100 in 1 Day Ripples Across Continents from the Bottom-up

Installing a sponge and mirrors to get people to stop and notice their surrounding context in the subway, Santiago, Chile. Photo: 100en1día Santiago Facebook page, Nov. 2013.

100 in 1 Day Ripples Across Continents from the Bottom-up

Decentralized citizen engagement project offers insights in organizing

If you haven’t heard about 100 in 1 Day yet, chances are you will soon. What started as an experimental project in urban interventionism in Bogotá, Colombia last year is spreading like wildfire — across 14 cities, eight countries and four continents so far.

100 in 1 Day is a decentralized, citizen-driven, co-participatory project that creates an inspiring and supportive space for people to collectively lead 100 urban interventions on a single day.

Cristiam Sabogal explains (in Spanish) in a 2012 TEDx Pasto talk that the original 100 en 1 Día in Bogotá started as a partnership between a group of students from Denmark and a group of design students from Bogotá. It was not a neocolonial “helping” project where Danes came in with a proposition about how Bogotans should live, he says. It was truly a co-participatory, co-designed initiative that grew from the bottom-up.

Scaling to 100

The students from Kaospilots, a hybrid business and design school in Denmark, were visiting Bogotá in spring 2012 for their fourth semester outpost. During this semester, an entire class of about 35 students moves their classroom to another country for three months, where they study while learning and connecting with a new local context.

During their Bogotá outpost last year, students were assigned with the task of creating six urban interventions that would maximize the potential of the city. One night over drinks with their local friends, the students wondered: Why stop at six interventions? Why not do 100? This amounted to more than just a ridiculously ambitious statement; 100 in 1 Day was born.

When one of the Kaospilots students was walking through cobblestone streets in Bogota, he noticed many holes in the road. He was told that people would remove stones for building purposes, leaving gaps in the road.

“They thought: ‘How cool would it be if we could gather the people of this place and do something about it?’” says Kaospilots student Nicolás Arroyo. He wasn’t in Bogotá for the initial 100 in 1 Day, but he heard many stories about it through colleagues at Kaospilots. 100 en 1 Día Bogotá was a huge success that garnered a lot of media attention on local, national and international networks. It quickly rippled into other cities in Colombia and Central America, creating a lot of buzz at the school.

  Launch of the most recent 100 en 1 Día Bogotá. Photo credit: Zeta, May 2013. Photo: 100en1día Bogotá Facebook page.

Nicolás joined a team of students in Cape Town, South Africa for his outpost this past May, which evolved into the first English-language 100 in 1 Day. A core team of five Kaospilot students and four Cape Town locals grew into a fluid group of 50 organizers, leading to 150 interventions involving 6000 people. Through traditional and non-traditional media coverage, their reach extended to over two million.

What’s An Urban Intervention?

“I like the description of it as a disruption of the norm,” says Yannick Porter, Kaospilot student and part of the 100 in 1 Day Cape Town core team last spring.

“In this case, it should have the purpose of improving the quality of life in the city where 100 in 1 Day is happening. It should be free for anyone to participate in and that anyone is welcome to participate. That’s how I see it. Then there are different ways of looking at it.”

Because of the fluid, citizen-driven nature of the initiative, the tactics, interventions and processes vary from city to city. In the first 100 in 1 Day Cape Town (it happened again last month) interventions included guerilla gardening, having lunch with a taxi driver and listening to the driver’s stories, and adding a new “waterfall” to an unfinished bridge that has stood in Cape Town as an eye sore to many since construction halted in the late 1970s because traffic volumes couldn’t justify its completion. Some interventions tapped into initiatives that were already happening, like a long-term project that holds monthly sessions to clean the Liesbeek River.

The culminating event of interventions becomes much like a festival in form, with music, arts and cultural events bursting throughout the city. But the event could take many forms, says Nicolás. “It could be cultural. It could be political. It could be social. It could be emotional, spiritual — it really depended on who was doing each of the interventions.”

Insights into Citizen Engagement: What Makes Movements Spread?

Inspired by 100 in 1 Day Cape Town, Yannick has been “geeking out” on the theories and insights from this experience to better understand the methodologies that facilitate strong citizen mobilization movements. He has even applied some of his learning from 100 in 1 Day into prototyping a Swedish social movement called Dance for Love. The key elements he’s extrapolated so far include: simplicity of concept and name; process is key; validation; and organization for infinite scalability.

  “Hurry to register your intervention, August 7″ sign in Managua, Nicaragua.
Photo: 100en1día Managua Facebook page, Aug. 2013

Simplicity of concept: The name ‘100 in 1 Day’ does a good job of communicating what the project stands for and what the goal is — 100 interventions. This has a positive impact on its ability to create a space for collaboration. “If we all know where we’re going, as the name implies, it’s much easier to get there together. Everyone can chip in towards that,” Yannick says.

No expertise required: Since 100 in 1 Day is citizen-driven and co-participatory, organizers don’t have to be experts in urban planning. “In a lot of other movements and campaigns, you need be experts in both your field and in running your campaign and project. Here you take away one and you create a space where the participants in the movement are actually the ones who decide their own expertise level in how to do an intervention,” Yannick explains. Expertise within the growing group emerges naturally this way. The skill-set important for organizers to practice is in running projects.

Lean start-up approach: Organizers of 100 in 1 Day Cape Town applied a lean start-up methodology, meaning that every step of the way, they focused on learning what would be relevant to locals and ensured that Capetonians took the lead on how to make this project meaningful to their context.

Each week was a prototype: The workshops were the engine of the movement and key to the process, Yannick explains. The team hosted a gathering every Wednesday leading up to day of interventions, where people could learn, lead, connect, hang out and get inspired. They realized along the way that these workshops needed to provide a taste of what the final day would look like and feel like. Gradually the weekly meet-ups began to feel like festivals in themselves; there was beer, coffee, music, live drawing and dancing in a room of 100 people. In addition to signing up for and developing interventions at the workshops, there were interventions happening at the meet-up itself. It became a space to experience what the culmination day would feel like.

Validation: The core team worked hard to provide “proof of concept” — that 100 in 1 Day was going to create a lot of change. Fortunately for them, they had the Bogotá success story as their validation backbone. They encountered a lot of doubt along the way as people were skeptical that it wouldn’t work in Cape Town. But as time went on, they got better and better at backing up the idea.

Organize for infinite scalability: “At one point we talked about 1,000 interventions. It’s not necessary, but it’s possible,” Yannick says. “How do you build a project that can scale to that level?” The core team put a lot of effort into ensuring that they were not the face of the project from the outset. It was not theirs, it was citizen-owned. It was a gradual hand-off that started on day one, such that a second 100 in 1 Day Cape Town took place five months later — without any Kaospilot students involved.

100 in 1 Day is a simple idea. But it involves intentional design of complexity with a fine balance between structured and unstructured processes. The devil is in the details. Although the process and tactics manifest differently within each context, the individual stories and methodologies offer many insights for organizers across the globe. So much so that this story was too big to contain in one post.

If you’re interested in learning more about the workshops and organizational structure of 100 in 1 Day Cape Town, tune in to MobLab next week for part two of this story.

Related Story:
How to Organize Without Taking the Lead

In the meantime, check out this map of all the cities that have participated in 100 in 1 Day so far.

This article originally appeared on mobilisationlab.org and appears here with permission.

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