It is not often that I come across workshops specifically related to the intersection of the design of children’s media and the issues surrounding diverse representations of children, critical race theory, and inclusivity. When I saw the call for proposals to the Equity and Inclusivity workshop at the 2017 Interaction Design and Children conference, I looked forward to attending and meeting like-minded people who care about, study, and create within this intersection.
The workshop, co-organized by Kiley Sobel (University of Washington), Dr. Julie A. Kientz (University of Washington), Dr. Carmen Gonzalez (University of Washington), Dr. Jason C. Yip (University of Washington), and Dr. Tamara Clegg (University of Maryland), was structured in a way that encouraged industry professionals, researchers, students, and designers to discuss current issues surrounding equity and inclusivity in
our own work in addition to techniques for communicating these strategies and best practices within our respective fields. It was also exciting to hear that the workshop had merged with the Interaction Design & Autistic Children workshop, as I haven’t been previously involved in many conversations related to ability, an important intersectional identity to consider in design.
J. Elizabeth Mills (University of Washington) and I were excited to submit a proposal on behalf of KIDMAP (Kids’ Inclusive and Diverse Media Action Project), a grassroots coalition of which we are a part that aims to support the design and evaluation of diverse and inclusive children’s media by promoting collaboration between media creators, producers, researchers, and parents, by guiding media product recommendations and contributing perspectives to the ongoing conversations about representation in media. We proposed to present on two of KIDMAP’s current Diverse and Inclusive Growth (DIG) projects, namely the DIG Toolkit and DIG Checklist.
The DIG Toolkit is structured as a roadmap to ensure that inclusivity is addressed at each stage of media development, including (1) hiring, (2) budget and timeline, (3) audience and device choices, (4) concept design, (5) character design and casting, (6) art production, (7) audio production, (8) user testing and focus groups, and (9) marketing and social media. The DIG Checklist, which was created with the support of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, outlines guidelines for evaluating characteristics of inclusive media for children. The Checklist goes through categorical elements including: Content, Art, Audio, Audience, Purpose, Functionality and Navigation, Instructions and Guides, and Creative Team.
After short introductions, we broke into small groups to discuss our work on promoting equity and inclusivity. Though many of us had been having conversations in our own scholarly communities surrounding buzzwords such as equity, inclusivity, and intersectionality, I appreciated that workshop organizers took the time to define the differences between these terms to ensure that all of us were on the same page and felt included in the discussion. I made note of this act of defining terms prior to discussion as a best practice when discussing these topics with others both inside my learning community and beyond.
As discussed in co-organizer Kiley Sobel’s blog post about the workshop, the small groups were instructed to present various equity and inclusivity challenges from our own design and research projects. Our group, which included a mix of designers and researchers, focused first on the importance of asset-based approaches to research and design. Because a majority of us in the small group work with populations, such as children with autism, low-income Latino immigrant parents, and children of color, each member of our group found it of the utmost importance to approach our work in a way that does not promote deficit thinking and need-based approaches. This applied not only to our frame of thinking when creating research or design projects and our methods, but also in taking a critical stance on our own intersectional identities and the role that they play when interpreting and communicating our data.
We asked ourselves how it might be possible to operationalize intersectionality beyond theory and apply it to our work without a specific framework or methodology for doing so. Some suggested that storytelling might be an effective way of approaching design and research with different groups. We also discussed the challenge of being critical of how our work is actually impacting the communities that we study. Especially in academic research, our group found it critical to reflect on how our work gives back to the community in ways that are not recognized or incentivized. Some discussed family-based workshops that allow for participatory design, skill building, and increased resources.
The workshop organizers left us with imperative questions to consider even after the day was over. As I am early in my career, I feel that these questions will be very influential in my future research. I continue to ponder key questions posed by the organizers, and a few that may be helpful for those interested in the intersection of children’s media design and equity and inclusivity are:
- Why am I here? Though this question is broad, it reminds me to reflect on why I care about the issues that I do. What is the driving force that leads me to continue to do this work?
- Why did I choose research as opposed to activism? As a researcher, I found this question very interesting. I am led to wonder whether and in what ways research can be activism. In what ways am I an agent of change?
- What are my participants getting out of my work? As mentioned above, it is critical to reflect on how the communities that I work with, who are more than mere subjects, are actually benefiting from my work. Without such indicators, what hope do I have that my work is disrupting the cycle of systems that do not call for equity or inclusivity? What ethical questions do I have in terms of my methods?
- How does my own intersectional identity impact my work? How do different aspects of my identity and experience influence the ways in which I conceive of research ideas or design projects, the design of my methods, and the communication of my findings or products to those within and outside of my field?
This workshop was very transformative to my own thinking, and it would be valuable to have this meeting every year. Another valuable component was the collaborative structure of our day through collective note taking in Google Docs and Google Presentations, as well as the zine that the organizers compiled for us so that we can not only continue to reflect on the day but share our discussion with others in a creative way.
Briana Ellerbe is currently a doctoral student at University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Her research interests include children’s media as a potential tool for education and social justice, racial representations in media, and community-engaged research. Prior to joining USC, Briana worked as Research Manager at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop. There, she worked primarily on the Families and Media Project, doing research with families to highlight the innovative ways that they incorporate technology into their lives and learning arrangements, and helped to translate those findings for media producers and educators. She is currently involved with the Kids’ Inclusive & Diverse Media Action Project (KIDMAP), a coalition of media producers, researchers, and designers dedicated to the creation and evaluation of diverse children’s media.