Distributing participation in design: Addressing challenges of a global pandemic

Aurora Constantin, Cristina Alexandru, Jessica Korte, Cara Wilson, Jerry Fails, Gavin Sim, Janet C. Read, Eva Eriksson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Participatory Design (PD) – whose inclusive benefits are broadly recognised in design – can be very challenging, especially when involving children. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to further barriers to PD with such groups. One key barrier is the advent of social distancing and government-imposed social restrictions due to the additional risks posed for e.g. children and families vulnerable to COVID-19. This disrupts traditional in-person PD (which involves close socio-emotional and often physical collaboration between participants and researchers). However, alongside such barriers, we have identified opportunities for new and augmented approaches to PD across distributed geographies, backgrounds, ages and abilities. We examine Distributed Participatory Design (DPD) as a solution for overcoming these new barriers, during and after COVID-19. We offer new ways to think about DPD, and unpick some of its ambiguities. We do this through an examination of the results from an online Interaction Design and Children (IDC) 2020 workshop. The workshop included 24 researchers with experience in PD, in a range of forms, in the context of children. Initially designed to take place in-person and to include a design session with children in a school in London, the workshop was adjusted to an online format in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the adverse circumstances, we discovered that the unexpected change of the workshop style from in-person to online was an opportunity and an impetus for us to address the new PD challenges of the global pandemic. In this article we contribute seven themes which were revealed during our IDC workshop, providing guidance on important areas for consideration when planning and conducting PD in the context of a global pandemic. With a focus on the term ’distributed’, we offer insights on how DPD can be applied and explored in these circumstances with child participants. We conclude with a number of lessons learned, highlighting the opportunities and challenges DPD offers to enable continued co-design during a global pandemic. In particular, DPD provides greater access for some populations to be involved in PD, but technical and social challenges must be addressed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100255
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Child-Computer Interaction
Early online date16 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Children
  • Participatory Design (PD)
  • Distributed Participatory Design (DPD)


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