The first assembly of the flag took place in Beijing on the 1st April 2012, using fourteen volunteers selected from the TEDx 798 Factory event where the experiment was first openly presented by the author. (A separate talk about the experiment hosted by a Beijing university was cancelled due to the subject matter being considered too contenscious, at that time security situation in the capital was in a heightened state of alert).
The fourteen volunteers were gathered and driven to a large warehouse where they were asked to complete the assembly without it being revealed what they were assembling. An 8 x 12 meter area on the floor was taped off, and shoe sleeves (to protect the mats from dirty shoes) were supplied, along with the parcels containing 100 mats. The context they were given was “For the past 6 months have been running a design experiment involving 100’s of people across China. We would like 14 Chinese volunteers to help with the final assembly of the design. This is non-technical work. The process will be recorded on video”. Their instructions were to “unpack the parcels and construct the design within the space provided”. Volunteers were not asked to build a flag. The process was videoed and each of the 14 volunteers had the right to demand that the recording be deleted (the same protocol is used in field research with the assumption that the the participant owns the rights to their own image). However, prior to any deletion other volunteers will have the opportunity to persuade this person (or persons) to change their mind. In the event, no-one asked for the video to be deleted and it was in due course published online. We had estimated 45 minutes total assembly time, but in the event it took only fifteen minutes. The speed of completion was helped by a leader rapidly emerging from the volunteer group to assign tasks and provide direction. The seemingly random numbers stencilled on the reverse of each mat and the 30 minutes spare time led some volunteers to believe that they had missed the point of the assembly. After the assembly was complete and the volunteers left the venue, the mats were packed up and trucked back to the Shanghai warehouse.