Diversity and Inclusion in Research, Technology and Design

- Emmy Tsang, Esther Plomp

A recording and summary of our Open Science Coffee on Diversity and Inclusion in Research, Technology and Design.

Our second Open Science Coffee - informal community discussions on a shared open science topic of interest - took place on Oct 6. Organised in collaboration with the TU Delft Diversity Office for the TUD Diversity & Inclusion Week, the case for this discussion was “Diversity and Inclusion in Research, Technology and Design”.

We were very grateful to be joined by three panellists who generously shared their stories and experienmce:

Here we share a summary of our discussion and a recording of the thought-provoking session.

What does diversity and inclusion mean?

Despite having come from different backgrounds and cultures, our panellists all started pursuing diversity and inclusion work after observing the inequities and exclusions around them. Eriol would like to design human-centred and user-centred technology and products; they are interested in how designers serve marginalised communities with their work. For David, the farmers’ community in Ghana motivated him to look at how he can elevate the position of farmers so that they become creators and originators of technologies in food systems. Roberto’s academic journey from Brazil to the Netherlands and his research into spatial justice around the world prompted him to explore ways to collaborate with diverse groups in co-designing and co-thinking solutions for global challenges.

“To me, to be human-centred and user-centred means to be as understanding and as aware of the different complexities around diversity inclusion and intersecting identities as we possibly can be given our own intersecting identities as well.” — Eriol Fox

What are the primary representation issues in our research and technology development and design processes and cultures?

Narratives have a significant role in shaping our research, technology and design agendas. David pointed out the discrepancy between two narratives concerning innovation in the food system. Research into subsistence farming shows the importance of the expertise and experience of local farmers and farming communities in ensuring a socially, environmentally, physiologically, spiritually, and communally relevant farming system. Yet, the skills and knowledge of local farmers are not often considered “expertise”, and local farmers are not included in shaping “modern agritech” like drones and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which many hail as the solutions to feeding the world’s growing population. Roberto highlighted some prominent narratives from the past (and still commonly assumed to be true these days): knowledge is produced mainly in the US and Europe, and knowledge producers are mostly white men. Increasingly, we realise that knowledge is polycentric, and talent and expertise come from all over the world. Drawing from their professional experience, Eriol shared how designers are excluded from spaces that are considered highly technical, while complex technological tools can often really benefit from designers’ input as they need to be accessible and usable by users.

“Who is designing what? What are we marking as the example of where we want research and technology to be? Are we leaving out individuals who we consider either as uneducated and inexperienced because we’ve created a narrative around an ideal that is based on our capitalistic standards?” — David Selassie Opoku

How can we change these narratives?

To this end, our panellists’ work exemplifies how we can start changing these narratives: through carefully listening to marginalised voices to understand cultural differences and needs, actively inviting people into spaces and conversations where they are traditionally excluded, and elevating their work. Through working together with researchers and students from 25 universities to publish a book of “Manifestos for a just city”, Roberto engaged researchers from all around the world in “visioning”, an activity to imagine a shared, just future. David co-founded Growing Gold Farms, working together with Ghanaian farmers to understand local farming processes and identify pain points. Together, they innovate to change the perception around local produce, farming as a career path and farms as a space for innovation, ultimately building a more sustainable food system. Through their work with the Open Source Design community and their research, Eriol has developed a deep understanding of the barriers for participation for designers to contribute to open-source technology development. Designers can contribute hugely to open-source projects by helping build more inclusive research and prototyping processes. Still, for designers to participate fully, there are cultural differences that the design and open-source communities need to understand and work to bridge. This is a lesson that can be extended to all communities: through more carefully understanding cultural differences and listening to diverse voices, we can together build more sustainable and powerful collaborations and teams.

“Diversity is not just a challenge. It is also joyful: it is a wonderful experience to connect with people who are different from you.” — Roberto Rocco

Also read co-facilitator Esther Plomp’s live tweet thread of this session.

Join us for the next open science coffee on Open Data and Software in Tackling the Climate Crisis - see our Events page for more details.