Mission: MIT D-Lab works with people around the world to develop and advance collaborative approaches and practical solutions to global poverty challenges.
The mission is pursued through our academics program of more than 15 MIT classes and student research and fieldwork opportunities; our research groups spanning a variety of sectors and approaches; and a group of participatory innovation programs we call innovation practice.
D-Lab’s work in participatory design and inclusive innovation teaches leaders and learners how to discern when (or if) to use a participatory design process to solve a challenge. Through participatory design, we learn how to connect more meaningfully with people of diverse perspectives, and to make decisions with them collectively and quickly. This can lead to more desirable and sustainable solutions – but participatory design is not a silver bullet, and there are times when it can be more costly than other approaches. However, when participatory design is the appropriate approach, we advocate for taking the time to include the people who are facing the challenge that the innovation will address. If necessary, this may involve covering the costs that can limit their full participation (e.g., childcare, transportation, lost wages, etc.).
Three Types of Participatory Design
At D-Lab, we practice three types of participatory design:
- Use inclusive practices when designing FOR people living in poverty (user-centered design)
- Engage in effective co-creation when designing WITH people living in poverty (co-design)
- Build confidence and capacity to promote design BY people living in poverty (user-generated design)
In following this design framework, MIT D-Lab is re-thinking the role of low-cost technology and design education in low- and middle-income communities and has empowered thousands to address the daily challenges of poverty through design, prototyping, production, and social entrepreneurship. Find out more.
We believe in the power of PARTICIPATION and actively engage people in the process of creating PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS to the challenges they face.
We strive to work with INTEGRITY, HUMILITY, and RESPECT, and to maintain an OPTIMISTIC BELIEF that we can do something to create a better world defined by equitable opportunity, not by poverty.
We pursue this work with a commitment to EXCELLENCE, to good STEWARDSHIP of the resources we use, to ACCOUNTABILITY for achieving measurable and durable impact, and to taking JOY in the opportunity to collectively build a better world.
We are committed to CREATIVITY, DIVERSITY, and INCLUSION in our work environment and our community, to constant LEARNING and honest COMMUNICATION, and to continuous IMPROVEMENT of our programs, products, and partnerships.
MIT D-Lab: the name
Of course, it's at MIT. What's in a D? Is it really a lab?
When Founding Director Amy Smith started the program, originally just a course called The Haiti Class (see History), she thought it would be cool to call the budding program a lab - not one with scientists in white coats and test tubes, but rather one with students eager to collaborate with communities on addressing developing-world challenges, and with hand tools to construct low-cost devices that could make a difference to people living in poverty.
As for that D - Amy likes alliteration and the first tagline was "development through dialogue, design, and dissemination." Those were also the names of some of the early D-Lab classes. These three Ds also telegraph our process and something about our values: talk with people and collaborate, do good design work, and then ensure it gets out into the world and makes a positive impact. But those aren't the only Ds - we also like doodling, discovery, welding (whoops, that's a W), and so much more.
And there's MIT, our home. In the beginning, it was understood that D-Lab was at MIT. But to our delight and amazement, there are now "D-Labs" all over the world - in California, Ghana, Peru, and Pakistan, to name a few that have related missions to ours.
Major awards and honors
MIT D-Lab received the 2019 National Design Award in the Corporate and Institutional Achievement category from the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.
MIT D-Lab has been supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, Community Jameel, United States Agency for International Development, and many others.
D-Lab founder Amy Smith has received honors including a MacArthur Fellowship, Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People (2010), and Business Week’s Week World’s Most Influential Designers (2010).
Nancy Adams, Communications Officer