Fictional Focus Group

Our research LARPs explore and test the local and global consequences of advanced technologies for human and more-than-human interests.

Fictional Focus Group provides insights into the uneven social consequences of radical transparency.

The Scenario
A group of characters have been selected through profiling and invited to participate in a focus group hosted by True Insight – a fully transparent global research consultancy firm specialising in business logistics and governance. They have been gathered to determine shifting attitudes and practices around transparency in a highly information-dependent society. 

The Game
Players are randomly allocated a character as either a consumer or provider of food, clothing or money services. They are then introduced to choices they must make with incomplete information. This leads to discussion of all their individual dilemmas, and the tensions that exist between consumers and business people. They then time-travel 10 years into the future where their data is reused in unforeseen ways. Where together they discover the positive and negative consequences of their actions on their lives in a new age of TOTAL VISIBILITY.

“it’s hard to keep anything private […] People who you work with know everything about your personal life. People in your personal life know about your work life. And then that lack of boundaries has been a challenge for many of us who would like to be able to present different aspects of our personalities.” Fictional Focus Group character – Human Rights Perry 

Fictional Focus Group Visualisation of Financial Transparency in the News in 2030

Characters are split across three sectors: food, fashion, and finance. They face dilemmas as either a consumer or provider in one of these sectors. They are described in terms of their conscientiousness, agreeableness, and self-orientation (based on the five-factor model of personality), and provided with a short life story and mission. They have gender-neutral names and pronouns, and complex life challenges that present diverse worldviews, personal circumstances, interests, and priorities. This is to ensure that players encounter life experiences that are different from their own and to catalyse reflection on tensions between business and citizen interests. Players are helped to identify with and develop their characters by selecting the sector in which they have most interest and by completing an online survey about the dilemma they face, before they join the game.

This LARP is suitable for groups of 10-20 ages 18+. It is best played with people of different backgrounds and any number of groups can play this simultaneously. Especially valuable to play are designers, developers, information technology professionals, and governance policy-makers, ethical business, start-ups, corporate social responsibility, human resources professionals.

Karl Jonson, Head of Research at True Insight

Game pack includes

  • 20 unique Characters – personality, background story, and life goal – and their business or consumer dilemmas in food, fashion, or finance.
  • Online survey
  • A fictional news report about  transparency in 2030
  • True Insight’s presentation slides
  • True Insight free standing banners (for real-world play)
  • Support from a team of facilitators who lead players of each sub group from food, fashion, and finance, through the game

What players say about Fictional Focus Group

“In 1998, privacy advocates were outraged by David Brin’s book The Transparent Society, which argued for radical openness (an idea whose time is apparently trying to come).  At the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference, I remember him saying that privacy laws protected only the rich and powerful. I never believed that. This exercise showed me, to my surprise, that I apparently do believe that transparency laws could be abused the same way and for the same reason: we live in a society that is judgmental and unforgiving about small infractions. Like so much else, transparency is a tool, not a solution.” – Wendy Grossman played the character Rural Rain. Grossman sits on the Advisory Councils of the Open Rights Group and Privacy International. Read her blog The Transparency Society, about Fictional Focus Group 

“By using improvisation and creative relational engagements we actually learned something in those relational connection that is much more than I would have learned by using my own head and experience to come at these issues today” – Player of the character Agreeable Ali in Fictional Focus Group.

Fictional Focus Group is the subject of a research paper: Kruakae Pothong, Larissa Pschetz, Sarah Meiklejohn, Ruth Catlow (2021) ‘Problematising transparency through LARP and deliberation’, DIS2021
Winning an Honorary Mention at the ACM Symposium on Computer Human Interaction,

Fictional Focus Group was conceived and created as part of the Glass Houses: Understanding transparency in information economies research project, by Ruth Catlow DECAL@Furtherfield with Dr Sarah Meiklejohn, Dr Kruakae Pothong at University College London (UCL) and Dr Max Dovey. Funded by EPSRC through the Digital Economy Theme.

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