Critical participatory design: reflections on engagement and empowerment in a case of a community based organization


  • Mamello Thinyane
  • Karthik Bhat
  • Lauri Goldkind
  • Vikram Kamath Cannanure


Participatory Design (PD) methods serve a dual purpose of facilitating the achievement of superior design artifacts by connecting the designers and developers with their end-users, as well as catalyzing democratic engagement and empowerment of the end-users. These complementary goals of engaging and empowering individuals, who not only use the designed products but are also affected by these artifacts, have proven elusive to achieve in most cases. In this paper, we discuss a PD engagement with the staff of a community-based organization (CBO) towards developing a technology tool supporting their homeless outreach services. We undertake a critical qualitative inquiry, using a Situational Analysis analytic strategy to analyze the data reflecting on the complex dynamics of democratic engagement and participation, as well as empowerment in PD. The paper further unpacks the varied dependencies and relations between the elements and the discursive constructions prevalent in the situation of a PD session. It also presents a mapping of the various PD activities against levels of critical reflection.1

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