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The Beating Heart of Co-Design

The Beating Heart of Co-Design

By Tot Foster, 29th July 2022

In this blog post, Tot Foster provides us with an update on where we are in the project timeline, some key upcoming events, and provides us with some insights about we’ve learned about inclusion (and also questions we still need to answer).  

The project has just entered it’s next phase; developing ‘demonstrator’ projects . These will be products and services that aim to support connection through culture for older people, the crux of this project. The 18 co-researchers have begun working with 26 creative professionals from a range of digital and artistic backgrounds and together they have become 44 co-designers. This co-design phase starts with three workshops run by Pervasive Media Studio at the Watershed in Bristol – to introduce co-researchers and creatives, to brainstorm, to loosen up those co-design muscles, to coalesce teams to take ideas forward into prototyping.  

This is a challenge for sure. The co-designers are a large and incredibly diverse group, themselves with varying experiences of co-design and with a wide range of accessibility needs including different languages, mobility, sight and hearing. But crucially this project depends on every person being included in order to hear and act on the voices which are rarely heard – designing products with and for those who are often not visible.  

So the challenge got me thinking more about what is really at the heart of co-design and what ‘inclusion’ really means. It goes beyond language and physical issues. Co-design is an emotional process that asks everyone to give of themselves. In a word successful co-design is down to relationships – those inter-personal interactions, understandings and generosity around the table (even if it’s a virtual table). It’s relationships that make it possible to participate, that ‘include’; everyone feeling that they have the space and are valued, and that open our eyes to what is really needed in terms of ‘accessibility’. It’s relationships that bridge gaps of experience and identity. It’s relationships that let someone throw an idea into the mix and not feel it belongs to them, allowing for the group to take that idea and transform it. And it’s others responses that help each person articulate ideas, evolve, and critique with no judgement.  

This sounds all too simplistic perhaps, and not useful. Yet, as we have worked with and got to know the older co-researchers over the last year, we have witnessed how deeply emotional connections influence their involvement and how necessary it is for some of them to feel their contribution is valued before they speak up and share their thoughts and ideas. So thinking about relationships can be useful when it comes to preparing for co-design. As a team we have needed to think through: how can we show others they are valued so that they can participate comfortably and openly? How can we prepare ourselves to take on other’s ideas and share our own in a democratic way?  

One answer is to get all the ‘little arrangements’ right – taxis, food, interpreters, answering calls quickly, etc. Another is to be open ourselves as a research team – sharing our findings and asking for feedback. But perhaps it’s also a personal matter – giving ourselves to those relationships, maybe becoming friends but certainly understanding supporters. Of course this then throws up so many questions about boundaries – but that’s for another day, another blog…  

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