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Participatory Design

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Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

Participatory Design

Participatory Design (PD) is an approach to the assessment, design, and development of technological and organizational systems that places a premium on the active involvement of workplace practitioners (usually potential or current users of the system) in design and decision-making processes.

Because PD practitioners are so diverse in their perspectives, backgrounds, and areas of concern, there can be no single definition of PD. However, we can formulate a few tenets shared by most PD practitioners and advocates.

  • Respect the users of technology, regardless of their status in the workplace, technical know-how, or access to their organization's purse strings. View every participant in a PD project as an expert in what they do, as a stakeholder whose voice needs to be heard.
  • Recognize that workers are a prime source of innovation, that design ideas arise in collaboration with participants from diverse backgrounds, and that technology is but one option in addressing emergent problems.
  • View a "system" as more than a collection of software encased in hardware boxes. In PD, we see systems as networks of people, practices, and technology embedded in particular organizational contexts.
  • Understand the organization and the relevant work on its own terms, in its own settings. This is why PD practitioners prefer to spend time with users in their workplaces rather than "test" them in laboratories.
  • Address problems that exist and arise in the workplace, articulated by or in collaboration with the affected parties, rather than attributed from the outside.
  • Find concrete ways to improve the working lives of co-participants by, for example, reducing the tedium associated with work tasks; co-designing new opportunities for exercising creativity; increasing worker control over work content, measurement and reporting; and helping workers communicate and organize across hierarchical lines within the organization and with peers elsewhere.
  • Be conscious of one's own role in PD processes; try to be a "reflective practitioner."

The materials offered on this site are partial and under construction. Please send comments and suggestions for additional material to Randy Trigg and Andrew Clement.

Histories and overviews

Participatory Design traces its roots to Scandinavian work with trade unions in the 60's and 70's, but its ancestry also includes Action Research and Sociotechnical Design. CPSR has played an important role in fostering PD in the US by sponsoring the biennial Participatory Design conferences since 1990 (PDC '2002, PDC '2000, PDC '98, PDC '96, PDC '94, PDC '92).

Web sites

A sampling of web resources available for those wanting to learn more about Participatory Design ranging from conferences and journals, to the sites of university departments and courses.


An annotated short list of readings along with a larger bibliography without annotations.

Topic areas

Over the years, Participatory Design has focused on trade unions and co-determination laws, workplace democracy, and system development methods including technology mockups and prototypes, among many others.

Related fields

These include architecture, urban planning, ergonomics, participatory action research, and user-centered design.

This page is produced by CPSR members Randy Trigg and Andrew Clement. Comments, suggestions and pointers to other resources are welcome.

Last updated on February 10, 2000

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