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Building trust

It takes humility, respect, and transparency to earn your collaborators and participants trust.

Engaging marginalized communities and people who have often been excluded from the design process requires building a trusting relationship. Vulnerable communities often feel that their involvement is not valued due to the issue of reinforced dynamics of power, decision making, and even colonialism (e.g. giving feedback and never knowing what happens with it, giving intellectual labour without compensation or recognition, etc.). Many individuals experience consultation fatigue as a result of being the token invitee in design projects in which important design decisions have already been made. Often these individuals are only approached to achieve a check on equity and diversity policy checklists. And individuals often become ‘the’ one that is always asked to represent.

Those involved in the design process should approach people with humility and respect. Acknowledging through words and actions that participants are the real experts in the field, carefully listening to their concerns and ideas, and being willing to learn from their experiences are all important first steps to build trust. Building trust early helps participants take an active role in re-defining the process in a way that works best for them and their community.

Transparent communication about the project’s opportunities, risks, shortcomings, and limitations helps the prospective collaborators/participants recognize that the process is not biased and there is a hope, expectation, and chance to influence it. A clear discussion about the terms of participation, roles, responsibilities, and incentives as well as aiming to establish a long term relationship with the collaborators/participants helps to build deeper relationships with the collaborators/participants.


  • Be honest and clearly explain different aspects of the projects, its risks, opportunities, problems, and your concerns about it.
  • Ask collaborators to discuss concerns about the project and what they want to see changed.
  • Ask them to share with you what they would like to achieve if they decide to participate in this project.
  • Clearly discuss what you expect from them in terms of roles, responsibilities, commitment, resources, and time and explain what they would get in return.
  • Allow them to discuss this within their community and come back to you with more questions and points for clarification.
  • Include partners/collaborators in developing topics and activities for co-design to tailor them to their community’s needs.
  • Offer support, assistance and resources whenever possible to make it easier for your collaborators to run their co-design events.