Racial Equity and Design Research

A couple days ago someone asked the design research Google group how to champion anti-racism through our work. I responded and reposted it here.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and links. Curious if you have engaged with any of the methods from the Liberating Structures community (Trello board here for our project management fans)? I was introduced to them through DSIL who are intentional about connecting the larger structural, systemic forces that seem far beyond are grasp to the everydayness of our thoughts, actions and ultimately our projects. 

Theoretical underpinnings of this work are found among practitioners of the Theatre of the Oppressed and other public artists.

The tough, messy work of coming to grasp with ourselves is at the heart of all of this, for me.  Some Quaker, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist congregations use the Beloved Conversations anti-racism curriculum. It is a train the trainer approach. At the end of these workshops, those who facilitated the experience with their congregants rise before them, and start by saying, “I am racist.” They go on to say how being part of a racist society means we are not outside of the ideological filth. We have been acculturated to different degrees just like we have in other parts of our lives.

Ongoing, deliberate self-reflection, and a community of allies to help along the anti-racism path can be some of the ways.

Several on this thread may be familiar with the work of the Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE). They partner with governments across the U.S., focusing on racial equity within the government itself. The idea being if we govies can address this work directly and openly among ourselves then we are better positioned to do so when serving the public. Start with the self. We are part of the structure. We are in it and of it.

Bright spot: There is a growing number of positions across U.S. cities and counties hiring diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging leaders. Supporting them through our design research is an opportunity as well as partnering with GARE itself.  

What about at the team-level? Our team talks about “equity-centered design” at the start of our projects. We define equity by saying that people experience public services through their individual and communal, historical context. An inequitable context shaped by power, privilege, discrimination and trauma. We ask project teams, “How can we intentionally design for equity, with others?” Speaking of equity upfront in the project also serves as an opportunity to co-create equity success metrics. 

For me, the way we define, measure, or qualify “success” shapes the way services and products are designed across digital and non-digital touchpoints in the service journey. Tying equity to success can be part of the tactical work for anti-racism. 

I don’t mean to communicate that I’ve reached some sort of higher plane or practice. No. I stumble, fall and my allies help pick me up. We keep on going. This is humbling work.

Nick shared some of the Te Ao Māori (worldview of the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand). I know so little about it. The bits that resonate include asking the question, “How are we being good ancestors?” 

What does it mean to ask this question in the context of anti-racism work as design researchers? 

Your thoughts welcome here.