Scenario-Based Design In The Context of Street Movement

Mahan Mehrvarz
14 min readDec 5, 2020

This story is a brief synopsis of a thesis project submitted to the faculty of School of architecture and planning in the Situated Technologies research group in 2016. The Original title was “Not Another Tool: Designing Resistance Scenarios For Sustaining Street Movements In Response To Riot Control Scenarios”. This work was looking at civil disobedience as a never-ending social practice in a society in which computer code is woven into the fabric of everyday lives. The project used this as a design situation to access non-violent resistance scenarios in respond to authorities’ desire for controlling street movements.

2016 | Thesis presentation | Situated technologies research group | school of architecture and planning, state university of New York at Buffalo

New technologies have played a substantial role in the street movements, from Green Movement in Iran and Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt to Occupy Wall Street Movement in New York City . In these movements, streets became hyper public spaces where people used digital and physical components or environments and created a new reality. Street movements have been traditionally taken place within the physical realms of cities, and often start or end with a form of civil disobedience.

Considering the integration of new technologies in our daily lives, in 1994, Critical Art Ensemble — a group of tactical media practitioners — stated in their Electronic Civil Disobedience manifesto that:“…Streets are dead capital and nothing of value to the power elite can be found in the streets. Resisters should find something of a value to the power elite”. However, more recent movements (from 2009 to 2012) around the world showed that fully-virtual civil disobedience model that Critical Art Ensemble pictured in its manifesto does not meet protesters’ desires.

Instead, the recent social movements and civil disturbances (of any form and in any geographical region) have been following a model that includes both digital and physical components. To re-emphasize, this fact demonstrates the role of digital spaces in this millennium.

Riot Control tactics include riot-control scenarios and a number of tools (traditional and technological) associated with each scenario. To resist, people have also developed ad-hoc tools that neutralize the control tools. However, there is a noticeable difference between the number of technologies that authorities have access to and those available to protesters during street protests. On top of the shortage in resources that protesters have to deal with, there is a lack of advance planning and design for street protests as a spatial collective activity. It seems that designers have never considered this condition as a design problem.

The primary goal in this project is to understand how the application of communication technologies, the Internet of things, pervasive computing, and sensory devices can create a mixed-reality urban environment, which provides the opportunity for protesters to remain in streets and act and respond to authorities more effectively within public spaces.


Proposing tools/strategies for protesters is in response to all tools/technologies that are available for authorities requires a deep understanding of the current restrictions and shortcomings. On top of all types of resources that are available for authorities but not protesters, it is also notable that the amount of design in the protester sides also requires an increase. Benefiting from a huge amount of resources, soon or late authorities will be able to develop new tools that protesters have no idea how to deal with. Moreover, the invention of various cutting edge technological riot control tools which are already developed and tested by military researchers, emphasizes the emergent need for in advance design and planning for protesters.
Based on several riot control manuals, the authorities use several tactics to control the street movements. There are a number of riot-control scenarios in which the riot-control agents use tools to terminate the street protests. For example, one of the riot-control scenarios is “chopping”. In this scenario, the riot-control agents attack the protesters from several points in order to chop their mass into segments and afterwards arrest protesters. One of the tools that the riot-control police use within this scenario is tear gas.
The common practice by street protesters is to develop ad hoc or DIY tools for resistance to confront the tools of control. For example, if we think of tear gas as an example of a control tool, protesters wear masks or burn papers, recycle bins, or bushes to minimize the effect of tear gas.

An Alternative Perspective

The attempts to develop and design tools for protesters and provide them access to resources thus far have come from a rational school of thought and often each project/case relates to a single control scenario. This Projects proposes an alternative way of looking at the issue of protestors’ inaccessibility to resources and tools.

What if protesters accept the fact that they cannot overcome authorities when it comes to mainstream and traditional riot-control scenarios regardless of the tool they use, and instead, think of alternative scenarios in which the power will not be only in hands of the authorities?

A thorough analysis of both control tools and resistance tools (briefly discussed in the video above) shows that they are both products of and in response to a single riot-control scenario; some of the tools are for control and others are to resist and neutralize those control tools.
This project proposes an alternative way of thinking: instead of focusing on designing tools, designing alternative scenarios for resistance first, and the tools that are associated with each of them. Therefore, there will be resistance scenarios as opposed to control scenarios that seek to change the paradigm of protest organization. The resistance scenarios neutralize the strategic goals of riot-control scenarios instead of neutralizing their control tools.

