Applying Equity Design to Address Oakland’s Homelessness Human Rights Crisis
Keywords:Social equity, homelessness, design, detoxify, liberation
In this case study, we present a project of Reflex Design Collective, an experimental social equity design consultancy based in Oakland, California. Since founding Reflex Design Collective four years ago, we have reimagined the role of “designers” to transform relationships structured by oppression. To illustrate this reimagination, we present a case study of our work as ecosystem-shifters. In 2017, we facilitated a co-design innovation summit where unhoused Oakland residents led collaborative efforts to alleviate the burdens of homelessness, with city staff and housed residents serving as allies instead of experts. Our approach to design facilitation differs from a typical design thinking process by pairing our clients with those on the front-lines of social inequity in a collaborative design process. Specifically, we elevate the importance of democratized design teams, contextualized design challenges, and ongoing reflection in a design process. We highlight successes of our design facilitation approach in the Oakland homelessness summit, including outcomes and areas for improvement. We then draw higher-level key learnings from our work that are translatable to designers and managers at large. We believe our approach to equity design will provide managers and designers an alternative mindset aimed to amplify the voices of marginalized groups and stakeholders.