Doors conference was something special, and helped to make it a fabulous and memorable event. I look forward to inviting you to another Doors event as soon as possible.
With warm regards,
John Thackara