About this guide
Remote participation in co-design sessions increases their accessibility by including those who cannot attend in-person for any reason. This may include individuals who cannot travel due to illness or mobility limitations, or because the location is too far or travel costs are too high. The pandemic has increased both the need and the possibilities for remote participation, whether it be through fully remote workshops or hybrid in-person and remote approaches.
This guide describes different approaches to remote co-design, including suggestions for facilitation, activities, and technology.
The need for new approaches
It might be tempting to use familiar workshop structures when planning and running remote co-design sessions. However new approaches may be needed when including remote participants or leading a fully remote session. People have different attention spans and limits when working at a computer, and can experience distractions in their physical environment when working remotely. Technical limitations due to the use of video conferencing or other tools can also present unique challenges.
There are many creative possibilities when it comes to developing new approaches for remote co-design. These may include the following:
- Synchronous: participants working on something together at the same time/in the same “space”
- Asynchronous: participants working on something together but at different times/on their own
- Partially remote: some participants join remotely while others are together at a physical venue
- Fully remote: all participants join remotely
Synchronous remote co-design
Synchronous work allows the whole group to meet and discuss ideas together. This can make it easier to develop relationships in a team. It can also make it easier to clarify and align goals within the group, and allows the group to build more spontaneously on each other’s ideas.
The sessions can take place via phone conferencing, video conferencing, or a combination of both.
Consider creative ways to engage participants during remote sessions. In one example, a facilitator documented the co-designer’s ideas live on a chalkboard in a way that was visible to the participants. The use of a typically in-person documentation technique in this way proved to be very engaging and successful for this remote co-design session.
Considerations for synchronous remote co-design
It is usually best to keep workshops with remote participation shorter than in-person workshops. This helps to avoid screen-time fatigue and meet the added challenges of staying focused when participating from a personal or home space.
- Having co-designers complete preparatory activities before or between workshops can help to decrease the time needed to be together in the workshop.
Schedule breaks generously and as needed
Check ahead of time that all participants have the required technology to take part
- Consider any device or bandwidth limitations when setting up a video conference
Be flexible with the agenda and timeline, making room for distractions, unexpected interruptions, and technical malfunctions
- Members of the participant’s family may be in the room including children or younger siblings; there may be a dog barking or noises from the street. Prioritize the co-designers' comforts and needs rather than expecting them to change locations or their behaviour.
- Technologies such as assistive devices may malfunction or stop working. Be prepared to make time to assist in troubleshooting, and to reschedule if the technology isn't cooperating.
Develop a list of guidelines for participation with the group, including:
Agreements about muting (or not muting) your microphone when not speaking
Different ways the co-designers can participate in the discussion. Some examples include:
- Using the "raise hand" feature in Zoom to create a speaker list
- Raising your hand while visible on video
- Putting questions in the chat window
- Holding up a drawing or writing or other object
- Going around the “room” to give each participant a chance to share
How and when to use a chat window for questions and discussion
Use of the chat can be a barrier to those relying on screen readers, since negotiating multiple channels of audio input at once (i.e., voice and screen reader) can be difficult. One solution is to take pauses to allow for all participants to read what is in the chat panel.
Copying ideas or questions from an oral conversation into the chat can be helpful for those who prefer to read them
Having a designated person watching for chat content is helpful in order to free the facilitator up to pay attention to the participants
Consider the use of private vs. public chatting
- Some participants are more comfortable with private chatting (i.e., to a specific individual)
- In other cases the host may wish to turn private chatting off
Let participants know whether they need to come prepared with any materials (e.g., pen and paper) or technologies (e.g., a smartphone) in order to participate in an activity.
If your participants are split between being on location and being remote, make sure everyone can communicate easily with each other, especially the remote participants
- This can include texting or use of other messaging services
- Agreements should be made and tested out beforehand as to how communication will happen during the session
Asynchronous remote co-design
Asynchronous work can be more inclusive because participants can respond in their own time, instead of having to complete activities within a specific time frame. It also gives those who might be too shy to speak in a large group a chance to participate more fully. It reduces the amount of time needed to be together in a workshop which helps with screen-time fatigue for remote participants.
