Listening Methods

While taking Technology and Social Change last semester, I had the opportunity to get a head start on this project. Below are listening methods that helped formed my design brief, and my decision to go forth with the Subscription box idea.

Historical Analysis 
Through my historical analysis (an IDEO method) I was able to dig deeper into the inequalities in the public school system – a system that has a direct impact on Black and other marginalized youth’s ability to go into STEM fields. While conducting research on this system, it was evident that, as I suspected, multiple systems of discrimination and oppression are at play, at once. These systems include, but are not limited to, poverty, housing, violence, and healthcare.

Ecosystem Map
I developed a high-level ecosystem map that shows who is impacted directly and indirectly by the systemic and structural barriers to constructionism in education for Black and other marginalized youth.
Now that this has a specific focus, I plan to create another map, that is more detailed, and includes the youth at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club that I will be working with.

Contextual Inquiry
I conducted interviews with different entities from the my ecosystem map. Those people, and their current roles, are described below. The people who were interviewed are not limited in knowledge to their current positions, and were able to speak about the different parts of the ecosystem they are/were connected to.

Research Scientist at the MIT Media Lab
Education Consultant and author of the 2010 Tacoma Achievement Gap Report
Faculty member at the MIT Media Lab
Graduate student at Anglia Ruskin University
Director of the Computer Clubhouse Network
Co-Founder of Technology Access Foundation
Fulbright Fellow currently working on a STEM program for girls in Cambodia
Physics teacher at the Tacoma School of Industrial Design Engineering and Art
Clubhouse Coordinator at the Boston Computer Clubhouse
Alumni of Year Up – Seattle
Software Developer at Microsoft
Computer Science student at a community college
7th grade student aspiring to be a game designer.

Inspirational Works
My inspiration comes from the many Black women who persisted despite the systemic, structural, and social barriers they faced. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work around intersectionality encouraged me to believe that multiple things can be true at once – in this case, multiple barriers can exist at once. The virtual community #BlackAndSTEM, created by Stephani Page, PhD has encouraged Black people in STEM academic programs and professional careers to share their experiences, and empower a new generation.  Following Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, PhD on social media (and in real life) reaffirmed my experiences and desire to pursue this issue. She is the 63rd Black woman in the United States to receive a PhD in physics (there are less than 100), and she constantly speaks out about injustice through her writing. Trish Dziko, who has paved the way for Black and Brown youth to pursue STEM in Seattle for more than 20 years at Technology Access Foundation, inspired me to look more into the traditional education role in constructionism, which impacts a wider range of youth than after-school programs. Tacoma Action Collective, and their work around HIV/AIDS prevention through social justice inspired me to to think of how to approach this issue from a social justice lens.
Books that inspired my research include “Lifelong Kindergarten” by Mitch Resnick and “Why We Can’t Wait” by Martin Luther King Jr.

Below are listening methods that I have started to implement or will implement in the next few weeks with stakeholders.

Stakeholder Interviews
I began with a group stakeholder activity with the Lifelong Kindergarten research group. I started with this group, because they created the first Computer Clubhouse, and developed the four guiding principles they operate under. As a group, they identified creative learning activities, and next steps that can be paired with them. (Next steps can be college majors, summer programs, community college, technical college, four year university, etc.)

Comparative Analysis
During first semester I began doing research on who is already addressing the issue, and looked at other STEM subscription boxes. In the next few weeks, I will take a closer look at the subscription boxes and online communities for marginalized youth, to see what is already being done, and how what I want to do is different. This will allow me to identify gaps in what’s already being offered.

In addition to the methods listed above, I plan to implement the card sorting method before prototyping the online space and community.

Who should guide listening?

Image by Maureen Kavanaugh (

Image by Maureen Kavanaugh (

Because Aki and I are working with a partner who is not based in Boston, geography will determine the listening practices we will be able to employ. We’re trying to be creative – what listening practices can we employ when we are not on the ground with our partner? For our work we are hoping to learn more about some of Lois’s (our main representative from the partner institution) processes around fundraising and audience outreach, as well as determine more information about her network as it relates to fundraising, new audiences, and the two new developments that are slated for The Griot’s neighborhood.

