Caravan Studios’ methodology is centered on the belief that community voices, expertise, and interests should guide and inform technology development. At Caravan Studios we develop with, not for, which means we include community members at every phase of our design methodology. It is both thrilling and an honor to collaborate with grassroots superstars who are daily making a difference on some of the toughest issues in our neighborhoods.
Caravan Studios organizes and facilitates in-person and online sessions to guide participants toward designing solutions that address problems they face. We identify and invite participants from a variety of professional pursuits so that diverse perspectives on a shared issue can be expressed and included in designs. Participants may be social workers, researchers, writers, call center specialists, people who lead organizations or teams, public librarians, academics, or other people with experience in the particular issue area. They all discuss problems, share their experiences, and develop ideas together that inform solutions.
During our Design sessions, participants begin to hone their interests into design questions that animate their technological imaginations. Participants reorganize over the duration of the session and form collaborative teams as ideas are formed to address these questions. Finally, teams design paper prototypes—drawing, cutting, pasting—to create a visual representation of the solution they believe might solve the problems they’re addressing.
Prototypes are fashioned into online and offline posters of a consistent graphic fidelity that can be viewed and understood by a greater public audience for feedback. Community-generated designs are displayed in public places, like libraries, community centers, and other commons where the identified community can view with ease and provide direct feedback. This information informs the features, the areas that require more attention or input, and the interest in a particular solution. This community feedback is a key part of the process that informs development.
At this stage, it doesn’t matter who develops the prototype into a technology product. Caravan Studios provides the community-generated ideas, research, and community feedback to people who want to move the ideas forward. This has looked like Caravan Studios building or managing a product or process, or a technology organization contracted to build the idea, or it has also looked like more community-generated design activities like hackathons that push the design forward.
The communities that participated in designing, refining, and building a solution are also key to ensuring its use. Our team collaborates with these stakeholders to support broad adoption of the tools they designed and we deploy our reach to celebrate and promote their work. This phase underscores the power of community ownership of tools designed by and rooted in the community.
TEACHING THE METHODS
As the pandemic began to spread across the globe, plans for a collaborative project between Caravan Studios and the Japan NPO Center in Tokyo took an unexpected turn. This in-person project to share our methodology with community-based organizations in Japan was suddenly an online endeavor.
Our teams pivoted to designing online workshops and asynchronous activities to better fit a digital environment. After the online workshops began, we started to hear that the individual, or "lonely" work of asynchronous activities was exacerbating the isolation participants experienced as part of the pandemic reality. By design, Caravan Studios' in-person workshops are lively and collaborative and rely on the mixing of ideas and perspectives, so hearing feedback like this caused the organizers to re-think and re-design. In response, our teams developed more collaborative (and to us, more experimental) activities to stoke creativity and connection when we were together over Zoom. The collaborative design of our project pushed our team just as the work pushed our Japanese participants.
Visit the project site to learn more, download the guide book, and see what participants designed.