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Design for Diversity Opening Forum: A Reflection

The first Design for Diversity [1] event was held at Northeastern on October 16 and 17 to begin the collaborative process of building the Teaching and Learning Toolkit. [2] My takeaway questions, inspired by the presentations and discussions, were: When working with learners to teach technologies and systems, how can we teach learners to be critical of these systems and imagine changing these systems? How might we de-center expertise in the learning environments or projects where we work to allow for more inclusive and imaginative spaces? How can we design healthy project ecologies and document these designs to teach others to do the same? How can we close the gap between those who build systems and those who critique and use these systems?

This two-day event consisted of case study presentations to inspire both larger and smaller group discussions as well as collaborative group note-taking; the Design for Diversity team has made available several of the slides from the presentations (available on links the schedule) [3] and videos of the presentations [4]. These case study examples ranged from how to work on cultural materials with historically disenfranchised communities, to how metadata can be exclusive or uncover previously hidden relationships and networks, to how the constraints of digital tools and platforms’ might help or hinder identity representation.

Because of the variety of topics presented and discussed during the two day event, I will outline key ideas and themes below. The outline below is a synthesis of both the final wrap-up session – when the Advisory Board and invited respondents identified key themes – as well as the Design for Diversity team’s post-event group reflection where we combined our notes with the robust participant notes to draw out additional key themes.


Disrupting Hierarchies and De-Centering Expertise

One of the most common questions during the event was how academics– who are situated in an institution that can continue to perpetuate the oppression of historically disenfranchised communities – can not only work with, but work for these communities. These bullet points explore larger themes in the presentations and discussions that centered around working for different types of communities and encouraging others to do the same:


Workflows and Methodologies

One place to think deeply about the questions, challenges, and suggestions proposed below is in project management, workflows, and the methodologies that permeate this work. What are the methodologies that will lead to a successful, ethical, and healthy project ecology? How can work practices, methods, and decision making shape this ecology? How can the design of the project set up participants to succeed?


Critiquing and Transforming Data and Tools

All data and technologies – like projects – have constraints. Designing a healthy project ecology also means understanding what particular tools and technologies have to offer. These points demonstrate how practitioners are already critiquing and attempting to change harmful and exclusive systems:


Student Advocates and Centering Justice

Throughout the event, there was an emphasis to include students and learners in the process for change. For Billey and Drabinski, this might look like teaching students how to petition changes in RDA or other systems. Heather Moulaison Sandy’s online cataloguing classroom uses social justice as a lens while still meeting Information Science certification requirements, such as the curriculum instructors must follow in order for learners to receive a librarian certification; Molly Brown also challenged the current certification requirements by re-imagining the Library Information Science curriculum to include an ethics of care. For Trevor Muñoz, Catherine Knight Steele, and Purdom Lindblad, this means creating a community of learners that centers around a particular population, such as their African American History, Culture, and Digital Humanities [12] project.

Using these examples and so many more provided in the Opening Forum, I hope we can continue to come together and share how we shape learning environments to foster conversations about justice, dismantling hierarchies, and making spaces for a multitude of ways of being and knowledges. How do we practice this in our everyday work as teachers, learners, and practitioners? The Teaching and Learning Toolkit will be a central place to do this kind of work for information systems design. My central take away from this event, though, is the power of passionate, curious, and determined practitioners across disciplines and institutions who can re-imagine harmful and oppressive systems – information systems as well as larger, sociopolitical systems – and take steps to make change.