Appears in: ICERI2022 Proceedings
Publication year: 2022
Conference name: 15th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 7-9 November, 2022
Location: Seville, Spain
Design can be a powerful tool when addressing development and humanitarian challenges. A new filter design could provide a community with safe drinking water, a new cookstove design can prevent acute respiratory infections (which are the largest cause of death of children between 1 and 5 years old), a new app design can provide financial and government service to populations who never previously had access, a new design for a peanut sheller can save countless hours of tedious labor. In addition to these tangible benefits, however, there are also numerous intangible benefits of design: a sense of pride and accomplishment when the design is completed and performs its intended purpose, a feeling of joy as a result of the creative endeavor, improved self-confidence, agency and power derived from developing a product that can improves lives or livelihoods. It then becomes a critical question: who reaps these intangible benefits. Frequently, students are not challenged to think about the intangible benefits of design and where they accrue. Are the students creating a climate of agency or dependence? Is their learning prioritized over local capacity-building and empowerment? The way that the end-users are engaged in the design process plays a critical role in the answers to these questions.
Participation has many different levels, ranging from surveys and interviews, in which the end-user is a passive source of information; to more dynamic focus groups where the end-user is engaged in interactive and sometimes iterative exchanges; to user-led design and co-creation, processes which actively engage the end-users’ experience, skills and creativity in the development of solutions. As students are trained in design and innovation for humanitarian and development contexts, it is important that they understand the value of engaging the end-users and beneficiaries of the solutions and that they appreciate the wide variety of options for doing so. Increased participation can not only lead to more effective and efficient solutions and higher adoption rates; it can also provide affected populations with greater agency, and contributes to more culturally relevant designs. Too frequently, however, participation consists only of brief consultation at the beginning and end of a project, and does not take full advantage of the insights, knowledge and creativity of the end-users.
This paper puts forward a four-step approach to integrating participation into development and humanitarian design projects and describes a set of tools that promote a shared understanding of the quality, extent, stages and types of participation. The tools described in this paper were developed by MIT D-Lab in collaboration with the Humanitarian Innovation Fund and apply a design lens to participation, using the different phases of the design process to identify points in a project where participation could occur; defining and suggesting different levels of participation; and providing guidance for ensuring the quality of participatory approaches.