Doing Good is Hard: Ethics, Activism, and Social Impact Design as Seen from the Grassroots Perspective

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This paper shares the experiences of two teams of design professionals working on parallel grassroots social impact design projects to address poverty and financial precarity in Silicon Valley and London. This paper explores challenges facing these teams as they channel a sense of moral outrage into the research and development of alternitives to high-risk financial services like payday loans. It charts the open, inclusive design process of these teams as they engage community partners and recognize the financial expertise of people getting by on tight incomes. The paper concludes with a discussion of how working slowly and openly through transdisciplinary communities of practice—like the two groups described here, or EPIC itself—can help keep alive conversations around power and activism in the practice of design and ethnographic research. These conversations are essential if social impact design is to reach its transformative potential while avoiding many of the pitfalls that have led to the failure of well-intentioned poverty alleviation initiatives in the past.

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