Design Local Using Participatory Design Teams
ThinkImpact’s participatory design teams empower individuals within cultural contexts.
We have entered the Create portion of the HCD process here in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province. Design teams have been assembled, and the first round of meetings have been held. I am in the middle of one on one meetings with one of my five new design team members. While digging deeper on his life and troubled economic opportunities in Gottenburg he casually frames an unseen problem saying, “When you’re stuck like this, your mind is stuck too.” It’s a powerful insight on another person’s predicament, and I suspect it’s a feeling shared by others like him in the community.
There are many challenges in the developing world. Access to clean water, quality healthcare and education are often focal points of development work. But in one simple sentence, my team member identified one of the most universal challenges, empowering people to believe in themselves. We call the process of going from the status quo, to being able to create positive change on your own “mindshift” and it’s ultimately what we are working to create.
To achieve it, we are integrating community members in the design process to become not the recipients of a solution, but to become the designers. When they make that leap, we can help them see not problems in the community, but opportunities.
Mindshift is a powerful innovation force on its own to empower community members in the long run. But we are also interested in creating great solutions from our design teams in the next three weeks. It turns out that including community members in the design process also improves the project’s quality, ownership and speed. This positive effect is from a method known as Participatory Co-Design.
Participatory Co-Design is a fancy way of saying community members are at the center of the design process.Instead of a team of highly trained NGO workers designing a solution to a local problem on their own, the team actually includes community members. With thismixed composition, solutions are developed from the local point of view and in the local cultural context. And when ideas are grown from within the community, the local design team members have true a sense of ownership of the project. They can also speed up the process by automatically screening new ideas for how well they will fit within the community’s culture and politics. This method doesn’t just create good solutions, it creates good teams at the local level.
This team creation is especially valuable for the way ThinkImpact works. We are on site for a quick two months. When we leave there will be a team of community members equipped with HCD methods and a thorough prototype. That team exists because of their participation in the design process, and as we leave they are able to move forward as they see fit.
My design team member joined our team to unstick his mind, to exercise it on these unique challenges. As we continue this process I hope he finds that exercising it on the right problems, with the right people will not just unstick it, but open his mind to a world of solutions where he and his team are the perfect people to provide them.