From Workshops to Civic Life: Participatory Design in Supporting Immigrants’ Civic Engagement in Finland

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Bachelor's thesis
Major of Design
Degree programme
Bachelor's Programme in Design
The population with foreign backgrounds in Finland has increased significantly within the past decades, urging the Finnish society to strengthen the integration process. Integration is defined as an interactive development process that requires mutual accommodation from both the immigrants and the hosting society by the Finnish government. Within the present integration monitoring system, public participation has been assessed as a strong indicator of integration. This bachelor’s thesis aims to investigate the roles of design and designers in supporting immigrants’ civic engagement in Finland. As a form of public participation, civic engagement refers to residents’ participation in improving community conditions. Conventionally, public participation is studied regarding electoral activities and membership associations. This thesis adopts an alternative angle to research the political dimensions of integration through participatory design. The theoretical framing of this study is located at the intersection between immigration integration, participatory design, and public participation. Therefore, the literature review primarily examines the statistics and policy documents about immigrant integration in Finland and the prior studies in participatory design. The qualitative research consists of semi-structured expert interviews with eight designers who have adopted participatory methods in public service or space development projects, where both immigrants and public agencies were stakeholders. One limitation is that the sampled projects were mostly situated in the Greater Helsinki Region. Furthermore, the findings were drawn from the designers’ experience only. Future studies may complement the research with non-designers' perspectives. The analysis of interviews with designers and their project context revealed several common design challenges and practices. The challenges can be categorized into four themes: 1) human aspects, 2) social, cultural, and political aspects, 3) time and other resources, and 4) organizational aspects. Moreover, six practices were observed from the interviews. In most projects, designers collaborated with other experts and organizations, adopt various methods besides workshops to engage the target group, and contextualised the design activities with the target groups’ routine activities. Additionally, some designers mentioned their actions on creating a trustful discussion environment, framing boundaries for sensitive topics, and acknowledging participants’ expertise. As these challenges and practices are context-specific, the interviewees emphasized the importance of avoiding assumptions about the target groups in design. The outcome of this thesis constitutes an overview for designers who wish to advance immigrants’ civic engagement through participatory methods in Finland. Based on the limitations and practices, this thesis identified four layers of designers’ roles: 1) as the facilitator of collaboration, 2) as the trigger of change, 3) as an individual in the social fabric, and 4) as the interpreter of cultures. The multi-faceted role of designers and modalities can be further applied to a broader context of socially meaningful design initiatives.
Chun, Namkyu
Thesis advisor
Veselova, Emilija
participatory design, immigration integration, public participation, civic engagement, design research, civic design, service design