From Needs to Strengths: Operationalizing an Assets-Based Design of Technology

A space to rethink the role of communities’ needs and strengths in the design of transformative technology-based interventions

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Guided by human-centered design perspectives centered on users’ needs, CSCW research and practice have increasingly explored how to address the intersecting inequities faced by historically marginalized people. A growing body of CSCW and HCI research builds on education and community development literature to highlight that prioritizing users’ needs may hinder sustained impact. A needs-based design approach can lead to interventions for the “here and now” that, by seeing users as plagued with problems they cannot solve on their own, may perpetuate stereotypes.

In contrast, an assets-based approach puts users’ knowledge, strengths, and capacities — assets — at the core of design.

Assets-based design — with its appreciative focus on users’ “haves” — holds value in promoting agency, autonomy, and thereby realizing a sustained impact.

Translating assets into meaningful designs that coexist with intersecting systems of oppression, however, raises critical questions: What are assets? Whose assets are privileged? What ethical considerations surface when facilitating assets-based reflections? How can an assets-based design tackle systems-level problems? These are the kinds of questions that we will examine in this CSCW workshop.

Our workshop will be led by a team consisting of scholars and industry leaders working in and across the fields of CSCW, Education, HCI, PD, and ICTD. We all share the commitment of exploring an assets-based perspective towards the design of technologies that address the needs of historically marginalized groups and are sensitive to the complexities raised by intersecting axes of identity, such as class, gender, race, and culture.

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