Challenges of diverse participation

It is challenging to create an environment where participants with diverse needs can collaborate.

Including people who have lived experience of disability and marginalization was our main focus when organizing each of our co-design sessions. However, during those sessions, we noticed that in many cases participants had conflicting needs, attitudes, and perspectives and needed particular prompts, reminders, structures, etc. in order to work together.

These differences became apparent when people were brought together and asked to collaborate in small groups. Sometimes their interactions led to negative power dynamics, formation of cliques, side conversations, and disengagement of members. For example, in one session, two participants with vision loss became engrossed in discussing their ideas and unconsciously excluded the other two members of their team. Eventually, the other two members formed their own group to share their perspectives. This made us aware that although cross-pollination and exchange of different ideas were important, some participants needed to work in a particular style. Thus, we had to provide opportunities for these sub-groups to come back together and share ideas.

As facilitators, we had to be aware of these natural and unnatural group dynamics and come up with strategies to address them. For example, providing groups with an agenda for the day and an outline of their tasks significantly helped their workflow and mitigated frictions between team members. Providing participants with an opportunity to get to know each other prior to engaging in an activity (e.g. introductions, warm-up activities) and giving the option to freely change groups improved group dynamics. Integrating interpreters and personal assistants into each session, offering material in alternative formats, and making further examples and instructions available also helped create collaborative group dynamics when there were conflicting needs.

TRY

  • Be observant of group dynamics and how members interact with each other.
  • Encourage group members to notice their interactions and the needs of their group members.
  • Provide assistance when needed (e.g. taking notes, building prototypes, etc.).
  • Integrate translators, ASL interpreters, audio describers, personal assistants to enable your participants to equally participate.
  • Provide simple and clear instruction about the process and how participants’ contribution can impact the community.
  • Have supportive examples and more detailed instructions ready for anyone who needs extra guidance.
  • Offer co-design materials (e.g. worksheets, forms, agenda, etc.) in alternative formats and make them available prior to the event upon attendees’ request.

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