Core 77 Spotlights Service Design Ethnographer, Panthea Lee

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Image courtesy of Panthea Lee

Ethnography Matters hopes to interview Panthea Lee of reBoot with our own list of questions, but in the meantime, Dave Seliger of Core 77 tracked Panthea down A Better World By Design conference. For those of you who are not familiar with Panthea’s work, Tricia Wang wrote about Panthea’s Design Research essay a few months ago on Ethnography Matters.

We liked Panthea’s explanation of NGO’s perception of their own value in a community:

With a lot of these NGO’s, people assume they’re doing a lot of good work and then they design a program poorly or design a bad service and they put it out there and beneficiaries have to use it because they don’t have any other options. There’s no accountability.

Panthea then cuts through the hype of designing for “social change”:

Design for social change is a very “sexy” topic and you see a lot of design firms now going to the public sector and to NGO’s saying, ‘We’re designers, we’re here to help you!’ And they’re like, ‘What are you talking about? You don’t speak our language, you don’t know development theory, you don’t know our approach.’ It helps to know why things are the way they are today because so much of the time you see people jumping in and saying, ‘We’re going to design for change and things are going to be better.’

But what’s the context around why we have these problems to begin with? What has already been tried? I think design firms—well-intended, very talented—don’t always understand that and so I think governments look at them a little weirdly. With most of the people from Reboot, we come from those kinds of organizations and we know what we don’t know. I think that is an advantage for us.

Read the rest of the interview with Panthea on Core 77, A Better World By Design Spotlight on Panthea Lee of Reboot.  And if you didn’t get to go the conference, Dave Seliver provides a roundup of each day of the conference a the end of the post!

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Categories: Quotes

Author:tricia wang

I research how technology makes us human. As a cultural sociologist, I use a range of ethnographic methods to create socially relevant insights about how people use digital tools in their day to day lives. I write about digital culture at Culturalbyt.es, China tech at BytesofChina.com, and cities at DigitalUrbanis.ms. Follow me on twitter @triciawang.

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