OUT OF CONTEXT: Exploring the role of ethnographic interview technique in enabling an empathic approach to humanitarian design

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This article explores the potential of open-ended, ethnographic interviews of resettled refugees in Norway to allow for an understanding that can direct us in a more empathic, culturally sensitive design approach for humanitarian design. User-centered, participatory design methods focus on the importance of understanding, including and empowering the end-user through the concept development, by including the end-user of the product or system. Alternatives are needed for empathic designers when field access proves unfeasible and hinders participatory design methods. A better understanding of how to include the refugee perspective is needed. Current theories especially emphasize so-called “empathic design-methods” and the necessity of designing for the “cultural context”. These theories therefore imply that people have a static culture and a set value system. When people are displaced and have gone through life-changing events, they have been uprooted and their individual and collective cultural identities interrupted. The interview presented tries to grasp how identities are dynamic and how a long term stay in a refugee camp may affect an individual’s belief in their own capacities; self-reliance.

 Key words: humanitarian design, empathic design, refugee anthropology, ethnographic interview, refugee camp, identity, self-reliance

About Brita Fladvad Nielsen

I'm a Postdoctoral researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. My focus is on Smart Energy Communities in urban settings as well as design of energy-devices for emergency settings and design for humanitarian markets, especially for refugee camps in rural areas of Africa. I blog about my research approach Design Thinking on www.designthinkingresearch.wordpress.com and about humanitarian design at www.designforselfreliance.wordpress.com . I am also a mother of a child who is deaf, and I blog about her language development on Aurorasittsprak.wordpress.com
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