Tomo Kihara Offers an Alternative to Panhandling with Street Debating

the Street Debater can be customized with different question to stimulate dialogue

The Street Debater is simple tool that acts like a balance scale. Attached to the two trays on each side are small chalkboards with the words Yes and No. They serve as the answer to a debatable question that invites passersby to engage with their thought and also their wallets. As coins accumulate, the scale shifts to one side or the other. It’s what Japanese designer Tomo Kihara calls a “playful intervention,” an attempt to break the invisible rules of what we consider normal.

The Street Debater offers an alternative to panhandling and, at its essence, removes an invisible barrier between panhandlers and passersby by reconnecting them through game play. Kihara, an interaction designer now based in the Netherlands, conducted a socioeconomic study and found that his Street Debator tool stopped an average of 12.5 people per hour and generated an average of 13.5 pounds per hour in London. You can read more about Kihara’s research and what prompted his explorations in this post on Medium.

Not only does the tool serve as a dignified way of earning money, it also aims to promote empathy and tolerance in society. Although there are only 3 Street Debator kits in action around the world, you can join Kihara in his effort by learning more about the project or purchasing one of the kits to give to somebody in need. If you have a laser cutter at your disposal, Kihara also offers the design as a free download.

the open source project is available as a free download that can then be laser-cut

Amsterdam (2017)

Rotterdam (2018)

Tokyo (2017)


  1. That’s a nice gimmick for people who beg in the streets, but any linking of debate and money is inherently questionable in my opinion.

  2. If I’m ever down and out & need to panhandle, this is for me!

  3. How to make sure no one ever gives you bills when panhandling… too bad I liked the idea

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