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Saying Hello to Empathy: An Empathy Toolkit to Build Stronger and More Inclusive Communities

Empathy is a powerful tool that plays an important role in promoting communication, social connections, and positive relationships.

When you develop this ability to think and feel yourself into the inner lives of other people, it allows you to communicate the incredibly healing message of “you’re not alone” to others, to lift them up when they’re feeling down.

When many individuals are able to show empathy to others, they can collectively promote kindness, prevent stereotyping and discrimination, and stop bullying behaviours.

This allows the building of stronger communities and more inclusive societies to take place and that makes the world a better place.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It involves recognizing and responding to the emotional experiences of others.

You can be compassionate, kind, and understanding when you show empathy to others.

It can also be characterised as a complex psychological trait which involves both cognitive and affective components, such as perspective-taking, emotional responsiveness, and the ability to differentiate between one's own emotions and the emotions of others.

Overall, empathy is a fundamental aspect of human experience and is critical for fostering understanding, compassion, and connection with others.

American author, poet, and philosopher, C. JoyBell C., has provided one of the best visual representations of empathy with her quote. She says:

Empathy is the ability to step outside of your own bubble and into the bubbles of other people.

Can One Develop Empathy?

Empathy skills can be developed and enhanced through practice, education, and exposure to diverse social experiences.

It is a complex psychological trait that arises from a combination of both nature and nurture factors. Research suggests that empathy has both genetic and environmental influences.

There is a case to be made for those who are coming from either the nature or nurture camps of empathy development.

Studies on twins and families have shown that there is a hereditary component to empathy, with genetic factors believed to be contributing to differences in emotional reactivity, sensitivity to social cues, and perspective-taking abilities, all of which are important components of empathy.

Studies have also shown that environmental factors such as childhood experiences, socialisation, and cultural norms play a significant role in the development of empathy.

For example, children who grow up in nurturing and responsive environments are more likely to develop empathy than those who experience neglect or abuse.

Additionally, exposure to diverse social situations and experiences can help one to relate better to others.

Overall, the development of empathy is a complex interplay between genetics, biology, and environmental factors.

hello empathy game session in progress at the Singapore Design Week 2022

While some individuals may be predisposed to be more empathetic than others, empathy can be cultivated and developed through practice, education, and exposure to diverse social experiences.

WeCreate Studio’s Empathy Development Tool

As an architecture firm for social betterment, community engagement has always been the key strategy and approach we adopt for our design projects to ensure that they cater to the needs of users.

During the planning stage of a design project, our facilitators need to display empathy so that the stakeholders we engage in various design projects, through focus groups, interviews, and informal chit-chat sessions, will feel comfortable enough to open up and share their thoughts.

Be it from the designer’s perspective taking ability during the planning stage, or from the user’s ability to provide appropriate emotional responses during a social experience, i.e. engagement sessions, it is crucial for this empathy skillset to be nurtured from young for the world to be a better place.

At WeCreate Studio, we firmly believe that empathy skills can be developed from young through experiential learning and practice.

Driven by our mission to enable individuals to form meaningful connections with others in space and to build a more inclusive society through design, we applied for a grant under the Good Design Research (GDR) Initiative to create our own empathy toolkit --- the ‘hello empathy’ card game.

What is hello empathy?

hello empathy is a conversation card game that doubles up as an inclusive design toolkit, inspired by the autism community, and aimed at deepening empathy through meaningful conversations.

The hello empathy card game

It is a labour of love, borne out of hundreds of hours of brainstorming, in-depth interviews, focus groups, classroom observations, volunteer sessions, meaningful conversations with friends who interact with Persons with Autism (PWA) daily, play tests, consolidation of feedback, findings, insights, and game iterations.

Supported by the Good Design Research (GDR) Initiative, WeCreate Studio decided to partner Xopo Design to embark on a year-long research back in 2021, to study the inclusiveness of public space design in Singapore.

After discovering that the public displays a larger degree of social distance towards persons with intellectual disability, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as compared to those with physical or sensory impairment, our team decided to narrow the research scope to focus on the autism community.

Initial findings from interviewing designers and secondary research from various publications confirmed that there was indeed an urgent need to find out how current spatial design practices could be enhanced for the benefit of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), especially for PWAs.

This is because there is an inherent lack of inclusive design features in the current designs of public spaces, which tend to be universal in nature. This poses a serious problem when communities with special needs feel out of place when they use the spaces.

These communities feel more oppressed than comfortable when using public spaces, which results in them avoiding these spaces. In the long term, this reduces their visibility in public spaces, which contributes to their marginalized status in society.