Similar to Aki, believe that an activity analysis will be particularly important to dig deeper into Lois’ processes. She is nearly a one-woman shop who covers most of the tasks related to the museum. Similarly, focusing on flow analysis will also allow us to pin down how Lois’ activities connect, and may reveal opportunities within her processes. Some of these processes will give us better insight into what Lois has already tried, as well as roadblocks and areas less traveled.

For some elements of our initial co-research, I think it will be helpful to envision what future activities could look like–a realistic future with all of its potential snags, as well as an ideal future in which The Griot and Lois are thriving in the manner they would like. For this type of research I think the listening practice of journey mapping and role playing could be interesting, and I think both can be done over the phone/video chat. Journey mapping may be a helpful next step to activity and flow analyses and allow Lois and our design team to imagine more ideal processes. Role playing could allow for us to better understand how other key stakeholders, partners or users might engage with some of our design ideas, but also how Lois might disrupt processes that she is currently a part of and wants to change.

This week, because Aki and I were both out of the country, we completed a set of follow-up questions over email with Lois. The week prior we drafted a set of questions we wanted ask Lois. We began the conversation sharing a little about who Aki & I both are and what we are hoping to get out of the partnership. I think this set an honest and personable foundation for the codesign relationship. We sorted our interview questions for Lois into categories with sub-questions. We then traded off asking questions and then taking notes while on the call to make sure Lois understands that Aki and I are in true partnership, even though my relationship with her preceded the project.

I have been thinking the breadth of epistemologies and methods of communication that can be present in this partnership, and wondering if in listening practices are best selected to honor the subjects at hand, the preferences of the co designing partner, the preferences of the designer, or some sort of calculation of all of the above. At present, I believe Aki and I are navigating with the subjects as our guiding force. For example, if we need to learn more about how Lois fundraisers, we will undergo an activity analysis; however, perhaps later in the process as we begin to understand our partner more and vice versa, perhaps our listening strategies would evolve instead of meet the needs of our partners preferred ways of knowing or methods of communication.

Lastly, an additional part of our listening practice will be listening to what stories and voices haven’t we heard from, and who can help to build our richer understanding of the issues Lois wants to address through our partnership.

Listening Methods with CPA

Photo credit: Chinese Progressive Association (

Photo credit: Chinese Progressive Association (

We plan to work with CPA on either the Workers Center pro-union education initiative or the Chinatown Stabilization Public Goods Campaign. This will be decided by Friday of this week after a general staff meeting we are attending. Depending on which project we work on, we will have to draft a project agreement and schedule meetings with varied stakeholders, including CPA staff, workers in the Home Health Aid union and Hotel Workers Union, and/or Chinatown youth.

Method 1: Fly on the Wall
We were not able to attend the general staff meeting at CPA this week but we are scheduled to sit on their weekly staff meeting on Friday, March 16 at noon. This will help us gain a better understanding of current workflows and dynamics within the CPA office, and challenges the staff are facing.

Method 2: Flow Analysis/Ecosystem Map
We plan to create a flow analysis map with a CPA staff member who runs the specific project that we decide to work on—pro-union education (Fiona and Yusin) or public good campaign (Lydia or Mark). This exercise will help identify bottlenecks, opportunities, and stakeholders.

Method 3: Guided Tour
We plan to join one of their guided tours or ask them to take us on one within the next two weeks. Going on a tour will help us understand the spatial dynamics of the issues we will work on, including the public parcels in contestation or the workers’ places of work and community hubs.

Listening practices planning

I am really excited to get to practice some of the listening techniques we learned about in class last week.  Both Mallory and I are out of the country this week, but did some brainstorming last week and have laid out some plans for listening exercises with Lois at teh Griot Museum.

