Farming the Uncanny Valley

Development of an experience-based participation format to increase the social discourse on bioeconomy and biotechnology

Interactive workshops

The feeding station for bumblebees was part of a workshop on the topic of bioeconomy. How do we influence nature? What influence does nature have on us?

Project goals

How will biotechnological developments affect individual and social life in the future? What do citizens need to consider when designing a desirable bio-economy? What role do citizens, scientists, politicians and companies play? Through the design and testing of experience-based participation elements, "Farming-The-Uncanny-Valley" promotes a discourse with everyday relevance between citizens and scientists. Even without prior knowledge, participation in the complex topic of the "bio-economy" is made possible. Design-based methods support the reflection on own values, attitudes and personal acceptance limits. The workshops focus on the "uncanny", the own uneasiness about new topics in bio-economy and the ambivalences associated with them.

Project benefits

In the dialogue between designers and scientists who are driving the development of biotechnology, five areas of the bio-economy were identified, which differ in terms of the subject matter being negotiated, their life-world reference and future prospects: insects, crops, agriculture, soil and air.

The result is five experiential spaces, didactic methods for imparting knowledge on ambivalent topics, prototyping methods with different materials suitable for the participants, and narrative objects of the participants to present personal visions of the future. Selected products and prototypes from the experiential spaces were used in various panel discussions with citizens and experts from science and business to test their discourse potential in practice.

The effect of the workshops on the citizens was recorded using social science and psychological methods and subsequently evaluated with the help of grounded theory. The project thus contributes to the formulation of concrete recommendations for action from the perspective of the workshop participants, which can serve as a basis for political and economic decisions in the bio-economy in the future. The methods are applied in the context of science communication and the development of participation formats. In addition, a visual tool will be developed that will provide laypersons with a practical approach to self-reflection and self-location between acceptance, rejection and design wishes for future technologies.

Thus, the project addresses research groups, political actors and companies equally active in the bio-economy or biotechnology: Through the FUV participation formats and tools, society can become part of its own research process in order to achieve socially desired developments. The interaction between society and its own product vision is revealed and openly discussed. In this way, for example, companies can be supported in the realization and implementation of new business models and ideas. New perspectives and impulses for future research projects are created for business and science.

Project result

The experience-based methods and tools were tested in 2019 in nine workshops in Thuringia and Berlin and evaluated with regard to format and topic research. In order to initiate a broadly effective discourse based on this, the results of the workshops will be presented in the context of the exhibition "Macht Natur" from August 13 to September 11 in Berlin and in November at the Innovative Citizen Festival in Dortmund. The specially developed exhibition concept conveys knowledge and experiences from the workshops via exhibits, speculative stories and spatial installations that reproduce the experiential spaces from the workshops. The participation of the visitors in shaping the bio-economy is stimulated by confrontation with ambivalent research topics, self-reflection and an exchange of opinions between the visitors via a three-dimensional guest book. 

Project partners

• Universität der Künste Berlin

Funding information

Federal Ministry of Education and Research


Duration: October 2017  to March 2021

Funding code: 031B0410B