Immigration gives rise to global and local changes that challenge social norms and affect our lives. This is why, issues related to migration have been a part of my professional practice from 2011 through various design projects. One of these projects was about urban planning, specifically on how immigrants could be involved and have a voice in deciding on the development of their immediate built environment. Another project dealt with remix practices and how immigrants could make use of the video archives and reflect on their personal and national identities through them.
These projects followed a participatory approach, so naturally I facilitated many workshops with immigrants. In one of them the situation took us by surprise; a group of Kurd women we where collaborating with burst into tears while remembering their migration stories. As facilitators of the workshop, we also cried when listening to the stories. We tried gently to come back to the main research question of the workshop. However, this course of action bothered us. We felt that we took from the participants what we needed, that is insights to elaborate on our research questions and design goals, but we were also in fact sticking the finger in a sore. We were opening old wounds. Doing this is questionable, because we are not professionally able to deal with the consequences of having arrived at this type of sensible situations.
As a way to coming to grips with this conflict, I have been developing a line of research on how to deal with this, that has so far resulted in two research papers. In them we arrived at various conclusions, the first one is that design researchers working with immigrants must take into account the question of emotional involvement, and if possible we should be working together with mental health specialists in order to be better equipped to react in these situations (Salgado, Sustar and Galanakis, 2015). In the papers we argue that participatory design processes that involve vulnerable people require from design experts an understanding of, and a commitment to, social and ethical discourses on emotional involvement. Empathy may help designers and their participants to share on an emotional level that at times may be deep and thus needs to be dealt upfront.
Following our own advice, (Salgado, Sustar and Galanakis, 2015) we teamed with a mental health specialist, Esa Pursiainen. In the development of the second paper he recommended us to reserve time for both debriefing and defusing processes. Debriefing is about reviewing with the participants what has happened during the workshop (or design session), making sure that participants leave the situation in a stable mental stage. Defusing is when we do the same reviewing process but with our colleagues, in this case the facilitators of the workshop. This defusion should happen just after the session in order to process the situations, stories, and emotions.
There are many other recommendations in the papers. Here you can read the two articles:
Salgado, M.; Sustar H. and Galanakis, M. (2015) Designing for immigrants: when emotions run high. European Academy of Design. Paris, France.
Salgado, M. Galanakis, M. and Pursiainen, E. (2017). Participatory Design Fieldwork. Dealing with emotions. Cumulus Hong Kong 2016. Open design for e-very-thing
I have also a presentation I made from the last paper for the Cumulus conference, in Hong Kong.