I found the listening technics of flow analysis and activity analysis to be helpful starting points for Mallory and I to keep building out a full picture of what is working (and what isn’t working) for Lois.  Flow analysis will help us see what are the usual order of operations for Lois for different buckets of work.  I think this will help us see what has been her strategy so far and what she has been able to prioritize given her large and various responsibilities.  I think Activity Analysis will help us see the innovative ways that Lois has been tackling the challenges and opportunities of the Griot — in my mind, the Activity Analysis gives a complete picture of all the activities that might be connected to Lois’s work as an ED and will help all of us see which activites have been effective and empowering to her and the museum.

We were also excited about using the listening technique of Forecasting.  This was a new technique for me.  I think the point of this listening technique is to challenge us to predict the future, both the positive and the negative.  So much of what the Griot will be working with to strengthen the organization will be things that have unpredictable consequences.  For example, new developments are something that the Griot might want to work with to strengthen the organization, but the affects of these new developments on the Griot is difficult to predict.  It would be great to practice thinking about what is the best case scenario for the impact of these new developments on the Griot…and what is the worst case scenario for the implact of these new developments on the Griot.

I also am excited to try doing some stakeholder mapping.  I am still looking into new tools we can use to do stakeholder mapping (please tell me if you all know of any!).  A few of us in class are looking to learn more about good , new strategies here.  I’ve used a tool that has two axises (one about whether a stakeholder is for/against your cause, the other for how much formal power/authority the stakeholder has) that has worked well.  Still, I’m wondering if there are other models out there for stakeholder mapping.

We plan to do some of these listening activites either as email or a phone call since we are in a different city from Lois. It will be a nice challenge to see if we can figure out ways to do these kinds of listening that are engaging and interactive when we’re not in the same room!


The organization I’m working with is the Massachusetts Trans Political Coalition (MTPC). This is my positionality regarding our working relationship.

  • I’m a college student, so more likely to be listened to than a child, but less likely to be listened to than a professional. However, I’ll be likely to be regarded as someone who will know how to reach people and be tech-savvy.
  • I am a White Mexican, so I’m already at an advantage of credibility over someone who maybe doesn’t read as White. (unfortunately so, but how working in the United States just happens to work.)
  • I have post-secondary education. I am in college, so that gives me more credibility in the eyes of Adults over someone who never went to college or finished high school.
  • My biological sex is female. Old White Dudes are prone to be patronizing because of this.
  • Sexual orientation is WEIRD, man. I feel like it’s hard to really talk about without addressing my own gender identity, which is also weird and in flux.
  • I have dual citizenship with Mexico. That has to be an advantage somehow.
  • I was raised as Catholic but am no longer practicing. This might help me appeal to religious people, since I’m familiar with Christianity and can draw from that.
  • I don’t come from a background of poverty, so I have more access to resources.
  • English is one of my first languages, so that is an advantage for me.
  • Gender identity is still something I’m figuring out, as I said before. BUT, I am working with MTPC, who is focused on the politics surrounding gender identity, so maybe I’ll figure myself out more when I work with them. They’re like the perfect people to work with.

What I hope to gain from working with MTPC:

  •  I hope to gain experience working with an organization who values a cause that is important to me.
  • I hope to gain design experience, and help people while doing so.
  • I am particularly interested in helping people like me, who are still Figuring Things Out.
  • I ALSO just hope to be a Force For GoodTM
the Power Flower!

the Power Flower!

On Design Justice Principles – William Wu

About a week and a half ago, I worked with a team to run a makeathon to address open issues around the MIT student community, such as mental health, access to food, finding study spaces, and more. We brought together student makers, leaders, and admins alike, to brainstorm, ideate, and prototype possible solutions.

Planning for the event began no earlier than September of last year. As a fairly meta “using the design process to design a design process”, we thought about how to create an environment of inspiration, a microcosm community around community improvement. Who would be the people involved? For how long? Which kinds of perspectives would be the most diverse?

Without realizing it, we had already incorporated many design justice network principles into our thinking. Namely:

2. We center the voices of those who are directly impacted by the outcomes of the design process.”

We, as students, are directly impacted by decisions by the administration. We believed that students, of all people, have critical insights and feedback to offer to improve student life and the MIT community.

“8. We work towards sustainable, community-led and -controlled outcomes.”

