Figuring out the designer role on civic empowerment

Even if communities exists under political and civic rules, the feeling of familiarity, security and belonging are the ones that define it. During my BA thesis, I observed a group of residents who agrees with this and tries to transform their neighbourhood. From new local parties to a complicated anti-gentrification fight.

 Casa Amarela Saudável e Sustentável ( Casa Amarela Healthy and Sustainable, in Portuguese)  initiative.

Casa Amarela Saudável e Sustentável (Casa Amarela Healthy and Sustainable, in Portuguese) initiative.

Using Facebook to articulate meetings and polls, they had a serious problem with engagement. After +900 people raising issues, you can't really manage it with a Facebook group. So I've seen myself with a enormous amount of data and concerns to deal with. 

How could one person be the voice of an entire community in such an abstract project? Is it even possible?

I know that it is my first project with such a complex context. Yet, I feel that even living near them and being there I couldn't fully understand what it means to fight their battles. I started to think about how a designer can even be useful on this situation, that I believe will be more frequent. That's when I decided that even if I couldn't make decisions, I could help them to make it and they could help me telling what it was important to their community.

I felt that a participatory approach strengthened the role of the designer in such contexts. Merging research and ideation improved the decision-making. I could get a deeper insight into their problems, with the words and experiences from those who fought.

Beyond design, it also empowered the participants by expanding their role and ensuring that the result would have a truthful perspective. In this particular process the group guided the use of technology. This was surprising to me and demonstrated a change on communities today, organising themselves through digital media.

To me, this work cleared that working with such a complex scenario is a challenge that can be simplified. When you listen to those who deal with the problems and give them tools to express it, you also give them confidence. The limits of the role of designers is being transformed: from solver for mediator.  Design becomes a common language for different interests emerge with solutions.


What I'm talking about? Check the project here.