However, there are other equally valid ways of communication that might nudge people to tell a more comprehensive story. Consider allowing stories to emerge through oral tradition, signing, the arts, music or body language. Decide which medium is most relevant or familiar, least intrusive and benevolent when designing your research event.
Take a back seat.
Designers may find community engagement efforts go a long way when someone else takes the lead. Of course, not just anybody will do. But selecting a member of the group with which you’re designing to fill the role may yield more insightful conversation than if you were in the driver’s seat at the workshop.
This approach takes humility, trust and coaching to make a smooth and effective transition. A facilitator’s job is literally to make things easier. If stepping out of the way to make the design process more accessible for a community of which you are not a member, then humble yourself and slide over. This is not a step down, but a lateral move as you are sharing the work and on your way to an authentic co-design.
In order to choose wisely, identify community gatekeepers, people that have the trust of the group as a whole, or someone who has a good rapport with other attendees. In order to find a good candidate, you may need to do some social detective work beforehand, or pay close attention to group dynamics in session. Once you’ve found someone, be transparent about why you want to work with them. Share workshop objectives, your role and goals, and how you might work together.
Set the scene.
Earlier I used the word “workshop” to describe one kind of community engagement. The word needs clarification because it brings to mind a very narrow connotation. Designing a gathering for people to engage with specific topic should bring a wide range of settings to mind. However, the term generally connotes a more formal, office or academic setting with chairs and tables with someone clearly defined as the “leader” of the session. There is often a physical separation between the facilitator and the participants. This format is very typical, but acknowledge its possible barriers.
If you discover a typical setup isn’t going to be comfortable for participants, consider a different type of environment to reduce any spatial obstacles to participation. Think of informal spaces where participants already meet, share feelings and freely exchange ideas. Ask to be invited. If you can’t change the workshop location, consider rearranging furniture, adding food, sitting among community members and participating, or at the minimum, name the event something inviting and relevant to the group.