Protesters within the resistance scenarios, this time, do not confront control tools; instead, they confront the scenarios behind them. Rather than trying to invent ad-hoc tools which are often weak in terms of technology, protesters try to act within different scenarios with different tools that are not designed to neutralized ‘tear gas’ but to neutralize the scenario of ‘chopping the crowd into segments’.

Method of Inquiry

The confluence of mixed reality, as an environment in which real world and virtual world are presented together within a single medium, in the context of street protests, can produce a number of scenarios for resistance in which protesters try to continue their collective actions with the same level of effectiveness but using different strategies and tools. The method of inquiry is to first develop resistance scenarios in response to riot control scenarios. Each resistance scenario will address services, technological tools, objects, or platforms. The goal is to explore the application of new technologies, such as new media, pervasive computing, and the internet of things, within those resistance scenarios. Although the outcome may be very similar to a toolkit, these tools operate at a strategic level rather than an instrumental level.
This is a design-based research approach that follows approaches from critical theory and deconstruction perspectives toward creating resistance scenarios for protesters.

The project is an attempt to give more power to protesters and balance the access to resources between authorities and protesters.
It uses scenario planning as an abductive design strategy to identify plausible scenarios of resistance. Scenario planning is a helpful technique when it comes to situations with uncertainties , which is one of the primary aspects of street riots. Also, as mentioned previously, my goal is to change the traditional way of resisting riot-control techniques by proposing an alternative way of thinking, which is highly aligned with scenario-planning methods. According to Mietzner and Reger, designing scenarios “require decision makers to question their basic assumptions (p. 224)”. The possible outcome of the generated scenarios are new and innovative services, technological tools, objects, or platforms that the thesis addresses for each of the resistance scenarios. These outcomes can weave a new relation between virtual and physical components of street protests/movements.
As with other methods, scenario planning has its advantages and disadvantages. The most important advantage of this method is that it allows the designer to come up with multiple alternatives. Since the future is not fully predictable, it is necessary to have various options in case events do not follow our expectations.

Below are some of the most important riot control scenarios which are being used for more than centuries:

Chopping [into segments]

The French Polices’ tactics against a long demonstration march is to attack it at several points and chop it into segments, rather than to merely try to block it at its front end. Since the advent of artillery, straight roads have been of notable importance in city defense and control.

Containment (Kettling)

In some cases, a commander may see it as practical to contain a crowd by surrounding it with officers, who prevent any person from leaving (also known as a ‘kettle’). Individuals can then also be removed one at a time for arrest.
Another form of containment is by moving the crowd down streets, blocking all escape routes but the desired route. The crowd is then ‘herded’ along the route to a certain point where it can be encircled (i.e., a dead-end).

Snatch Squad

Police will be videotaping or photographing protesters for future arrests. “Snatch squad” tactics might also be used where several police officers, usually in protective riot gear, rush forwards, occasionally in a “flying wedge” formation to break through the front of a crowd, Here the objective is to snatch one or more individuals from a riot that are attempting to control the demonstration at which they are present. The target may be a leader or a speaker, or someone who seems to be leading the crowd.
As noted in the section on Crowd Control, snatch squads are small groups of officers (4–6) who are sent into a crowd to carry out arrests, taking their prisoner(s) back through the police lines. Their targets are per-selected and they move quickly to carryout the arrest.

Not another Tool explores the opportunities that social movements, in the recent decades present in terms of new spatial experiences. This trinity of resistance scenarios illustrate an alternative present, to become conscious of spatial processes which are yet less touched by designers and planners.

The resistance scenarios are intertwined with human and computer networks through and within digital and physical space: a hybrid environment which is dependent on both its digital and physical components.

The project highlights the significance of spatial experiences which are not designed in a certain time-space and pre-deterministic, but instead are always in the process of becoming and evolving, not by their human or non-human actors separately but by both of them, together.

Not another tool’s ultimate goal is not to provide solutions for protesters to be successful in their practice of resistance. Instead, It seeks to propose new ways of thinking about resistance in more strategic levels. It also emphasizes the importance of a mixed design opportunity (mixed reality and social movements).

One: Internet “in” Things

Internet in Things proposes a network of humans, objects, and computer nodes, constructed of relational connections. This network is reliant on all of its heterogeneous components. Although Internet in Things is an approach to circumvent Internet censorship based on its technological properties, it also relies on previously established human social connections and develops a mixed system combining various components.
It uses an alternative infrastructural system to overcome the barriers of Internet censorship. It attempts to skip the old cat-and-mouse game of circumvention tools or at least start a new game.

