Through my engagement in participatory design and community-led design in the last four to five years, I have come across the concept of value from multiple perspectives, both as worth and as meaning (moral principles). Thinking about value and values is in fact inevitable in any research activity that engages with people and wishes to have an impact in society. A key issue is to understand and develop methods to capture the benefits of such activity, going beyond simple economic terms (for example, considering effects on culture or the environment). But value by definition requires some sort of judgement that something is beneficial or good, and this is where the notion of values comes to play. Values in a sense designate what value is.
Participatory design is by definition concerned with people’s values. The participatory design movement was borne out of a commitment to consider users’ and stakeholders’ values and give them voice in the design process. As Iversen et al (2012) discuss, aside a general commitment to democratic ideals, in a participatory design process values are not given a priori but actually ‘emerge in collaboration’. So a significant function of methods developed to support participation and co-design is ‘cultivating the emergence of values’ and facilitating their development and realization.
One of the core questions or aims of the Empowering Design Practices project is to understand how personal values and perceptions of heritage, faith and place influence involvement in and ownership of community-led design projects and how they can be woven effectively into community-led design practices. We thought however, that before we were able to start engaging with communities and facilitate a values-based process, it was important to follow a values-based approach in our own collaboration process as project team.
So in this blog, I would like to report on what we have done so far as a team to unearth and build on our values in order to design and carry out the project activities. But before I discuss what we did, I think it is useful to present some previous work and experience with co-design projects, which led to the formation of our approach.
Engaging with the value(s) question
I started looking at the concept of value in the Valuing Community-Led Design project, whose aim was to explore and help articulate the benefits of community-led design: what are the kinds of impacts these collaborative practices have on individuals, communities and the places they live in?
Working with multiple stakeholders (academics, practitioners, community representatives) we identified three key areas of value/impact from community-led design activities: quality, social value and personal value.
At the same time with my colleagues at the Creative Citizens project we also started exploring the notion of assets as a shortcut to the term value. Assets are the tangible and intangible things individuals and groups hold, or have access to, and that can be mobilised to produce common goods. This can be anything from skills and knowledge, to relationships with other groups and organisations, access to communal spaces or infrastructures, cultural assets, or media. In the Creative Citizen project asset mapping became our central approach and tool for co-design. The method we used aimed to engage participants in exploring and sharing their perceptions about what is valuable. This helped build community relationships, facilitate the collaborative generation of ideas, but also to ‘measure’ or ‘evaluate’ the process and the outcomes of our project: the new assets and the relationships between assets generated. You can read here about this work.
When I got involved in the Scaling up Co-design project the team adopted a values-led asset-based approach early on in its practice. The project required building community-university partnerships in order to co-design the research and co-deliver its activities. It was recognized that in order for the project to be successful and useful for everyone involved, the research aims and activities should be designed around existing interests, resources and needs. We developed different ways to facilitate this process, from individual profiles, to design workshops, card sorting exercises, and the creation of impact and values maps. Being clear about everyone’s agendas and values helped create a safe space for sharing, and also fostered innovation. Check out the project video.
This experience led to our involvement in the Starting from Values: evaluating intangible legacies project. The Starting from Values project focussed on values as a lens through which to explore and capture the legacies of collaborative projects. Here for example is a poster of the Scaling up Values and Legacies that resulted from this investigation.
Building on this knowledge and practice a group of us took the opportunity to create an approach suitable for our work in the Empowering Design Practices.
The Empowering Design Practices case
So let me give a bit more detail about the methods we used to share and reflect on values in this project. In the first team meeting, everyone taking part completed a ‘profile’ sheet, which captured individual research interests, as well as individual principles for collaboration (how we work together as partners), action (what values guide project activities) and success (what makes a good research project). Similar profiles were used in the Scaling up project but were adapted here to help reflect more specifically on values and expected benefits (value).
We then communicated our responses to one another and categorised different items under three categories: shared, individual and conflicting (or contested). In collaborative work, we often tend to focus on those things that are shared, or commonly agreed - here the aim was to help create a common understanding of things that are shared, but also allow space for negotiation and individual expression. Individual values are often important sources of motivation and action and we wished to uncover those values that although might not be shared, can be accommodated in the project to achieve individual needs and wishes.
Open: Open exchange of information, ideas and priorities
Respectful: Drawing on and respecting what everyone brings to the project
Strategic: Acknowledge diverse wider agendas, but be clear about what are the shared interests
Inclusive: Collective approach to problem solving but not everyone needs to be involved in everything (aware of different time commitments)
Impactful: Constantly asking ‘What will this achieve that will make things different and better in the future’?
Reflective: Activities should be captured, evaluated and shared
Accessible: Outcomes and resources must be accessible to our key audiences
Better places: Contributed to the creation of more inclusive and sustainable places of worship
Empowered people: People that look after places of worship are empowered to lead projects
Capacity: Professionals (e.g. architects and support officers) as well as communities use the produced training and practical resources
Improved policy making: The evidence and knowledge produced influenced policymaking
Innovation: The project developed innovative research and practice approaches
Iversen, O. S., Halskov, K. and Leong, T.W. ‘Values-led Participatory Design’, In CoDesign 8 (2–3): 87–103
Starting from Values project report: http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/projects/starting-from-values-evaluating-intangible-legacies/learning-and-outcomes#Starting%20from%20values%20booklet
The Cultural Value project blog: https://culturalvalueproject.wordpress.com/
Cultural Value Networks report: http://www.dcrc.org.uk/research/cultural-value-networks-research-findings/