Sharing Design Agency with Local Partners in Participatory Design
Chiara Del Gaudio, Carlo Franzato, Alfredo Jefferson de Oliveira


Partnerships with local actors are quite common in social design projects developed in unknown contexts. Several design researchers describe them as positive and supportive elements for project development. However, setting up a partnership may bring several unexpected challenges to the designer’s agency and have strong implications on the design process—with a level of influence that changes according to contextual conditions too. This paper aims to point out and discuss them. In order to do this, it explores what a local design partner could mean for the designer and the design process, by describing and analysing action research undertaken on a participatory design project conducted in a Brazilian favela in partnership with a local NGO. Three under-discussed issues about local partnerships emerged and are examined through partnership, power, delegation, and agency theory. Lastly, five strategies to deal with them and to strengthen the designer’s practice are presented.

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