Session: Justice - a foundational part of design

Sticky Notes:

Embedding equity/DEIF and tech AND ag, not just HCD, not just hiring more BIPOC, how do we make tools AND spaces accessible to all and usable by all

How do we embed equity into our tech rather than have it be an afterthought?

Equity, access, inclusion, diversity should not be separate, tech but table stakes to achieve our mission


  • Feeling like DEI is a separate mission rather than inherent to the mission
  • Open Ag tech includes justice inherently
  • How do we move it from a separate mission to being foundational to our work and design?

Assumptions that are held about farmers:

  • ‘Farmers won’t do’ assumptions are not often reality, for example farmers can do a lot more with tech if we meet them where they are at
  • There are assumptions that farmers behave a certain way when in reality we have experienced farmers being very open, if we recognized this we could more successfully meet them where they are at
  • Where do these assumptions come from? For example, some of us have been told not to use ‘climate change’ with farmers because of assumptions around there beliefs
  • We don’t need people to change in order to help them! We just want to help people solve a problem!
  • Who’s holding the toxic assumptions? It perhaps is the people in our own organization that have pigeon holed farmers into a certain framing that means we have trouble breaking barriers and forming connections
  • Our own assumptions in the system hold us back
  • Farmers are adaptive - showing that moving towards a more environmentally friendly practice that also benefits farmers there may be less push back (yes AND mentality)
    • In practice this is more difficult and can be a tough sell


  • There are a spectrum of early and late adopters
  • The way data and tech is organized influences how and who people will use it, we can work to integrate culture into these tools to make them more accessible and understandable
  • Technology is never neutral, it is created with an agenda


  • Helping smallholder farmers who are organic but cannot produce enough yield to feed themselves. One side/argument is to access fertilizers, pest control, etc so they can feed themselves and access markets. One side is that we are entering an organic market
  • The chemical approach has been tried - dropping chemicals at the doorstep without education/awareness raising, has problems
  • We don’t make these types of conversations and meeting farmers where they are at central to our mission (ie our grants have deliverables and outputs, rather than something like ‘go understand this group for a year’)

Barriers and challenges:

  • DEI should be ‘invisible’ not feel separate
  • How do we center individuals that have been marginalized, how do we bring these people into leadership roles?
  • ‘Move fast and break…’ how do we move away from this and move more slowly and thoroughly? Especially since we have urgent issues. If we work fast, we perpetuate the same ‘solutions’. This is economically oriented, instead we want to go more slowly and analysis needs carefully
    • Moving fast is the opposite of how you build a relationship
    • Focus on building relationships to build trust, moving fat may lose efficiency as you have to go back and build it over and over again
    • There may be some efficiency in being more international
  • How do we work in a system with a pervasive sense of speed and sense of urgency, quantity over quality White Supremacy Culture Characteristics
    • These characteristics make it hard to invest in relationship building
    • Innovation cannot happen without community and relationship building
    • If we run too fast in the beginning we won’t get anywhere
    • These characteristics are baked into how we work and our culture
    • Quick economic decisions
    • Two types of urgency
      • Manufactured urgently - we need to beat out competitors, economic, competitive thing, innovation for the sake of innovation not actually making a needed thing, just bringi something to market that is not needed
      • Real urgent towards fixing an ecosystem level change
  • Nature as our resources to exploit VS being part of nature
  • ‘Grind’ culture, not supporting work life balance


  • Language has moved from tolerance to inclusion
  • We can all benefit from designing and understanding people with different abilities
  • ‘Adaptive’ technology means it adapt to meet people’s abilities (for example, if someone is injured, does not have eyesight etc being new opportunities to design)
  • NGO prmoting green business in different country, wanted to come up with finalzied product to sell to market, already had formula, supply chain, etc. They owned the company that imported
    • Open opportunities, producers will take the path that is more convenient for them
  • Concepts of degrowth - how can we make tech less orient towards growth, perhaps shifting more towards relationships, shifting away of things as GDP as a measurement

Potential solutions:

  • Outreachy (Outreachy) program funds tech internships etc
  • Challenge our own assumptions and our organization’s assumptions going into projects and programs
  • Being at the table isn’t enough, we need to think about the whole solution
    • E.g we can invite people to meetings, are we providing support for them to get there, to effectively participate, etc
  • Effectincy is important, farmers may want to see results more quickly (for example accessing markets to sell their products) and things like interface design might not be as important
  • We all have a bias of sustainable practices, democratic practice, etc. We want to move the system in a certain direction (e.g we could want a farmers practice to become obsolete to be more regenerative, sustainable, etc so we may be confounding a farmer and receive pushback since we are trying to change the system)

Free, prior, and informed consent: Free, Prior and Informed Consent | Indigenous Peoples, Free Prior and Informed Consent – An Indigenous Peoples’ right and a good practice for local communities – FAO

I was really moved by this session (and deeply sorry for how late I came to it!). I found the “White Supremacy Culture” graphic that @ljodom shared to be an especially helpful aid to the discussion (and I just went hunting for a larger version of that graphic, which I’ll put at the bottom of this post* since it’s slightly easier to read).

I also appreciated Shefali’s comments (is she on here?) about moving slower (ie, instead of with “urgency”) and thinking about what it means to go into a place that’s not the U.S. or Europe, then try to “fix” things according to our USian or European opinion of what’s broke and why. I’m still ruminating on all this, but I keep coming back to how so much of this seems to reflect on a need to categorize and distinguish “environmental” problems from “justice” problems from “economic” problems and so forth. Doubly so when we’re coming at it from a designers perspective. It’s so easy to just bracket off and ignore so many of the underlying reasons why these forms of agriculture are “broken” in the first place, if we choose to narrow our view of the problem space.

I really hope we can have more conversations like this in the future!

* Graphic from Melanie Walby (she’s got a lovely print version of it on her store!), via the “And…” section of the website: