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Anchors and Stars: The Guiding Values of Open Design

Aria Chernik & Kevin Hoch

At the Open Design Studio at Duke University, we developed an equity-centered innovation methodology called open design. Open design has four iterative phases (understand, create, evaluate, share), each framed through a key question. This methodology is used across social sectors (such as health, education, and economic development) to co-create solutions to complex challenges that have prohibited the ability of all people to flourish. In a learning context, engaging in open design enables students to develop critical, creative, and courageous thinking skills and habits of mind necessary for a participatory and self-determined life.

An equity-centered innovation process, open design engages critical stakeholders traditionally left out of decision-making and creative processes and is deeply informed by active inclusivity, transparency, and collaboration. We hold these values as both anchors and stars.

As anchors, these values ground our community and what we co-create. The processes and end results of our work must be fastened to these values in concrete and identifiable ways. These values are our first principles; they are the forces that root and connect us. As stars, these values are also aspirational; they form constellations that guide our paths toward transformation that we chart together. We use “transformation” here in the way it was conceived by educator and philosopher Paulo Freire. Freire’s aspiration for learners is that they come to see the world through critical perception as “a reality in process, in transformation.” [1] Our aspiration is that through these values, we can co-create more equitable, flourishing, participatory communities. Communities in transformation.

Active Inclusivity. It is easy to say, “Everyone is welcome.” It can even be easy, although logistically complex, to establish diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings, initiatives, and departments. What is more challenging is cultivating a space that aspires to ethical hospitality, of “being-for-the-other,” a concept developed by philosophers Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida. Ethical hospitality is an imperative that we act as authentic, boundless hosts, especially when we encounter difference. Levinas and Derrida would frame this encounter as the countenance (or the face) of difference, of the other. As Levinas notes, “The other engages you in a situation where you are obligated without culpability, but your obligation is not less for all that. It is at the same time a charge. It is heavy and, if you will, goodness is just that.” [2] Logistical complexity is not heavy; active inclusivity is.

Transparency. Our work at the Open Design Studio is informed by the open source model for software and community development. Transparency is a key open source value, and has been succinctly explained as: “we all have access to the information and materials necessary for doing our best work. And when these materials are accessible, we can build upon each other’s ideas and discoveries. We can make more effective decisions and understand how decisions affect us.” Access to information allows us to learn, contribute, and grow. It is also political; honest and open exchange are critical to a thriving democracy.

Collaboration. Deep collaboration at the Open Design Studio is not an ethos of “divide and conquer.” Divide and conquer is a siloed cutting and pasting, a surface glueing, a collage. We use the term collaboration to mean organic co-creation. To collaborate is to co-labor, to enact a process, and to develop a solution that could not have happened without each person involved. Collaboration at the Open Design Studio is also intrinsically tied to community, as true collaboration requires co-creation with and through participatory communities.

We acknowledge the deep complexity—the heaviness—of transformative solutions for equitable flourishing. And so we offer this summary as an opening start, and not an end, to how active inclusivity, transparency, and collaboration can engender a reality in process. We look forward to you joining us on this path of participatory learning. Together we can identify constellations for our new community and chart a course toward transformation. All are welcome.

Notes: [1] Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition. Continuum, 2000. 83. [2] Levinas, Emmanuel. “The Proximity of the Other.” Is It Righteous to Be? Stanford U P, 2001. 216.