If a first-world nation, like Singapore, is to build a truly inclusive society, more needs to be done to enhance the design process to make our public space more inclusive for marginalized communities, and the best place to start is by educating our younger generation.

How is hello empathy played?

The main deck of game cards consists of fact, task, scenario, opportunity, and question cards.

Questions play a big part in shaping one’s hello empathy game experience, allowing players to leave the game with a better understanding of themselves, of fellow players, and of those who are not neurotypical.

For a quick summary of how the game is played, refer to the infographic below.

Hello empathy is an intensely experiential learning game. With insights from our research findings blended into gameplay, players are guaranteed to have some takeaways from the playing experience.

One major takeaway will be the increase in self-awareness on how one would be perceived by others or react when being asked to role-play or be on the receiving end of socially awkward behaviours.

How thought-provoking the game session will be, will depend on how spontaneous players are in participating and contributing to the discussions sparked by the game cards.

Throwback to hello empathy’s Soft Launch

On 10th November 2022, hello empathy had its soft launch to a rousing reception. We were incredibly moved by the strong turnout and happy to know that there are many among us who are advocates for a more inclusive society.

Guests were first taken through a viewing gallery, where they could hear first-hand from our founder, Trecia, on the genesis of the card game and insights that we gleaned from our research process.

Guests listening to hello empathy founder, Trecia, as they tour the viewing gallery

Next up for our guests was a trip down our design journey, where guests were treated to a mini-museum of hello empathy prototypes and observed how the game evolved from the initial board form to its final card form.

Guest touring the hello empathy prototype museum

Guests were then invited to try the hello empathy card game for themselves as they helped themselves to the sumptuous spread of food and drinks we catered from Grain.

hello empathy game sessions in progress

The day ended with Trecia giving all guests an update on how WeCreate Studio would be charting the hello empathy journey moving forward while getting feedback from guests on their experience playing the game and takeaways from the day.

Trecia getting feedback from guests at the hello empathy soft launch event at GUI

Engaging Our Younger Generation with hello empathy

As a testament to hello empathy’s appeal and through some positive word of mouth, WeCreate Studio was honoured to be invited to Victoria Junior College (VJC) to share the hello empathy experience with the younger generation.

The hello empathy sharing session was part of their Active Citizenry Programme, which aims to develop in students an understanding of what it means to be a Singaporean and global citizen, and to get them involved as active citizens in their communities. Other programs that the school offers to promote active citizenry include Citizenship Education@VJC, Service Leadership Venture, Project V, VJCares, and School Wide VIAs (Values in action).

As part of their preparation for Project V, VJC’s teachers reached out to WeCreate Studio to conduct an empathy workshop for students in the Victoria-Cedar Alliance (Integrated Programme students), in anticipation of their future engagement with persons with autism. Students from the alliance would then be conducting the same workshop for their peers.

Briefing VJC students on the game mechanics of hello empathy

VJC students trying the hello empathy game experience for themselves

We are pleased to share some of the takeaways that the students had:

"We learnt how to be respectful in situations, as well as sometimes not to react immediately when you see something out of the blue, think first then approach."

"Everyone deals with disruptions and takes care of their well-being differently."

"I've learned to be more understanding and patient when dealing with people exhibiting tendencies in public as we do not know if they have special conditions. I have also learned more about the autism spectrum and how it varies from severe to mild. This is in line with my intention at the start of the game to gain empathy for those with special needs."

It was a fruitful experience for the WeCreate Studio team and we hope that this engagement session is the beginning of many sessions to come.

Group photo with VJC students at the empathy workshop

Moving Forward with hello empathy For a More Inclusive Society

Empathy education has gained attention in recent years as a way to foster more caring, compassionate, and socially connected individuals, with social and emotional learning programs such as the one that we facilitated for VJC, becoming increasingly popular.

We believe that empathy can be deepened by enabling meaningful conversations to take place, by helping individuals to understand and appreciate diversity in all its forms, and to promote an inclusive mindset from young to allow our children to grow up recognizing and respecting differences.

hello empathy is our attempt at imparting empathy education in a holistic and inclusive manner that is connected to real-world experiences, and we do hope to continue playing our part in furthering empathy education in society through hello empathy.

Engaging the public on empathy

Therefore, hello empathy will be a living and breathing product that we will continue to iterate to create a better playing and learning experience for our players.

As an architecture firm for social good, it will always be our pleasure to play a part in engaging and educating the public to build stronger communities and more inclusive societies, which will help make the world a better place for one and all.

Head over to our shop if you wish to purchase a copy of hello empathy for yourself or your friends.


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