'Post' pandemic hybrid futures
A collaboration between Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) and BDFI, this project explored how we might imagine and experiment with hybrid technologies and activities. It asked: what have we learnt from spending so much time online during the Covid-19 pandemic as producers, audiences, and facilitators of digital technologies? What would we like to keep doing, and what do we definitely never want to do again?
The big issue
Knowle West Media Centre (KWMC) is a digital arts organisation based in south Bristol creating thriving neighbourhoods through arts tech and care. Working with BDFI, together they examined: what have our experiences of hybrid spaces been? How can we ensure that questions of accessibility and inclusion raised by doing things online are not lost in a rush to return to in-person ways of doing things?
For many people, the Covid-19 pandemic involved a rapid and large-scale shift from in-person to digital encounters across work, education, health, shopping and socialising. As lockdowns lifted and the government dropped pandemic measures, hybrid spaces which brought together in-person and online elements, became increasingly common.
Today – a time in between the days of strict pandemic restrictions and the ‘return to normal’ – is a moment to reflect on and experiment with how hybrid futures might be shaped.
It is crucial that issues of accessibility and inclusion are embedded into hybrid practices and the decisions organisations make around whether and how activities should be online, in-person or a mixture of both.
Many people reported that the pivot to digital technologies during the pandemic made it easier or more pleasurable to participate in work, educational, social and cultural activities; others found these technologies inaccessible, cumbersome, overwhelming or draining. The one thing that is clear within this complicated landscape is that there are no easy answers or simple fixes.
Building from learnings and experiences of hybrid events and encounters during the pandemic is one way of examining what a ‘post’-pandemic hybrid future might look like, and how it might be actively created in ways we want and need. This involves thinking seriously about the tensions, challenges, joys and excitement of online and in-person activities, being sensitive to people’s differing needs and barriers, and trying out ways in which digital technologies may be harnessed to engage participants and address questions of social justice.
This collaboration builds on a number of hybrid tools and methods that Knowle West Media Centre developed with communities in 2020 and 2021. These include hybrid workshops, live broadcasts of community events and festivals and posted packs. In particular, the 2021 KWMC Come Together programme explored how we could connect through a mix of digital and physical spaces and produced resources, tips and pointers for those interested in organising accessible, sensory and enjoyable hybrid spaces.
Working together, KWMC and BDFI want to make sure the learnings from the pandemic are not forgotten, that we keep experimenting with hybrid and find sustainable accessible solutions for long-term engagement, and access to culture and creativity that doesn’t just disappear.
In particular, the project focused on hybrid elements of the Knowle West Fest 2022, which took place at Filwood Community Centre in Bristol on 1 October 2022. We explored and played with whether and how hybrid needs to be live and digital. We experimented with hybrid elements that ‘stretched liveness’ to give people a sense of what the festival would be like before they came, and if they weren’t able to come.
The project had four main stages:
Reflecting and reviewing of KWMC past hybrid activities as well as what and how staff currently aimed and wished to develop hybrid initiatives.
Co-designing a series of potential hybrid activities for Knowle West Fest 2022, an annual community festival hosted this year by KWMC.
Experimenting and testing a variety of hybrid activities before, during and after, KWFest2022, including live streams, accessibility videos, playlists, postcards, craft packs and more.
Evaluating and sharing the strengths and weaknesses of these hybrid experiments and how they might be further developed.
The project furthers knowledge and understanding about the intersections between digital and hybrid technologies and social justice, accessibility and inclusion. It enabled KWMC to reflect on their existing aims and practices and to further embed their collaborative and community-led activities into their work.
It furthers the BDFI mission to create more inclusive, prosperous and sustainable societies by providing an opportunity to try out different digital and analogue technologies and practices and consider their relevance to enhancing social justice.
Close collaboration between KWMC and BDFI also involved the sharing of knowledge, understanding and best practice across community digital arts practice and academic research.
The research is being fed back into KWMC’s activities, including ongoing projects, programmes of events and new research and initiatives. It will also form the basis of a workshop, to be held in the BDFI Neutral Lab, about creative and collaborative methodologies for imagining digital futures.
How is BDFI involved?
The project is a collaboration between Knowle West Media Centre and BDFI, supported by policy and impact from BDFI and the University of Bristol.
- Ella Chedburn (KWMC)
- Martha King (KWMC)
- Josie Gyasi (KWMC)
- Rebecca Coleman (BDFI)
Policy and Impact funds, BDFI and University of Bristol
- Knowle West Media Centre
Reports and news
'Post' pandemic hybrid futures report (PDF, 2,339kB)
News: How can we shape our hybrid futures? Community collaboration puts a focus on inclusion and participation.