Participatory Design – a checklist for researchers

Educational researchers are showing a growing interest in ‘Participatory Design’ (PD) and other collaborative ‘co-design’ approaches. Education researchers considering PD can benefit from drawing on the approach’s heritage in the 1970s’ Scandinavian ‘cooperative inquiry’ tradition. In particular, there are four core principles from the Scandinavian tradition to consider, i.e.: the pursuit of ‘socio-ethical’ outcomes, sustained consideration of what constitutes ‘participation’ and ‘practice’, and PD as a design process. While positioning these principles in school-based research is not easy, here is a brief checklist of issues to consider when researchers carry look to carry out participatory design (PD) research within schools:

  • PD is a process of mutual learning between stakeholders: Who is involved, and what is their role during each phase of the design process? Are methods reflecting the communication preferences of the various stakeholders? How are the various perspectives of participants being shared between stakeholders to promote mutual learning? 
  • PD seeks to establish equitable power relations between all stakeholders: How can researchers establish more equitable power relations between students, teachers and adult researchers to ensure all participants have a voice and influence in design decisions? What kind of relational work can be carried out to establish and maintain rapport and trust with students – and how it is decided whether trust has been established? 
  • PD is a socio-political process: What are the process and outcome objectives of this PD process? How have students and other stakeholders been involved in setting these objectives? How are the perspectives of students being used to support learning and influence design decisions? How do students and other participants benefit from participating in a PD process? 
  • PD takes account of context: How is the PD context influencing participation, the design methods and approaches? What are the embedded power relationships between actors specific to this context, and how are they being addressed? What about the design place – what are the embedded rules / assumptions being preserved? Is ethnographic research (or similarly in-depth qualitative inquiry) being used to develop an understanding of context, inform contextually-relevant methods, and the relevance and usability of design outcomes?