Participatory Design Conference

From the 20th until the 24th of August Uhasselt and LUCA, School of Arts organised the Participatory Design conference, taking part in Hasselt and Genk. I took part in the organisation of the conference as chair for the Local Participation Session and as one of the communication chairs.

But besides helping in the practical organisation and planning, I also presented a full paper in the track ‘Front, back and the roles in between’ which took place on the final conference day. The paper ‘The roles of adult-participants in the back- and frontstage work of Participatory Design processes involving children’, which I wrote together with Selina, describes ‘Making Things!’ and  focuses on the different roles adult-participants take on in the front-and backstage activities of these processes. Departing from an existing typology of the different roles (adult) participants fulfill in PD processes, we describe in detail the different roles of youth worker ‘Abby’ in the front-and backstage activities of ‘Making Things!’. The case analysis showed a need in re-defining some roles or even defining new ones. Furthermore, the paper contributes to a growing interest for these backstage activities and the importance of relational agency and symbiotic agreements in PD processes.

In the afternoon of this last day, Selina presented a short paper in the track ‘on the edge’. This paper, entitled ‘Exploring user gains in Participatory Design Processes with vulnerable children‘, we together with Bieke Zaman,  contributes to the debate on benefits that children can gain through their involvement in Participatory Design (PD) and highlights the importance of user gains in relation to vulnerable children.

Backstage work for involvement in a FabLab

During the Fablearn conference which took place on the 18the of june in Trondheim,  Norway, I presented a paper which I wrote together with Selina. This paper ‘On the importance of backstage activities for engaging children in a FabLab’ focuses on the importance of building long term relationships with children when trying to involve them in a FabLab. Nurturing relationship is primarily done during backstage activities (more informal conversations and encounters) of PD processes. By comparing two cases ‘Wa Make’ and ‘Making Things’, we state that half-day STEM workshops for schools in FabLabs – often funded by government or sector organisations – are not sufficient to form meaningful relationships with non-expert users. This is related to factors such as the school contexts in which these workshops generally take place, the children experiencing “school fun” instead of “just fun”, and the limited focus on backstage activities when organizing the trajectory. Instead, by embedding STEM workshops in long(er)-term trajectories, children go beyond simple, introductory activities, start experimenting and are better able to open up to learning. Therefore, we advocate for shifting STEM education to leisure time (e.g. youth work) and considering FabLabs as more than merely technical infrastructures.