In this scenario, people use Remote Desktop Services, or RDS. RDS software and protocols allow users to remotely access an actual computer and execute commands using their mouse and keyboard through the host computer. The main purpose of these services is to fix a computer problem, to perform administrative tasks and to access a workplace computer from home or when traveling or from other locations and vice versa as opposed to common censorship circumvention tools that are designed to secure an Internet connection.

Internet in Things creates a real private network between two human beings and their devices. One is the guest-facing blocked content and one is the host with access to that content.
The guest will remote to the host’s computer and will gain access to content that is blocked from where he is connected to the Internet. However, it looks like he is streaming someone’s monitor while having access to his mouse and keyboard

The major component of Internet In Things is called the Bridge. A Bridge is made out of an artifact with cultural associations and memories that the host and guest share. This artifact is given a 3d printed extension to be enabled to carry a computer inside. The new life of the artifact after this assembly turns it into a Bridge. The bridge remains as a decorative object that is also physically responsive to Internet traffic as an indicator for the host that the guest is browsing the Internet through the Bridge. This way, the Bridge plays a slight role to invoke and maintain a sense of solidarity.

Two: Packer

Packer is a mobile app designed to sustain mass demonstrations. It comes into the play when a mass demonstration goes through the process of dispersal.
Every mass demonstration, when being dispersed by authorities, changes into a number of small groups of people and then finally into separated individuals. Authorities, via different tactics and strategies, chops the mass demonstration into small groups. Then the small groups subsequently end up with many separated individuals.

Packer returns agency to small groups of individuals. It encourages individuals to remain as small groups, or packs, in private or privately-owned public spaces. It sustains the potential re-formation of the previously dispersed mass demonstration, or the formation of a new one when the situation becomes appropriate again.

Packer constantly visualizes real-time data about the separated packs and collages them beside each other to evoke a virtual demonstration. It illustrates a bigger image which is not otherwise clear for dispersed packs of demonstrators, one which is prevented physically but still remains as a social desire.
Protesters stand together within their packs for a united reason in places such as cafes, food courts, shopping malls, parkings, balconies, and rooftops,- separated physically but gathered together digitally and psychologically.

Three: Pigeon

During a civil war in general, there have always been a number of journalists with diverse nationalities who are killed unjustifiably. Nowadays following the emerging access to mobile and pervasive technologies within urban space, in many cases, the lack of video footages capturing an event (or a specific person during an event such as a demonstration) alleges the idea that the aforementioned person has never been there and the story of his/her death is a rumor. And this is mainly because several cameras or video footage from those present during the event did not capture that person in the environment (based on an interview with Michael Sfard; an international human right specialized lawyer). From this point of view, the existence of video footage as proof or evidence seems really crucial.
Pigeon is a fictional scenario about the collectively executed evolution of a toy drone toward a very important tool for journalists who have to work in unstable and dangerous sites.

Pigeon is made through an unsupervised and dispersed manufacturing system within digital space. Although Pigeon is a tool, a number of human and computer nodes need to collaborate through a mixed reality network in order to benefit from its features. Pigeon also does not directly influence the life of its main user, however, it is designed in a way to secure sites for journalists or key demonstrators (those who are subjects for snatch squads) in the future.

There are many highlights and latent points in the pigeon scenario such as dispersed manufacturing, online collaboration, possible directions for cyber-activism. It also emphasizes the significance of open-source culture and digital sharing space. Pigeon scenario suggests a none pre-deterministic nature for objects and products as well as its main point that is the importance of creating evidence or documents in order to change the unfavorable current situation.

Not Another Tool was a design-based research project about social movements and street protests taking place within public space with mixed properties. The Spatial context for this project was a hybrid space in which both digital and physical space merged in urban public space. Not Another Tool focused on formation, reformation, and deformation of a demonstration as well as protesters’ resistance and their spatial collective acts against authorities’ desire to disperse them. For this purpose, this project required a deeper understanding of strategies that riot control police apply to take control of a social movement. Based on the understanding gained, rather than trying to design tools or toolkits for protesters. The project aimed to design flexible systematic ways of thinking to resist those strategies. Not Another Tool built networks of stakeholders and actuators based on “fresh considerations” and “sharp discontinuity”. It did not aim to provide a solution for the identified problems. Instead, it pushed conventional boundaries to imagine new ways of approaching those problems.


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for more information please visit Not Another Tool website or the thesis book



Mahan Mehrvarz

Product Designer & Strategist | MArch in Situated Technologies