In fact, a few students have already stepped up to the challenge of improving the community. Services, platforms, and student groups have been formed with this intention – Firehose, a course planning app, LeanOnMe, an anonymous support network, Random Acts of Kindness week, to name a few. The we wanted our makeathon to serve as a springboard for future projects.

“6. We believe that everyone is an expert based on their own lived experience, and that we all have unique and brilliant contributions to bring to a design process.”

It can be tough as a student to envision life as an MIT administrator. Admins participating in the process were able to share their woes about project maintenance, lifecycles, and other unique viewpoints.

In retrospect, it would have been beneficial to document and share the design work during the makeathon for future events, as per “7. We share design knowledge and tools with our communities.” Even posting snippets and quotes during the event to the web, for example, may be useful to future designers.


Empowering Local Entrepreneurs

“The Entrepreneurship Expo” is a design project I’ve worked on that’s intent was to provide community support and exposure for local current and aspiring entrepreneurs. The organizers believed that the lack of these two assets were hindering small businesses from fully thriving. This led to the birth of this project.

Of the Design Justice principles, the most present in the project would be:

1. We use design to sustain, heal, and empower our communities, as well as to seek liberation from exploitative and oppressive systems.

  • The purpose of this project was to empower those within our community. We wanted to provide entrepreneurs with a platform to engage, inform, and share stories/support with one another.

3. We prioritize design’s impact on the community over the intentions of the designer.

  • It was clearly understood and communicated by all organizers that this project was not about us, ourselves, but about the impact on the community and those we sought to influence. The community was always first throughout the design process.

In addition, the principles that could have been more engaged include:

2. We center the voices of those who are directly impacted by the outcomes of the design process.

  • After many discussions of participatory design in this course, I’ve realized that the people most impacted by this project weren’t necessarily present throughout the entire design process. We planned and organized with a limited number of stakeholders, which caused voices to be unheard. Having consistent discussions and involvement from all stakeholders would have led to a more impactful outcome.

10. Before seeking new design solutions, we look for what is already working at the community level. We honor and uplift traditional, indigenous, and local knowledge and practices.

  • Our first step should have been to examine and discuss what is already working in the community. Instead, we went directly toward what needed to be fixed in regards to this project. I believe this stemmed from the goal of shifting away from what has been traditionally done, to introduce something new. However, taking time to look for what is already working would have been a beautiful thing to celebrate and honor. It would also be great in showing that things may not be as bad as they seem.

From the sidelines to the streets

I worked on part of a project in Nashville with main partners Conexión Américas (CA) and the Nashville Civic Design Center, an organization supporting development of the latino community in middle Tennessee. The project focused on the Nolensville Pike, which runs as an autocentric corridor through the South Nashville, a region where many immigrants have settled. In this area that has a large population of immigrants, many Latin Americans, a large Kurdish population in the U.S., and many immigrants from south and east Asia. The population of this area, just outside of the urban core, is growing quickly, but continues to maintain very typical suburban infrastructure. This means that the area is sprawling and not built for people but rather cars. Along the Pike speed limits are high, roads are wide, sidewalks crumbling, crosswalks few, (but growing number of) bikelanes sparse and it is just plain challenging to navigate these streets as a human and not an automobile. Auto-related injuries and deaths of pedestrians along the Pike are higher here than anywhere else in Nashville.

Despite the infrastructure, this neighborhood is thriving culturally and commercially. Casa Azafrán is a very active community center run by the beloved Conexión Américas; the Pike is home to a popular mosque; and many immigrant-run businesses dot the corridor. For economic and socio-cultural reasons, many residents in this area walk. Many rely on public transit, and walk from home to community centers, businesses, schools.

