Jointly Exploring Human Centered Design and Community-Led Development

Thinking about Power and its Prevalence in Human-Centered Design

agenda September 1, 2020

We can only truly shift the power if those who are passionate about that shift join forces and build their platform for change from the ground up. With this belief as a driving factor, we set out to gather minds and share collaborative tools in our fifth explorative session on Human-Centered Design and Community-Led Development. This session was hosted by The Spindle, the innovation platform of Partos, in collaboration with Butterfly Works, The Hunger Project, and The Movement for Community-Led Development.

Over 40 practitioners from all over the world met online on August 20th to exchange thoughts and experiences in relation to power in human-centred design. Garrett Mason, an experienced human-centred design training coordinator at Corps Africa, led the group through his analysis of power in relation to Community-Led Development and Human-Centred Design. His observation was that Human-Centered Design in itself is a tool that is not immune to power imbalances despite its bottom-up orientation. The notion of power within any given partnership should therefore be at the forefront of one’s thinking and project design efforts from the very beginning. Community-Led Development could provide an answer to this question of power, by very explicitly centring its approach on the idea that a community should have the power to lead its own development.

The complexity of power, and its pervasiveness throughout our lives and working relationships, became the starting point of a case study introduced by Garrett. In this scenario, a big industrial player sought to advance the local community’s well-being through the integration of Human-Centred Design in its corporate social responsibility program. This case was unpacked in detail in break-out rooms, and in-depth analyses were produced that highlighted both positive and negative aspects of the chosen approach. With the help of the Miro-Board platform, all participants were able to share their thoughts and reflections throughout the duration of the discussion.

The emphasis on pro-active, accessible and continuous engagement between the community and the design team greatly enhanced the community’s power to express their experiences and opinions on how to move forward. Simultaneously, this effort also greatly aided the team’s ability to create a holistic understanding of the local dynamics and needs, which aided the overall effectiveness and relevance of their efforts. In this manner, the project integrated Human-Centered Design principles effectively into its approach to the community, which greatly enhanced the community’s agency over its development trajectory.

When it came to the downsides, it was found that the imbalance in power was not addressed to a degree that would typify a Community-Led Development approach. The community was extensively and continuously consulted, but both the resources and decision-making authority remained in the hands of the project design staff. There was also little information on who’s voices were represented in the community consulting process, leaving some to question whether, and how local power dynamics were considered in the community approach. Some of the participants brought in their own experiences to contrast this case with, which made for an interactive and thought-provoking conversation.

As the session came to a close, many of us left with new perspectives, questions, and reflections on how to perceive and address power within development cooperation. Interested in discovering more about our Community-Led Development work? Join the Slack channel set up by Butterfly Works!

What’s next?
We look forward to continuing this discussion and expand upon the notion of shifting power and community-led development strategies. A recording of this event can be found here, and the next event on Community-Led Development and Human-Centered Design will be hosted on the 24th of September. For more details please keep an eye on our website, and we hope to see you there!

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