Grove is a project
that was the culmination of my thesis on social capital. It is a forum for a community
to ask for and exchange help and services in order to build stronger ties between people in
The goal of this project was to create a platform that students at California College of the Arts could use to reach out into their community and find help on a project, or a friend to talk to, or someone to buy them lunch. I wanted the platform to create a new type of social space where students would feel comfortable asking their community for something they might only ask from a friend. This social space is powered by Quarks, a currency designed to populate the Grove Exchange where students can post an ask to their community and give Quarks in return. These Quarks become an abstraction of the social capital in a community.
I began by doing extensive secondary research on how people make decisions and evaluate risk. Using some of this initial insight I then wrote a discussion guide and held interviews with people in the CCA community exploring what they felt comfortable asking their friends and what they would ask from their community. It was important to understand how much people trusted their community so I created a public provocation and challenged people to leave their possessions out to be protected by the student body.
While my initial experiment dealt with trust I needed to understand how much a good deed is worth in a community so I created “coupons” that represented different altruistic acts like helping clean a space or purchase a cup of coffee. I would hand them out to people in my classes and my major, they would represent an ask. For example, if I handed you a hug coupon I would be asking you for a hug. You of course were under obligation to give me one but if you did then you would receive that coupon to use later. Effectively I had commoditized these social moments capturing some of the social capital between people in a slip of paper.
While the paper exploration was interesting it became clear quickly that there were two major changes that needed to take place. The first was that the coupons did not capture how one person may need a hug far more than another. By capturing value in a currency, like Quarks, you can introduce demand and help highlight someone’s need. Secondly, I needed to build the platform of exchange in a way that let me see the effect I had on the community and what people were exchanging and for how much.
The final iteration was a web app built using AngularJS. It is built around a chat feature and allows for different users to send Quarks to each other in messages. The core idea is that by posting publicly in open channels students may then respond to each other and exchange a hug, or a meal for Quarks. Many of the major design decisions were made in order to get a functional prototype. This was the first time I have ever coded a fully functional site on my own and did so in a matter of weeks.
After a series of testing with students, it became clear that the Grove intervention had created new value by enabling people to thank each other for simple things like saying hello in the hallway, or helping others with a project. By giving people a forum to openly ask their community for what they need in new ways, you enable stronger relationships between people. In the end Grove should build a habit of helping those around you, knowing you can always use that capital yourself later.
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