Building a common dictionary

Words have different connotations even for people that speak the same language. The interpretation behind concepts may depend on the individual’s familiarity with the term, academic or social background, culture, interests, personality, etc. We learned that it is extremely important to create a common understanding when working with several people, and a part of this understanding is about making sure what everybody means by the words we use.

Throughout our stay in Kampala, we developed a dictionary that was made up key relevant words for the project (e.g., coworking, interaction, grey water, safety, wetland) and the personal interpretations about them. While the personal definitions provided for “grey water” were similar to each other, the interpretations behind “safety” or “interaction” differed significantly.

If we would apply the findings to co-creation spaces in a different context, it is important in order to:

(1) understand the connotation that the words you use mean to the rest of the participants

(2) understand the participant’s level of knowledge on the topic

(2) understand how to modify your communication effectively adapts to the recipient’s framework and still conserves the essence of the message.

Example: one of the attributes that we used to define the co-creation hub was “safe space”. In that sense, for us “safe” meant a place where everybody can feel free to participate and share their ideas and knowledge regardless of their background or experience on the topic. A safe space in that context would be that individuals are free of judgment and pressure in the space.

Already before the trip, however, a scholar from DELFT University pointed out that he was unfamiliar with the concept of “safe space”, his first thought had been about safety in a non-injuring sense. We included the word “Safety” in our common dictionary when we were in Kampala and already working with our two student teams. The responses we obtained were very different, and most of them pointed out to the fact of safety meaning facing no risks physically and security – wise. This made us realise that the term was not good to define what we wanted to communicate in the beginning, and changed our wording accordingly so the message would still be transferred and well received.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *