When I began exploring the concept of co-design earlier this year the methods surrounding Participatory Design seemed like a natural place to start.
The book Participatory Design: Principles and Practice edited by Douglas Schuler and Aki Namioka in 1993 provides an excellent overview of the history and values surrounding this approach, specifically questions of democracy, power and control at the workplace. The articles that stand out for me include:
- Joan Greenbaum: Participatory Design in the US
- Pelle Ehn: Scandinavian Design: Participation and Skill
- Jeanette Blomberg: Ethnographic Field Methods
- Bodker, Gronbaek and Kyng: Cooperative Design
Later that same year, ACM published a special issue on Participatory Design (Volume 36, Number 4, 1993). It’s a gold mine of specific techniques related to participatory practice. The University of Queensland has posted an entire archive of that issue online in PDF format.
Michael Muller, Daniel Wildman and Ellen White’s introduction: Taxonomy of PD Practices [PDF 3.4MB] serves as a fantastic index of the techniques described in the ACM issue and referenced in the Participatory Design book.
As I’ve read more about the history of PD it seems to be focused almost exclusively on the development of digital computing systems. I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising given the time period; in some ways it seems more akin to HCI than service design. But while the techniques don’t always seem to be a match for the problems service designers encounter many of the principles still seem to resonate.
For example: the proximity to the site where work is performed helps influence whether design ideas are general or specific. When you’re onsite it’s easier to focus on particular problems in the immediate environment. On the other hand if you’re gathered in a conference room miles away it promotes a higher-level analysis. Sometimes it’s helpful to zoom in and out in this way.
Another purely political observation is that while it’s important for a participatory process to have the full support of management, and for that support to be understood (and believed) by employees, the presence of those with the power to hire or fire can have a chilling effect on the frank assessment of shortcomings in a particular system. This is a theme echoed in many of the other approaches I’ve studied as well.
It’s been 16 years since these resources were published and I’m sure the practice has continued to evolve. Last year Indiana University hosted a conference on participatory design and it would be interesting to learn more about the state of the art. Unfortunately I haven’t had much success in digging up papers from the proceedings. Any leads?