My team at Transportation for America & Nashville Civic Design Center worked with the latino community of Conexión Américas to address safety issues as they pertain to transportation infrastructure. With CA we held a workshop bringing together a wide variety of community members (members that CA typically engages with) to talk through some of the most pressing transportation-related challenges. Through these workshops, we identified that there was a divide between the older and younger generations about how they thought about transportation as well as the future of the area. To address this generational divide, we (the three organizations) facilitated a radio workshop in which the youth interviewed older residents about their experiences with transportation and hopes for the future and vice versa.

 conexion 1

Through this arts-based research we collectively learned that there is no safe way for residents to cross the busy street to get to the very active Casa Azafrán building. The groups also identified language barriers in signage that was only in English. Many older residents aren’t bilingual and can’t read all signs. The group proposed a bilingual crosswalk in front of CA as a solution. This crosswalk would be the first of its kind in Tennessee!

conexion 2

The design justice principles which I believe this project implemented was that the process helped sustain and empower the participants and users. Through the workshops, participants began to understand their creative agency and learned a bit about how to work with the city and advocate for community needs. The effort was largely focused on centering the voices of the people who use this infrastructure to learn what is working for them and what isn’t. We also had to slow down our process and add in a new step of the radio interviews, acknowledging that design is an ‘emergent’ process. We collaborated with a design firm and my team’s role was more of facilitator. The design team, however, participated as well as facilitator. I think we could have spent more time learning more about what is already happening in the community to address transportation and linguistic challenges.


Addressing Issues of Harassment, Abuse, Assault on an Organizational Level on College Campus

At Wellesley, the only formal outlet to address issues of sexual assault, harassment, or violence and to have them be recognized was through Title IX. Going through the Title IX process can be incredibly emotionally and mentally taxing, and may invalidate the reporter’s experience, especially when it involves members of the LGBTQ community. This process can be draining and painful yet still not hold the respondent accountable. Other colleges, however, have systems in place to hold individuals accountable at an organization level when the reporter wants to feel safe and comfortable in their community but not go through the Title IX process.

A person who had this experience explained this oversight to a group of organization presidents and myself. We recognized this constraint and saw that our organizations had no systems to address issues of harassment, abuse, and assault at an organization and community level along with the Title IX process or instead of going through the Title IX process. If a member of an organization was abusive, there was no way to hold them accountable without bringing in the college.

Though this is collegiate policy work, the process we went through felt similar to design justice work. We researched how other colleges’ organizations addressed these issues and spoke to Boston organizations that had experience in this domain. We then drafted our initial system and process to address these issues (along with outlining community standards at a broader level) and went through months of iteration to create the most comprehensive document that would make our communities safer. We included our respective communities in the iteration process as well.

After refining each system to work in our organization’s structure, we sent out a template for other organizations to apply a system like this and a system of community standards in their organizations if they were interested. We are now continuing to iterate with the college to create a more refined system that the college can offer to organizations that already exist or as they are created.

The first design justice principle, I believe, resonated most with this project: design to sustain, heal, and empower our communities, as well as to seek liberation from exploitative and oppressive systems. In this process, experts were not involved in the collaboration enough, which made the process inefficient and perhaps more strenuous and iterative than needed.

Creating a real reality show

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 10.40.56 AM

The design principle I relate to most is Number 7: We share design knowledge and tools with our communities.

In summer 2016 we did a televised version of the youth program I’d been running for 10 years. The goal was to document the social emotional learning process that occurs for youth creating media in a multicultural environment.

Our goal was to be transparent with our own process while simultaneously providing education and access to new technology. We first did a challenge on analyzing how the kids “showed up” in their auditions and what our first impressions of them were. Then they had to share how they felt in an “own your narrative” exercise. Then we taught them how to pitch and they had to give a 1 minute pitch to a live audience about why their short film idea should be picked. Then finally, we taught them how to shoot 360 video and they had to shoot a short 360 VR film.

Not only were we trying to be transparent in our process with the students, but also to the audience so we were tasked with the challenge of both highlighting the students’ progress without exploiting their experiences. We were doing a process while we were teaching a process while we were filming the process of us teaching the process.

The ethos was to challenge the dominant narrative that says inner city youth of color are unintelligent, lazy, powerless, victims of environment, etc. We wanted to highlight the creativity, ingenuity, resourcefulness, resilience, and general power and potential that I saw in my students every year that I felt the mainstream media rarely showed.