Co-Creation & Participatory Research

Co-creation and participatory research are used in a wide range of fields, from industrial product design to epidemiology to software engineering. Although specific methodologies vary, co-creation and participatory approaches involve a diverse group of consumers, citizens, interest groups or research participants in tasks such as setting research objectives, gathering and processing data, interpreting results, and implementing solutions (Gonsalves et al., 2005; Leung et al., 2004; Greenhalgh et al., 2016; Hoyer et al., 2010; Smith et al., 2017; Voorberg et al., 2011). Co-creation and participatory research typically seek to balance interests, benefits and responsibilities between the relevant stakeholders, focus attention on user needs, and make the whole process—from planning to implementation—transparent and inclusive (WHO, 2011).

Practical Steps for Incorporating Sex and Gender Analysis into Participatory Research

Researchers and designers should:
1. Identify the area of work or everyday life they wish to address:
Investigate gendered structures in that area: what opportunities may have been missed in the past as a result of failing to analyze sex and gender. For instance, in transportation planning, and housing and neighborhood design, it will be critical to consider “mobility of care” (see Case Study: Smart Mobility), and how needs with respect to built-up environments vary by gender role and gendered division of labor (see Case Study: Housing and Neighborhood Design).

2. Identify potential target groups: Conduct literature reviews, assemble focus groups, send out questionnaires, carry out ethnographic observations, etc. What are the characteristics of target users/communities? These may include sex, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, native language, etc. Questions include: How will different groups of people (defined by sex, race, age, geographic location, etc.) be affected by this project/product? What are their particular perspectives, needs and interests? Whose practical knowledge or experience is relevant to this research or design project? For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, where women are typically responsible for fetching water, tapping into women’s knowledge about soils and their water yields may be critical in ensuring the success and sustainability of community-managed water services (see Case Study: Water Infrastructure). Similarly, involving gender-diverse groups of elderly people and their caregivers in the development of assistive technologies can ensure that solutions are useful to a broad user base (see Case Study: Assistive Technologies for the Elderly).

As an alternative to direct user involvement, developers may create personas (see Case Studies: Smart Energy Solutions; Smart Mobility; Quality Urban Space). Personas are fictitious representations of typical (or atypical) target populations derived from data about these actors’ shared traits and characteristics (Miaskiewicz & Kozar, 2011). They are used as ‘model characters’ or benchmarks for the user experience in order to focus design on the people the planned project seeks to benefit. An important consideration when developing personas is to avoid reinforcing stereotypes with respect to gender, race, age, etc., as this may end up constraining the uptake of the product, service or solution (Hill et al., 2017; Turner & Turn, 2011).

3. Seek user or community input: Engage users/communities in defining problems, requirements, and solution and design alternatives (Oudshoorn et al., 2003: Oudshoorn et al., 2002). Ensure that your participant sample is heterogeneous enough to capture the various intersecting positions of relevance to the project (Method: Intersectional Approaches). Involving users who vary by gender, ethnicity, age and socio-economic status allows researchers and engineers to gather information about how a technology, product or public health measure will affect people’s everyday lives, assist their work or enhance their leisure activities.

4. Observe workers or users: Observing people at work allows scientists and engineers to access tacit knowledge—knowledge that is self-evident or taken for granted by workers themselves and rarely articulated. Capturing tacit knowledge may bring new perspectives to formal research and design. Researchers might ask: How do sex and gender influence how the work is done, how an artefact is used or how a process works? How may this differ in a single-sex versus a mixed-sex context? Engineers and designers can probe their understanding of work processes in interactions with users. For example, to develop new software for customer service call centers, ICT researchers observed, interviewed and worked with call center employees—a majority of them women—to understand their needs. Analyzing the gendered nature of the work and gathering user input produced software that better captured previously unrecognized needs (Maass & Rommes, 2007).

5. Evaluate and redesign: Researchers can cooperate with users/communities in all steps of project evaluation, from defining goals or measures of success to determining whether these goals have been achieved in the design, implementation and monitoring steps (WHO, 2002—see Method: Gender Impact Assessment). User and community input can also help to guide product redesign and further research.

Works Cited

Gonsalves, J., Becker, T., Braun, A., Campilan, D., de Chavez, H., Fajber, E., Kapiriri, M., Rivaca-Caminade, J., & Vernooy, R. (2005). Participatory Research and Development for Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management: A Sourcebook, Volume 1: Understanding Participatory Research and Development. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Greenhalgh, T., Jackson, C., Shaw, S., & Janamian, T. (2016). Achieving research impact through co‐creation in community‐based health services: literature review and case study. The Milbank Quarterly, 94(2), 392-429.

Hill, C. G., Haag, M., Oleson, A., Mendez, C., Marsden, N., Sarma, A., & Burnett, M. (2017, May). Gender-Inclusiveness Personas vs. Stereotyping: Can we have it both ways? In Proceedings of the 2017 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 6658-6671.

Hoyer, W. D., Chandy, R., Dorotic, M., Krafft, M., & Singh, S. S. (2010). Consumer cocreation in new product development. Journal of Service Research, 13(3), 283-296.

Leung, M., Yen, I., & Minkler, M. (2004). Community-Based Participatory Research: A Promising Approach for Increasing Epidemiology’s Relevance in the 21st Century. International Journal of Epidemiology, 33 (3), 499-506.

Maass, S. & Rommes, E. (2007). Uncovering the Invisible: Gender-Sensitive Analysis of Call Center Work and Software. In Zorn, I., Maass, S., Rommes, E., Schirmer, C. & Schelhowe, H. (Eds.) Gender Designs Information Technology (IT), pp. 97 - 108. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Miaskiewicz, T., & Kozar, K. A. (2011). Personas and user-centered design: How can personas benefit product design processes?. Design Studies, 32(5), 417-430.

Oudshoorn, N., Saetnan, A., & Lie, M. (2002). On Gender and Things: Reflections on an Exhibition of Gendered Artifacts. Women’s Studies International Forum, 25 (4), 471-483.

Oudshoorn, N., & Pinch, T. (Eds.) (2003). How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technologies. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Press.

Smith, R. C., Bossen, C., & Kanstrup, A. M. (2017). Participatory design in an era of participation. Codesign, 13(2).

Turner, P., & Turner, S. (2011). Is stereotyping inevitable when designing with personas? Design Studies, 32(1), 30-44.

Voorberg, W. H., Bekkers, V. J., & Tummers, L. G. (2015). A systematic review of co-creation and co-production: Embarking on the social innovation journey. Public Management Review, 17(9), 1333-1357.

World Health Organization (WHO). (2011). Indigenous Peoples and Participatory Health Research. Geneva: WHO.

World Health Organization (WHO). (2002). Gender Analysis in Health: A Review of Selected Tools. Geneva: WHO.



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