Participatory Design: Setting Priorities

Welcome to Peru!


7 undergraduate students, myself, a Peruvian landscape architect, and a US architect have been working together the past 20 days to design a project using a participatory design process. This has been my first opportunity to co-teach a seminar, and the readings that accompany the class have been quite enlightening. The theory behind the methods has added a new depth to my understanding of what participatory design can be.


Kumar Somesh, Methods for Community Participation

The above spectrum of engagement shows that the facilitator/project initiator gives up their power of choice and decision making to give it to the community. With the exploration seminar, there is a lot we need to control to have a finished project at the end of the 4-week program: time management of design development, budget, expectations of the community and the students etc. Kumar notes that the benefits of sharing control with the community are worth the effort, because they know what will work, what will last, and what to prioritize. In the end, this results in something that will resonate with them, and will be loved and cared for throughout the years.

Unbeknownst to our group, after 6 years of petitioning the local government, the community request for paved stairs was finally granted! Walking down slippery, steep muddy slopes vs. sturdy stairs makes a huge impact, especially for the safety of the elderly community members.

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What this meant for our project is that the community was very busy realizing their own project, with a tight deadline from the municipality. While our methods typically utilize their time and talents to realize the project, this would not be appropriate as it would detract from their own project.

We met with the community leaders and discussed 3 potential sites for improvement of communal space, allowing us to focus the engagement process of the initial meeting to specific locations.


Our first meeting went well! We brought food, drinks and cookies and made sure to keep the meeting as quick as possible as to not take away any momentum from their work.

We had one student who was fluent in Spanish, as well the other teacher and myself. The other students were helping by handing out materials, playing with antsy children, and documenting the process. This way we kept everyone engaged, with a smooth, efficient meeting.

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We split the 30+ people into six groups with a simple goal: propose 3-5 things you would like to see in your community, by drawing or writing. They have been through this process various times throughout the years, and have become very good at visualizing their desires, with specific details. Ideally, we would have had each group present their ideas, make a master list, and had each person vote on a card of their top 3 choices. Unfortunately, our time was short, so we had each group rank their own projects highest priority to lowest.

Our task afterwards was to analyze the different groups priorities, compare it with the available/proposed sites, and look at what our budget and time would allow. It looks like two small parks with play spaces for children was the winner!

We observed that the current park is getting high use, but the smaller kids do not have a chance to play, being pushed to the peripheries.  Stay tuned for the design process!





Participatory Design: Setting Priorities

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