Socially distanced engagement and co-designing

I enjoyed presenting and participating in the panel session last week as part of the User Engagement session within the MaaS Scotland Online Conference. For those who couldn’t attend, I was speaking about how we need to think more creatively about our methods of engagement and co-design while we continue to face social distancing restrictions. Many of the solutions that first come to mind are digital – using Zoom, WhatsApp, Mural, Padlet or Minecraft for instance.

On reflection, I felt I could have said more about how to engage and co-design with people who are not digitally connected or confident using these technologies.

It is imperative that we put effort into hearing all users’ voices and create inclusive products and services. During my presentation, I noted that we could, for instance, post out packs of activities that participants can complete in their own time and return to us. These would need to be carefully designed to extract the level of insight we’re really after. Perhaps a follow-up phone call would be needed too. However, I think there is a real scope here to open up a range of input from participants.

I also think we can learn by the approach taken by Dementia Diaries where diarists can use simplified recording devices or their landline to record their diary entry before volunteers transcribe them. Recordings and transcriptions are available on their website.

A few other thoughts have come to mind since. Depending on the project, we could:

  • Simply undertake phone interviews;
  • Try socially distanced walking interviews;
  • Give participants simple disposable cameras to capture their own experiences of the area of research. Participant generated photography/autophotography has worked well in research with kids, for instance. Maybe participants could be given the hard copies of their images and asked to create a mood board or a simple scrapbook with them.
  • Use public displays and invite feedback on postcards.

Do you have other ideas?

These approaches aren’t perfect. For one, they largely eliminate any group dynamics – participants can’t interact and discussions won’t develop in the same way. We also have to face the fact that working this way might mean we need to work slower and that our co-design processes may need to become more iterative. This just needs to be built into project plans along with a good level of flexibility to allow us to contend with ever changing rules and restrictions.

A final thought: there has been a push to deliver more initiatives to boost digital inclusion. This has, of course, been spurred on by COVID 19, which forced so many of our interactions online. It would be interesting to consider how the digital engagements that we are designing could actually be part of this upskilling process.

1 reply on “Socially distanced engagement and co-designing”

If you’ve not encountered it you might find Robert Chambers’ renowned short book on participatory approaches, Putting The Last First, thought provoking. Different context (rural developing world), analogous question: who gets left out (those furthest from roads aid workers use, i.e. often those most in need) and what can be done in redress.

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