Realising participatory design with children and young people: a case study of design and refurbishment in schools

Lead Research Organisation: Coventry University
Department Name: Art and Design


In this research we will use 12 case studies of the consultation period of the design and refurbishment of nursery, primary and secondary schools, to gain knowledge and understanding of participatory design practices with children and young people. We will build on 2 Phase 1 research cluster activities: the view of the child: explorations of the visual culture of the made environment and designing healthy and inclusive public outdoor spackes for young people.

Schools are challenging environments, having to address the needs and requirements of many diverse groups. The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) program is seen by many as a way of addressing the problems of out of date building stock. It is also an opportunity for children and young people to have a real voice in the design of an environment which should enable them to achieve their full potential. Current models and practices of participatory design with children and young people are suboptimum, with little evidence of true participation by diverse groups.

The case studies conducted in rural, town and inner city schools will enable the identification of models and methods unsed in consultation and requirement specification phases. From this we will be able to elucidate common practices amongst designers, understand how children and other stakeholders feel about their input and whether recommendations were embodied in the final design. This information will inform models of cultural and social geography, educational ergonomics and design research.

However, one of our main objectives is to effect change in design practice in the 21st century. Therefore our dissemination activities will also include the production of recomendations and guidelines and a subsidised multistakeholder workshop, that can inform those wishing to undertake participatory design with children and young people, so that all can derive maximum benefit from the process.

This project is timely and appropriate considering the levels of investment in education, the need to engage sophisticated, but disenfranchised young people in school, and the design of their environments and increase a sense of ownership and responsibility for school buidlings.

The case study approach we are using will be primarily centered on the experiences of children, young people and those directly involved in the design and refurbishment (teachers, governors, school managers, domestic assistants, parents) gained through 'conversations with purpose', semi structured interviews and observational studies. Additionally, we are also interested in the designers / architects who lead the process, their views on participation, the methods they use (especially visualisations) and school design. Although not central to this research, we will also be seeking designers' views on roles and responsibilities over the lifetime of the building. If the new and refurbished buildings are going to persist through the 21st century, then they will have to adapt and change as their role in the community, the populations that inhabit them, and the lessons and technology that they support evolve. We are therefore interested in developing models of participatory design that can accomodate and inform such evolution.

The team primarily consists of ergonimists and geographers, who met at the Access and Integration in Schools Conference at Coventry University, 2005. They share a fundamental belief in putting the child first in all decisions relating to the design of school environments and equipment and that children and young people's reactions to the environment may be explained through an understanding of the social, physical, cultural and organisational environment of schools. This research will hopefully form the start of a long lasting collaboration which will inform models and concepts of design research educational ergonimics and social ecology as related to school environments. We are not aware of other cross discipli


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