Advancing the Value of Ethnography

Tutorial: Power Tools for Equity in Research & Design


This tutorial gives you and your teams robust, actionable tools for navigating inequity and shifting power hierarchies, from project planning to implementation.


To do ethical, equitable work in any domain, we need robust tools for assessing and addressing power. Whether we’re creating products, services, or policies, inequities can create direct and indirect risks for research participants and underserved populations. This tutorial gives you robust, actionable tools for navigating inequity through a project life cycle, including planning, research, design, and implementation. You will:

  • Identify power dynamics in research and design projects
  • Learn frameworks and tools to navigate power dynamics through a project lifecycle
  • Learn power-based assessments to use with individuals and teams of colleagues
  • Start applying frameworks and tools to your own context and projects

Historically, systemic resilience in the public and private sectors has been defined by power hierarchies that perpetuate systemic disadvantage and marginalization. ‘Power Tools’ were developed by Public Policy Lab to support project teams in identifying, disrupting and redistributing power hierarchies, creating more equity and opportunity for people we research and design with.

The tools are used to check our biases, engage our clients and communities of participants, inform theories of change, identify effective participatory methods, and guide product and service development. When a team encourages power to circulate in these ways as a part of a reflexive project process they are creating a systemic resilience predicated on generating equity, rather than undermining it—as has been common in the past.

In this tutorial, we will address the risks that researchers and designers take when working with members of the public while lacking the reflexivity and appropriate tools to do so. We will walk participants through Power Tools in the context of a case study, then run a series of guided small group discussions that allow each participant to examine how power circulates in their own work, and how it may shift with new mental models and tools.

This video has been edited to protect the privacy of participants in the live tutorial.


Chelsea Mauldin is a social scientist and designer with a focus on public-sector innovation. She directs the Public Policy Lab (PPL), a New York City-based nonprofit organization that designs better public services for low-income and at-risk Americans. PPL partners with government agencies to develop more satisfying and effective public services through ethnographic research, human-centered design, rapid prototyping, and formative evaluation. Prior to co-founding PPL, Chelsea led a community-development organization, oversaw government partnerships at a public-space advocacy nonprofit, and consulted to municipal and federal agencies. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

Natalia Radywyl is a social researcher and designer with expertise in ethnography, design research, service design, experience design, environment design, and facilitation. Her clients have ranged from Fortune 500 and government, to NGOs and the community sector. She is currently the head of research and capability at Today Design in Australia. Previously she was head of research at Public Policy Lab, led the design research practice at Fjord New York, was a social research consultant to Australian Federal and State government clients, held research and design fellowships on civic technology, neighborhood resilience, civic services and urban design. She teaches in the Design for Social Innovation program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in NYC, and regularly publishes, presents and runs workshops. Natalia holds a PhD from The University of Melbourne, Australia.


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