Accountability for actions, GFAR blog

The Urgency is in the Mirror

XWhat is urgent when the path forward is unclear amidst complex challenges? The paper argues for providing legitimacy to processes where people co-design how they will intervene to adapt for the future, starting now. This implies to support design approaches that engage people who are affected by change, going beyond mere consultation or feedback to extract information. Rather, the paper encourages a participatory approach from framing a theory of change as well as co-designing with others through the process of analysis, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of interventions. The author shares a personal journey and experiences that challenged his mental model, and outlines practical implications for participatory approaches.


The invitation for this publication was to write about an urgent task for design. To speak from the heart (Lummack, 2017) and from personal experience. To go beyond theories. What then, do we discover? Perhaps these words from Payam Akhavan, recalling his human rights odyssey:

The problem with the world is not a shortage of brilliant theories or feel-good slogans. The problem is that we confuse proliferation of progressive terminology with profound empathy and purposeful engagement. We say the right things, but we fail to act on them because we want to feel virtuous without paying a price (Akhavan, 2017, p. 5).

To go beyond ‘feeling virtuous’ and deeper than exposing ’brilliant theories’ is an invitation to engage with change, be part of the change, and expect to be changed. In that light, design is a participatory process. Co-design is, or should be, an oxymoron for design. Kurt Lewin is often quoted to have said that “the best way to understand something is by trying to change it” (Chevalier & Buckles, 2013, p. 11). To this I would add: we also must be willing to change ourselves, to pay the price. What does it mean then for the urgency of design? First, context. I am writing about design for situations that are complex; therefore, where there are no clear paths or answers to address a particular issue.

What is urgent, when we don’t know the answer, when the path is unclear, when we navigate through unfamiliar territory (Zweibelson, 2017) in a world that gets better and worse, faster and faster (Atlee, 2003)? In my view, it is to provide legitimacy to processes where people co-design how they will intervene to adapt for the future, today. Co-design involves framing a theory of change that is relevant for those affected by the change. This involves engaging people in the analysis, design, monitoring and evaluation of interventions. The rest of this brief paper is an introduction to a journey that sparked this proposition, sharing experiences that strengthen this approach and underlying practical implications.

Excerpt from an article by Fodé Beaudet, Learning expert at Global Affairs Canada & GFAR facilitator. Read the article in its entirety here

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