Asynchronous remote co-design can happen in many ways. The following are a few examples, although there are many creative approaches to doing this.
Structured activities can be done individually or in smaller groups prior to a co-design session, or in-between sessions.
Co-designers can share their ideas and/or design artifacts online in a place where all participants can access them.
- This could be through a chat platform or by using shared folders and documents, or posting documents, videos or other media to a shared platform.
Materials can be sent to co-designers with a request to respond to them via a chat platform within a given timeframe
- This can help to start a discussion amongst the group
- This can spark an ongoing ideas generating and feedback cycle within the group.
There are many possible technical approaches to asynchronous remote co-design. Think creatively about how you can use existing tools and platforms or develop your own unique approach. Some suggestions include:
- Group chat tools, like WhatsApp, Slack, or Discord
- Phone conferencing, especially when co-designers have low bandwidth or no internet for video conferencing
- Using "snail mail" to have facilitators and/or participants mail things back and forth to each other
- Providing workshop kits via mail, pickup or home delivery, in order to share creative materials for co-design activities (e.g., templates, markers, plasticine, coloured paper).
General considerations for remote co-design
Limit your co-design to a smaller number of participants, or use breakout groups to allow for small group discussion
- Take into account each co-designer's unique needs and whether or not you will be able to meet these needs simultaneously
- In some cases it may be necessary to have a one-on-one session with certain co-designers in order to meet their needs sufficiently
- Grouping participants together in small groups who have similar accessibility needs can be helpful, but may not be conducive to your workshop goals (e.g., if you wish to maintain diverse groups)
Where possible have a dedicated facilitator available by chat, phone or email to answer any questions during the course of the co-design work.
Double-check differences in time zones and confirm the time of the session with any participant in a different time zone.
- When in a video conference, respect that you are entering the participant’s home and personal space.
- Provide or develop clear confidentiality agreements with participants.
- Allow participants to keep their video feed off when necessary.
- Context: Facilitators shared a prototype with a participant who had recently become blind and was new to screen reader technology.
- What happened: In this remote co-design session we planned on asking the participant to share his screen and describe his navigation techniques for us.
- The problem: During planning we realized that we may put his privacy at risk since he was not familiar with screen access features and may not have been aware of what he was sharing on screen.
- The solution: The facilitators communicated this concern to him and instructed all participants to turn off certain notifications before sharing their screen during the session.
Sharing and collaborating
Shared document folders can be created online for individual co-designers or groups where materials, worksheets, and consent forms can be shared, and sketches and drawings can be uploaded. This helps with organisation by keeping everything in one place.
Collaborative sketching platforms such as Miro, Google Draw, Figma, or Excalidraw can be useful for synchronous or asynchronous collaboration.
- Note: the accessibility of these platforms is currently limited. It is always best to provide a variety of tool options for participants to use so they can find one that meets their needs and the needs of the group as a whole.
- Check to see if participants are already using any tools that may be more familiar and accessible to them.
- Where possible use tools and platforms that participants are familiar with or are already using.
- Consider the accessibility needs of participants when choosing any tool or platform, whether it be for video conferencing, collaborative sketching, chatting, etc.
- Send out a link to the conferencing room(s) to participants ahead of time.
- Use breakout rooms where needed and where possible to form smaller groups.
- Try to do a test run with participants before the session.
- Make sure both remote and in-person participants know how to use their microphones to avoid any disturbance.
Co-designers may wish to have a parent, teacher, friend, assistant, and/or caregiver present in the session with them.
- Take the lead from the participant in terms of how or if their caregiver will participate in the session.
Create a remote access guide
- An access guide is an effective way to introduce people to an event they are invited to participate in. It can contain information about the event, the agenda, the facilitators, and any accommodations that have been arranged.
- Access guides can include how to set up the technology (e.g., how to use the chosen conferencing platform), or a link to the folder of documents to review before the session.
- Sharing an introductory video can be helpful for participants. This may include footage of the co-design facilitators introducing themselves, images of the venue and/or details of the event.
- An access guide is especially useful for asynchronous co-design sessions, since participants may not meet directly with the facilitators before beginning the co-design work.