Spreading the participatory design approach in a developing country

I post this report from our friend and former intern during the DAIM-project, Daniela Kamachi. A native Brazilian herself, Daniela is now back in Brazil to practice a participatory design approach:

The title indicates a challenge I have accepted, after 3 years living in Denmark, where I had the opportunity to study design in one of the places that have begun a movement towards participatory design since the 70s. But it was just when I came to Brazil, at the end of 2010, that I could reflect on the value of what I have learned and experienced about participatory design with the Scandinavian culture.

I was given a leading role at a Brazilian technology and innovation consultancy and started to apply participatory design in the projects that were being developed. However, it was not enough to start inviting clients and other stakeholders to participate in the design process or to engage them with co-creation tools, because they are just not used to this approach. The development of new solutions at companies are still very traditional and linear. What seems obvious to us, design researchers and practitioners, is still too radical for most of the businesses and universities in Brazil. Of course that scenario has been changing with the influence of international companies, such as Whirlpool, Procter & Gamble and 3M, as well as design consultancies from Europe and The United States that are being established here. There are also some Brazilians that have had their masters and PhDs abroad, in the fields of design strategy, product, interaction, and emotional design, that are taking the challenge to spread the participatory design approach in this context.

This community of Brazilian design researchers, is now starting to teach at design schools; we are creating design and innovation disciplines in business schools, workshops and gatherings to discuss how design can be a way to drive innovation and improve people’s lives. As part of this movement, I have been trying to introduce and co-create spaces so that people involved in the projects and teachings that I conduct, can start experiencing and developing the participatory design approach in the Brazilian context.

One of the most helping resources that have guided me through this challenge, is the DAIM (Design Anthropological Innovation Model) toolkit and book. While I was at the master course in 2009, I had the opportunity to join the DAIM project as a student researcher, where I worked with a great team of design researchers and respected consultancies in the field of participatory design and innovation.  During this internship I was able to understand and experience the design process, as well as to learn from very experienced practitioners and professors. The knowledge I have gained thorough DAIM and the material that this project have generated, is uniquely valuable. With the content of the book ‘Rehearsing the Future’, full of practical examples and reflections from the participants of the project, I could find inspiration to structure an innovation department in the consultancy, form and coach a multidisciplinary team that I was hiring to develop the projects, and also to facilitate some critical analysis throughout the projects.

There was one project where the DAIM principles were especially helpful to nurture an action plan to create an innovation culture for a technology department from a Brazilian institution. It was a 3-months project, where my team and I had to understand how the technology department works and their processes, in order to collaborate with them to introduce the benefit from a design process  to co-design better experiences with their users. Because the DAIM book presents examples from the projects it has conducted, I could use it as inspiration to my teams, as well as some techniques such as rapid prototyping as a tool to engage stakeholders in the co-creation activities that we organized.

Since when I realized that design is a strong way to improve the quality of people’s lives, I have set a mission to use all that I have experienced during my time in Denmark, which includes my one year internship at DAIM, to spread the participatory design approach here in Brazil. We need to create our own movement, where design will help the development of this country.

At last, the DAIM book “Rehearsing the future” is not just a book that you read through, but a result of a collaborative work, that has generated valuable concepts, tools, examples and reflections from distinctive perspectives, which should be used as a guide to be consulted and put into action. It has been a great source of inspiration to the challenge of spreading the participatory design approach here in Brazil.

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