Participatory Design with Marginalized People in Developing Countries: Challenges and Opportunities Experienced in a Field Study in Cambodia
Sofia Hussain, Elizabeth B.-N. Sanders, Martin Steinert


In this article we present a field study where participatory design tools and techniques were used in Cambodia to develop ideas for a device that enables children who use prosthetic legs to walk in mud. The study shows that it can be rewarding to do participatory design projects with marginalized children and prosthetists in developing countries. However, for such projects to be successful, designers and organizations in charge of product development must understand that they will be working under different circumstances than when doing participatory design in developed countries. We identify and describe examples of differentiating circumstances across four categories: human; social, cultural and religious; financial and timeframe; and organizational.
The field research illustrates that an important advantage of using participatory design with marginalized people in developing countries is the opportunity to develop empowering outcomes of two types: products that meet the users’ needs as well as psychological empowerment of the participants. We propose a pyramid model of empowering outcomes that is based on Zimmerman’s (1995) model of psychological empowerment. Based on integrating this notion of psychological empowerment, we present an alternative framework for deploying participatory design in developing countries as it has served us in the Cambodia case.

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