Participatory Approach

“Participatory Design (PD) refers to the activity of designers and people not trained in design working together in the design and development process. In the practice of PD, the people who are being served by design are no longer seen simply as users, consumers or customers. Instead, they are seen as the experts in understanding their own ways of living and working. They are seen as valuable partners in the design and development process. This mindset contrasts with a user-centered mindset that recognizes researchers and designers as being the experts and relegates the people being served by design to be the research subjects and/or the recipients of the designed object.”

E l i z a b e t h B.– N. Sa n d e r s 
Participatory design collaboration system model by Andrew Drain and Elizabeth B. -N Sanders (2019)

Identify Design Opportunities

This program seeks to identify key leverage points. Through charrette activities, participants will uncover the moments that matter, that could indicate a design opportunity for meaningful change. This may include barriers when trying to access services and unmet needs during or after interactions with service providers. Through brainstorming and prototyping, participants will endeavour to bridge service gaps by addressing those unmet needs with available resources.

Make Lived Experiences Tangible

The charrette activities and their outputs are designed to capture the lived and living experiences of participants and make them into tangible, workable artifacts as resources for design.

Deliver Solution-Driven Ideas and Interventions

Taking a strengths-based approach, this program supports the participation of individuals drawing on their personal experiences to generate ideas and interventions that can enact adaptations to address the emergent and increasing needs of their community members in the context of COVID-19.

Leverage Serious Game Design

Serious games aspire to be useful and constructive tools to foster learning, social change or advance understanding of social issues. They are designed to offer a playful environment that provides “serious” content, topics, narratives, rules and goals to foster a specific purposeful learning outcome intended to impact the players beyond the self-contained aim of the game (Mitgutsch, K., et al. 2012).

To promote teamwork and collaboration, the charrette activities and processes are intended to promote shared decision-making among participants as they work together in teams and generously share their knowledge and insights. By listening to others debate the issues and defend their viewpoints, and resolve differences, everyone learns more about the project’s complexity, its likely impact on the community as a whole, and the balance of competing interests necessary for building consensus (Lindsay, G., et al. 2009).


Drain, A., & Sanders, E. (2019 Dec. 28). A Collaboration System Model for Planning and Evaluating Participatory Design Projects. International Journal of Design [Online] 13:3. Available:

Mitgutsch, K., & Alvarado, N. (2012). Purposeful by design? Proceedings of the International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games – FDG ’12.

Lindsay, G., Todd, J. A., Hayter, S. J., & Ellis, P. G. (2009). Handbook for Planning and Conducting Charrettes for High-Performance Projects: Second Edition.

Guiding Principles:

Create Community-led Collaboration

  • Engage community stakeholders throughout the entire process and draw from a diversity of lived experience
  • Preserve community identity and ownership, while supporting and fostering relationships based on trust and knowledge sharing
  • Appreciate the expertise of participants to identify their community needs and generate meaningful interventions
  • Recognize our supporting roles to enable participants’ creativity

Promote Equity and Inclusion

  • Affirm the intersectional identities of participants, including their multiple truths and perspectives within the contexts of broader socio-cultural and systemic landscapes
  • Actively remove barriers and support the needs of vulnerable participants

Trust and Enjoy the Process

  • Adhere to the iterative cycles of design, allowing the development of conceptual and concrete ideas
  • Create moments of play and delight to enhance creativity and collaborative engagement
  • Ensure adaptability and flexibility, giving time and space for reflection, feedback, and evaluation

Facilitators and Support Persons

The program facilitators are consisting of gender and sexually diverse members from the project team, planning committee and graduate students from OCAD University. Facilitators will have varied backgrounds in group facilitation, programming, social work practice, co-design, and with affirming practices within mental health care and substance use services.

Prior to the program, facilitators will complete distress protocol training to ensure a safer space for participants. As well there will be qualified facilitators available to support participants who may be experiencing distress. Additional support persons include project team members supporting the virtual platform and technical aspects, and a graphic illustrator who will visualize and map participants’ journeys during the facilitator-led discussions.