Victor next defined what success and sustainability looks like within RPD, in terms of evaluating an individual program’s effectiveness.
Building an ethical RPD practice requires making sure that participants are compensated fairly, relative to the value of their time. However, community members’ time may be worth even more than the designer’s, given that their participation in a program may mean pausing other efforts to advance their own careers or support their community.
As a baseline, equitable compensation means compensating research participants for their time and efforts participating in a research program, generally with liquid funds. Where it was not possible for Victor to directly pay research participants on resource-constrained projects in the past, however, he sometimes experimented with authorship, referrals, and other forms of trying to support participants’ career advancement, as long as it was the participants’ choice of how to be compensated.
Success is ultimately defined within an RPD program as one where a majority of team members “experience a sustained and sustainable shift in power.” Participatory design proves effective where the community is able to assume the power “ceded” by the professional designers and facilitators.
An example from Victor’s career he considered a success was a research and design program he previously led in India. The research process and learnings inspired and empowered each of the team members and participants, including Victor himself, to change jobs—or to change career paths entirely—at its conclusion, to increase social capital or to give up social capital.
Expanding the impact of RPD
To conclude the talk portion of the Demo Day session, Victor discussed his efforts to bring more awareness to RPD in the civic innovation sector.
He’s designed a plan of action the executive branch could implement to embed RPD practices into all federal government agencies, which would involve establishing Radical Participatory Policy Design Labs for each agency, and an office of the CXO within the White House.
Victor also hopes to launch a Participatory Government Awards program, which would allocate $12,000 at minimum annually to projects recognized for successfully implementing participatory design. (If you’re interested in contributing, financially or creatively, in this effort, you can fill out the interest form here.)
At the lively discussion session that followed, Victor responded to number of audience questions, including:
When is it the hardest to activate RPD? It’s harder to make RPD successful the later you bring the community into a program’s design, after critical decisions have already been made. This applies in terms of the course of a singular research project, as well as in terms of an institution’s relationship to the community, and in terms of the community’s perception of negative impact to its environment over time.
How do you reconcile conflicts that may arise within the community? Conflict will always be a part of collaborative work like research, however facilitators should do their best to resolve conflicts in an equitable way and honor every participant’s voice involved in the process. However, in RPD, the burden to resolve conflicts does not fall upon the research facilitator alone because they are not facilitating alone—the entire community carries the responsibility to resolve problems through collective leadership.
How do you make a case for RPD when working with people who may not be bought in (including executives, and design professionals)? One approach that can be effective when working with reluctant designers is to emphasize the collaborative nature of design in RPD—the design professionals and community members contribute equally to the program, and each bring unique and necessary expertise to the table. Experimenting with incremental change can also be a helpful strategy with leaders who are not bought in —for example, using RPD practices on select steps of a research program, or testing programs internally first. Even if the program is not fully equitable initially, this is “going in the right direction” toward RPD, and can help to ease an organization to committing to participatory practices over time.
We are incredibly grateful to Victor Udoewa for taking the time to educate the TPG community about the elements, strategies, and benefits of radical participatory design. While our initial discussion in the Demo Day session largely focused on how RPD strategies are applicable to improving research and design programs, the power-ceding practices interwoven into RPD can be applied to countless other areas of community action work within the civic innovation sector.
“How might we be better?” One answer is to consider broadly, how we might be more participatory?
Given our shared humanity, our work to better our communities is inherently participatory. If we as civic innovation change-makers can lean into resetting the institutional power structures that hold communities back, we can affect more positive and resonant change.
Check out the links below to learn more about radical participatory design, and Victor Udoewa’s efforts to bring awareness to RPD practices.
Demo Day session
Victor’s RPD Projects
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc, 1970.
Goodchild, Melanie. (2021). Relational Systems Thinking. Vol. 1 No. 1: Inaugural Issue of the Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change. https://jabsc.org/index.php/jabsc/article/view/577
Lewin, Kurt. (1946). Action Research and Minority Problems. Journal of Social Issues, 2: 34-46. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1946.tb02295.x
Lippitt, Ronald, & Radke, Marion. (1946). New trends in the investigation of prejudice. Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science, 244, 167–176. https://doi.org/10.1177/000271624624400122
Stay tuned for announcements about the next Demo Day in the TPG Newsletter and TPG Slack channel. You can access these resources by becoming a member.
Interested in leading a Demo Day session? If you’d like to showcase your work, or nominate someone to present at a Demo Day, please reach out to the TPG Leadership Committee: #ask-committee in the TPG Slack, or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Interested in joining TPG? Sign up for membership here.