Expert article
Modifier 16 May 2022
by Chiara Lucchini

Making sense of change, together

Hadrian wells and halandri inhabitants
Descovering hidden identities in Halandri
Cultural H.ID.RA.N.T. project in Halandri focuses a part of its activities into the shaping and strengthening of local identities, with a work on memories, sense of ownership and intangible heritage aimed at letting hidden but rooted collective knowledge emerge, being socialized and combined with the values guiding the project - both in its physical expressions and in its deepest meanings.
A careful and attentive approach to communication and dissemination of project values and contents is being implemented in Halandri, with the delivery of a number of different tools and initiatives putting in place diverse and tailored languages to enlarge the conversation to new audiences (the local archive, the collection of oral memories, walks and guided tours in the areas that will be transformed and regenerated,etc.). The aqueduct as piece of cultural heritage, the existing information related to it - may it be technical, historical or archaeological; oral or written; scientific or unsystematic; higher or popular, etc.-, the relationship inhabitants established (or not) along time with the silent underground infrastructure, the way the connection with water has been (and is being) framed by the community, are literally incorporated into dedicated cultural performances playing a crucial role in the definition of a common ground.

The under self

One of those is “The Under self”, a performance curated by Ohi Paizoume/Urban Dig project that makes use of the information and gathered knowledge about the aqueduct as core contents of a theater piece. The outcome of an artistic research pathway started in 2018 this  performance combines audiovisuals, words and dance with the intention of transmitting the physical experience of moving through the underground infrastructure (smells, sounds, humidity and temperature conditions, etc.): an occasion to explore the relationship between things standing over and below the city surface, the performance aims at bringing the audience physically inside the aqueduct, accompanying the water in its way along the subsoil of Halandri.

The Under Self
Making the aqueduct speak through images, words, dance and music

Hence the theatrical representation is not simply offering a “virtual tour”, but by giving a voice to the infrastructure it aims at igniting an active relationship between every people’s inner self and the inner city, at stimulating intimate, individual and unique bindings between the audience/the citizens and the hidden aqueduct.


We wanted the audience to have the feeling they are flowing through the aqueduct with their physicality

Eirini Alexiou, Ohi Paizoume

The issue is in a way to humanize the aqueduct and to let it narrate its story

Nadia Siokou, Ohi Paizoume

Making the aqueduct speak becomes then a powerful tool to provide unprecedented easy access information about the ancient infrastructure, and to make an exercise in the translation of technical studies and scientific concepts into a more understandable and attractive set of contents and messages designed to reach a larger audience - including those people that normally wouldn’t be attracted by a conversation about water use, environmental sustainability or protection of limited resources. The performance delivers a collective experience (sitting all together, listening to a story, reacting and discussing that story), but at the same time provides one narrative (one of many possible), an accessible perspective to get interested into a potentially new topic, engaging the audience into a collective process of sense making.  

>> WATCH: The Under self
Excerpt of “The Under Self” performed by Ohi Paizoume during the 1st Cultural Hidrant festival in september 2021

What's sense making?

A dynamic in which people give meaning to their collective experiences, depending on the different definitions sense making has been described as a retrospective mental process we bring about to rationalize what we do (1). It can happen within the individual, as a social process or a process that occurs through interaction (i.e. including conflict or cooperation), a routine or something that occurs in response to rare events, an activity that describes past events or takes the future into account (2). The rise of the sensemaking perspective marks a shift of focus in organization studies from how decisions shape organizations to how meaning drives organizing, with a specific attention on the largely cognitive activity of framing experienced situations as meaningful through a collaborative process of creating shared awareness and understanding out of different individuals' perspectives and varied interests.

>> LISTEN: Framing the use of wells
Irini Alexiou from Ohi Pezoume ereports about the relationship between people from Halandri and the wells


Local conversation
A local conversation  taking place during 1st Hidrant festival in september 2021

The theoretical reflection about sensemaking then can offer a useful perspective to better define the relevance communication and dissemination can have in the delivery of a local development proposal, a participatory initiative, and an engagement strategy. In fact, far from being an autonomous and independent set of activities that comes at the end (reporting about the outcomes) good communication and dissemination tools should accompany the engagement activities from the early stages, contributing to produce original, collective knowledge built upon experience and interaction. In this framework, the establishment of an active relationship with the context is very important, and intercepts the way we produce  identity, identification, sense of ownership and belonging, as who we think we are in our context shapes what we enact and how we interpret events (3).

many people that were not born and raised in Halandri shared that this performance was actually a connecting point between them as residents of the area and the area itself

Nadia Siokou, Ohi Paizhoume

On the importance of narratives

Dialogues and narratives are our way to enact the environments we face. As we speak and build narrative accounts we understand what we think, organize our experiences, find our way to control and predict events, reduce complexity, manage change. Our interpretations of reality become evident through narratives (written and spoken) (4) which convey the sense we make of events. Scholars describe sense making as a social activity, however they also stress that the audience for sensemaking includes the speakers themselves (5), underlying that the narratives are both individual and shared - an evolving product of social interaction in which individuals simultaneously shape and react to the experiences they face.

>> LISTEN: The importance of narratives
George Sachinis from Ohi Pezoume reflects upon the role the hidden aqueduct can have in generating multiple overlapping narratives

The collective acceptance, perception, interpretation, adoption and understanding of the manifold ways in which the Hadrian aqueduct can bring life to the local community is hence a completely open, and rather unpredictable process. Far from being influenced only by the effectiveness of good design, planning or communication activities (good ideas are not enough!), to succeed it will also have to rely on the ongoing process of sensemaking that the community is already bringing about. “The under self” and the other perfomances taking place into the old water reservoir, urban walks, oral history, engagement activities will play the crucial role of feeding this process through experience, favoring interaction, exchange, dialogue, stimulating feedback, reactions and retrospection contributing to engage multiple voices into the production of multiple narratives.

(1) Weick, K. E. (1995), “Sense and sense making in organizations”, SAGE Publications inc.
(2) Brown, A. D.; Colville, I.; Pye, A. (2015). "Making Sense of Sensemaking in Organization Studies". Organization Studies. 36 (2): 265–277. 
(3) Thurlow, A., & Mills, J. (2009). “Change, talk and sensemaking”. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 22(5): 459–579.
(4) Currie, G., & Brown, A. (2003). “A narratological approach to understanding processes of organizing in a UK hospital”. Human Relations, 56: 563–586.
(5) Watson, T. J. (1995). “Rhetoric, discourse and argument in organizational sensemaking: A reflexive tale”. Organization Studies, 16(5): 805–821.