When Does CoDesign Become Consulting?

I recently wanted to apply for an art thing. Only it required in person attendance. Which, as a mostly housebound person… didn’t feel doable. I sent in a query about how to have a modified version of this so I could apply for the art thing. I received a thoughtful response, but it lead me to asking this question:


When Does CoDesign Become Consulting?

Where are the boundaries here? At what point is it exploitative to do codesign? When does labour become valued enough to pay for it? 


What is CoDesign?

Codesign can also be called participatory design. What it means is that instead of a person (and lets face it, a person in a position of power) making the decisions on what a project or plan looks like, it includes all people/groups who may be impacted by it.


A simple example might be a new footpath. Instead of a council engineer deciding where the footpath should go, they talk to the community (who will be the ones actually using the footpath), and  actively decide together where the footpath is most useful. I say actively decide together because other forms of consultation may be passive and/or box ticking and should not be considered codesign.  Obviously who is involved can get complex because projects can get complex. 


You could probably write a PhD thesis on the entire topic; I’m aware of articles that discuss decolonising codesign. I’m not attempting to explore this academically, I’m attempting to work out my opinion on the topic. I am over simplifying at times.


Where is the boundary?

Codesign likes to weight ideas as somewhat equal. At the very least, the ideas merge together to come up with the most suitable outcome. Ideas are equal. That is good.


But what about other factors? If the person who used to make the decisions in these contexts was a highly paid expert, what does this mean for the people participating? Are they financially valued? If a consultant in charge of a project is getting paid $1000 a day, who are the participants getting paid? Can you claim their ideas are equally valued if they are not similarly financially compensated for those ideas? 


Is it expected that people are so grateful to be included that they donate their time? Is it equal if they get a cab voucher or parking paid for? 


I’m thinking about the reply I received about the art thing I wanted to apply for. They had some suggestions, and asked me for my opinion. not wrong, by any means. But I have limited energy (cheers to long covid). I need to be paid for the time I spend on bureaucracy because it means I’ll need to give up something or pay for someone to do things for me that I can no longer do, because my energy was spent elsewhere. 


Where is the boundary?

Leave a Reply