Approaches to design for change, design-led ethnography

My first task was to develop a general understanding in the gender equality topic through collecting data from secondary sources. These secondary sources referred to articles from newspapers, magazines and online news sources.

To begin deepening my knowledge in the subject this step was absolutely necessary and it gave me a clear overview of how the debate around the issue is shaped in Australia today. The analysis of the articles was preformed by contrasting and critiquing the authors positions and viewpoints. Due to the nature of the subject, the authors behind these articles are often very earnest and invested in their opinions, which resonates in their work.


My second task was set to identify two scholarly articles on the gender equality subject, and build knowledge on how the issue is positioned in these.

This was also a step in the right direction to further investigate the subject. I chose articles that described the issue from clearly different angles, locally and internationally. I found that one of these articles was much more profound than the other, this reinforced the lesson about researching the authors more closely.


The third task was commenced together with my peers through mapping out the stakeholders/participants involved in the gender equality issue.

Using our knowledge obtained from our secondary sources in previous research tasks we identified the stakeholders and their degree of impact and influence in the issue.

Mapping exercise
Mapping exercise by Ahlstrom, C. Carmody, A. Dulawan, B. Vuong, A. (2016)

We all agreed on that this exercise was helpful in discovering the bigger picture, since we all researched in different areas and direction in the gender equality topic. We determined connections between the participants and we also saw how stakeholders affected each other. I built further on the maps to extract more information and gained more clarification in the issue through this.


The fourth task I developed upon was to identify and research a project produced by a designer / design studio relating to work and gender equality.

This task was challenging in terms of finding an example that was innovative with its design thinking and also based on the gender equality subject. The project I chose to research, the Data Explorer by WGEA (2015), was showing a great way of how to utilise and visualise data and make it more accessible for the public. This example is however not necessarily original and experimental in its execution, although based on the subject it related to I found that the research gave me useful knowledge.


In another research task I accumulated an image library of images depicting the issue around gender equality.

This task led me into another type of secondary source research, where your own opinion is brought forward provoked by certain images that are subjective. In hindsight it was interesting to see what type of images I collected and what this said about my own opinion.


Another primary source research I conducted was an interview with a peer in which I asked and discussed a few questions I developed revolving gender equality. (Ahlstrom 2016, pers. comm., 16 August)

The questions I formed were:

“Where would you position yourself on a scale of conservative and liberal values, why?”

“Have you ever felt or worried about gender stigmas towards any of your decisions or ambitions?”

“Have you based an idea around your own parental leave logistics, have you ever worried about effects on your career?”

“Do you feel like the contemporary popular culture are pushing towards or against gender equality?”

I received thorough and interesting answers from my interviewee based on her personal experiences and background from another country with different culture. However, the questions regarding parental leave was not something she had considered yet. The interview invited into a discussion about the differences in gender equality between cultures, and how we would imagine this would be challenged as a result of globalisation. The world is coming closer together and in these blurred lines and borders our values  are colliding. This topic also transferred into my interviewees issue of choice, about refugee and asylum seekers.

The interview might have been more successful if my questions were framed differently considering that the interviewee was not in the situation to face these decisions. Due to this the interview turned into merely an open conversation, which was definitely worthwhile. What I take away from this is the importance of remembering who your audience is and how this always should be taken into account.


I developed the following probe task for my interviewee to develop upon:

“Draw a diagram showing the split of parenting between your parents”

Together with this task I gave my interviewee a few general divisions such as cooking, transport, cleaning etc. in where she would rank her parents participation.

Probe task
Split of parenting between parents by anonymous  (Ahlstrom 2016, pers. comm., 23 August)

The response to the probe task made me realise instantly that I provided too few ‘parenting’ divisions to be able to extract any useful data. For example, this diagram probably only reflects the interviewees most recent experience with her parents since it does not give a timeline. Neither does the diagram indicate what measures it uses. The task in itself worked well as a practise for this research approach. This form of probe task would be most useful and accurate if it was conducted as a survey, to be able to compare result and measure the data.


Lastly, I collaborated with my peers in a word exercise in which we ordered and experimented with words relating to the gender equality subject. This method of primary research was new to me and my peers and we were uncertain in how to determine and find insights in the subject.

word_06 copy
Map of issue words and stakeholders with influence by Ahlstrom, C. Doust, G. Hartwig, Z. (2016)

At one point in the exercise we were asked to explore other groups word accumulations, regarding the same or other topics, and leave a mark on words that had an influence on you. It was interesting to see the result of this, as the words that were picked were not necessarily the ones that we had considered being most influencing at first. This task certainly extended my vocabulary in the subject as well.

Word accumulation relating to gender equality issue by Ahlstrom, C. Doust, G. Hartwig, Z. (2016)

Learning Outcomes

  • The first step in commencing research should always be to explore secondary sources
  • The importance of primary research methods and mapping out your understanding of the subject to clarify
  • The importance of investigating and considering authors
  • Keep your audience in mind at all times, especially in interviews
  • The importance of language and building up a vast vocabulary in a research subject
By Camilla Ahlström

Ahlstrom, C. Carmody, A. Dulawan, B. Vuong, A. 2016, Mapping of stakeholders, class exercise, University of Technology, Sydney
 Ahlstrom, C. Doust, G. Hartwig, Z. Word accumulation & mapping relating to gender equality issue, class exercise, University of Technology, Sydney
 WGEA, 2015, WGEA Data Explorer, viewed on 21 August, <>


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