DRS 2018 Workshop Co-designing social innovation: A culturally grounded practice. Reflections posted
25th June 2018
DESIAP ran a workshop at the Design Research Society (DRS) 2018 Conference in Limerick, Ireland. It was facilitated by Joyce Yee, Yoko Akama, Rachel Clarke, Joon Sang Baek and Cyril Tjahja. The aim of the workshop was to explore how culture impact on Design and Social Innovation practices, especially when it so often involves working with changing and varying cultures. The following a brief report of what we did in the workshop.
The values, practices, habits and traditions that constitute culture, influence how people see and experience the world. Design and Social Innovation (D&SI) often involves working with changing cultures. When designers enter into conditions to work towards social outcomes, they can disrupt existing practices, reconfigure local power-dynamics and shift gender relations in intentional or unknowing ways. Here, assumptions of a ‘neutral’ designer are just as problematic as identifying individuals or groups of people by a taxonomized cultural background based on geographical or nationalized categories. These insights have similarly shaped discourses in postcolonial HCI that ‘speak at once to the highly local and contingent practices that we see at work in different specific sites of technology design and use, while at the same time recognizing the ways that those localisms are conditioned and embedded within global and historical flows of material, people, capital, knowledge and technology’ (Irani et. al 2010, p1317). In foregrounding culture when designing with others, what issues, questions and concerns are significant to keep in view? What can help those who intervene, including stakeholders with certain agendas and existing practices, as well as the ‘local community’, be aware of and work with existing and morphing cultural logics?
The workshop aimed to reveal and re-frame the current discourse and understanding of co-design for social innovation as a culturally grounded practice. This is a radical shift from codesign for social innovation associated with non-culturally specific tools or pre-defined models. To explore this re-framing, invited researchers and practitioners with significant experience of co-design and social innovation was invited to co-inquire what ‘culture’ means to understand its current and potential impact on design research and practice. The workshop contributes to the ‘Multiple Voices’ theme at DRS2018 and follow-on from the paper track ‘Designing for Social Innovation in Cultural Diversity and Sensitivity.’ Our hope was that the workshop becomes a rich mutual learning opportunity to understand and propose ethical and respectful ways co-designing can be undertaken.
What is culture?
Belonging: We are dealing with culture implicitly and explicitly in our work. It is therefore useful to pay close attention and discuss how we negotiate, prepare, discover and utilise culture as part of our changing practice. We started by drawing on our own culture through a simple exercise: asking participants to ‘identify’ aspects of their own culture using photos available to them on their smartphone as a way to talk about their life, family, history and places where they grew up and now live.
What does culture mean?
Acclimatising: In this next section, we encouraged participants to think about culture as way of life, how the groups we are part of shape our understanding of the world, and our professional practices. We asked participants to brainstorm around the word “culture” - drawing out issues and ideas collectively as signposts to address as a group.
What does “culture” mean to you?
What does it look/smell/feel/taste like?
Images of various rituals (e.g. celebration, funeral) was used as triggers for discussion amongst small groups.
How does culture shape your co-design?
Illustrating: We asked participants to share a specific example of how their understanding of cultures, including their own, participants, or context, was revealed as significant in their work. They were asked to illustrate this moment tangibly through a series of making exercises. Group discussions were facilitated to identify approaches, footholds, questions and possibilities in embedding a culturally grounded co-design practice.
How can we enable culturally aware and embedded co-design?
Proposing: Using the outcomes from the previous session, we asked the participants in groups to explore any approaches, handles, challenges and principles to enable culturally sensitive practice in co-design.
What did we learn?
Culture as we come to expect is dynamic and fluid - it oscillates between the defined and the new. Culture is 'behaviour over time'.
A lot of the discussions centred around the choice of cultural signifiers used by the organisers as triggers on what 'culture' mean to us and our practices. The specific use of normative imagery representing a broad range of different but 'popular' cultures was deem problematic by some participants who felt that the selection were not diversified enough. It led to discussions around the lack of resources available for designers to reference alternative cultures. Because of this, discussions often always start with the dominant culture, and never from a range of cultures. This also raises questions around power structures, and the challenge in a co-design practices to acknowledge different and often competing cultures.
We recognised that a 3 hour workshop will only begin to surface questions on how design might operate as a culturally grounded practice. Themes that emerged strongly such as trust, respect, integrity and relational begins to points to how co-design practitioners can start to develop a more culturally grounded practice.