More than 1 million Syrian refugees are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon, however the government estimates the true number of Syrians in the country to be 1.5 million making up around 25% of Lebanon’s population.
Many of these refugees live in informal settlements, and while there has previously been HCI research around designing with refugees, much of this has been done in formal settings.
Formal design workshops can exclude refugees, such as Syrian refugee women who are limited in their ability to travel outside the settlements.
This paper reflects not only on the design process of working with refugees in an informal setting, but also the changing role taken on by the researcher from providing tutoring to children, to navigating their personal and professional identity in this space.
The two case studies presented look at the value of allowing participants to set up the design space, using a dialogical approach, as well as creating a safe space for both the participants and the researcher.
The two case studies
Piloting a technology for accessing healthcare
The first deployment looked at how technology could aid refugees in accessing health services. This was done by re-appropriating the Open Lab developed Citizen Radio – which would allow a participant to run community health shows with healthcare providers.
This research involved the use of focus groups, tailoring the technology to their needs, and deploying the technology.
Designing for food security
The second case study was conducted four months after the previous one, and aimed to explore the experience of food insecurity with a refugee community in Lebanon, and engage with refugees about the role technology could play in their food security.
This research involved the use of dialogue cards and diaries to explain their experiences. At the end, they made a booklet using these experiences for the participants to keep.
Taking on multiple roles
Working in refugee communities’ places pressure on design researchers to take on multiple roles. Reem flexibly adopted three roles: a public health educator, a tutor and a design researcher.
We found that adopting these roles requires a lot of consideration of what the researchers’ qualifications are and what they can feasibly offer refugee communities.
Flexible design practices
Moving the design process out of design workshops into refugee communities entails flexibility regarding how participants are to engage in the design process as well as in the configuration of the design space.
By allowing the community to rearrange the space for the design workshops, and choose where to hold the activities allowed for participants to engage in a modality they are comfortable with but which also avoids community tensions that may hinder the design process and even marginalize certain community members.
We found that adopting a dialogical approach throughout our design process, using techniques such as dialogue cards, brings value to the research and creates the basis for participant-researcher relationships.
Reem found she could establish her identity not through simply responding to participant questions, which she had previously found intimidating, but rather through dialogue in which everyone identified similar experiences and developed a shared understanding of each other.
Furthermore, when participants engage in their day to day activities within the design space it blurs the lines between engaging in design research and engaging in normal everyday activities thus integrating the design process and researcher into daily community interactions.
Lastly, there is potential for dialogical design research to even change participants’ views and relationships with research as a whole.
When revisiting the settlement for the continuation of the second case study participants informed Reem that they no longer engage in research projects in which they are to be just interviewed and/or surveyed. They highlighted that after engaging with the design process and co-creating the booklet they now value research in which the researcher aims to fully understand their lives as well as produce meaningful outcomes.
This paper received a Recognition for Contribution to Diversity and Inclusion at DIS 2019.
Does the use of personas within design processes prevent meaningful participation?
Our Story is a digitally mediated workflow for Participatory Video developed by Open Lab in collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC).
WhatFutures is a real-time game event played entirely through WhatsApp. Designed in collaboration with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).