Research synopsis

Creating space for change: The story of funeral practices in Cape Town.

In Cape Town, South Africa on average some 1600 bodies are put to rest every month, of which 60% are being buried. Not only are most traditional burials damaging for the environment; older public cemeteries are running out of space.

Besides, most public cemeteries are not enjoyable parks to visit. From a people’s perspective it is evident that a lot of relatives are left with a considerable ‘debt after death’.

As inclusive innovators, we are looking to increase the options for people in Cape Town to choose their farewell ceremony and to create an opening towards a more memorable experience when visiting deceased relatives.
While engaging in our ‘action-oriented’ process, emerging opportunities will be used to design for meaningful action. We believe that system innovation can be obtained via a change in the demand for funeral ceremonies (innovative funeral policies, eco friendly coffins, etc).

Using design-thinking methods, we encourage actors to tap into the following options:
• To create personas in order to understand the narratives in various
cultures in Cape Town
• To engage in an interactive expo to share multiple options (and
consequences) for their funeral practice with people
• To create possibilities for early decision making using social media
where appropriate
• To co create the design of an extension of the public cemetery near
Grassy Park, including the options of a memorial park.

Allowing for emerging initiatives from relevant actors in this action process, the goal is to innovate for inclusiveness and to increase knowledge on collaboration for meaningful action (partnerships for impact).
Initiatives include:
1. A documentary ‘Dust to Dust’ about the experiences of various funeral practices in Cape Town. The trailer has been finalized, with financial support of the Bertha Fund, SAFCEI, ImvusaChange and Renegade Pictures.
2. The first of a series of interfaith workshops have been held to create space for change among individuals. SAFCEI is supporting these workshops in which the documentary is being used a supporting information. We conduct an on-line Survey to look at opinions of participants.
3. We are engaging with the funeral insurance industry, to explore whether we can link the project with their consumer education program and product innovation
4. We are discussing with the City of Cape Town to use the documentary as part of a participatory design process around a newly dedicated public cemetery. While engaging with the community, the documentary will assist in providing information and discussion on alternatives (memorial parks). Just for your imagination: the size of Maitland cemetery equals 120 soccer fields!
5. We are collaborating with Yarden, a big Dutch funeral/cremation company that is developing an interfaith ‘farewell center’ in multicultural Amsterdam. They are interested in the documentary for information and educational purposes.
6. We are having talks with the academic world (both UCT and 2 universities in the Netherlands), whether it is possible to research the option of semi cremation (to allow for the return of the bones to the relatives).
7. We are engaging with Bristol in the UK for the documentary to be included in a ‘death exhibition’ that will be organized. We are also engaging with the Lien foundation that co sponsored the ‘Designing for Death‘ competition.

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