Small Goods: valuing your self & your communities

Alastair Somerville
4 min readFeb 10, 2018

I’ve been running workshops on Participatory Design and Codesign for government and digital design organisations lately. I keep tripping over some practical problems tho.

The idea of tools and services developed with members of communities to benefit that community is good. However, the practical constraints of limited budgets and requirements for political neutrality in consultation processes make this kind of change hard to deliver. Starting a Codesign project in these times can either fail immediately (because it cannot work within existing legal governance structures) or in the end (because budgets cannot be linked to what is specified as required). All this means is that there is a risk that such a design for communal good techniques may be tainted with failure, forever.

Perhaps we should not do Codesign if we know it will fail.

That sounds a bit depressing so let’s rethink what we can do.

Here is a diagram about the intersection of Codesign and Indigenous Research Methods I’ve been using. There’s a lot going on in it but I’ll pick out the right hand side Post It Notes: Build and Make.


Codesign has an underlying idea of building capacities into communities. Each encounter with professional staff is actually an opportunity to explore what needs there are in the community and to provide ways of doing and ways of talking (the latter is really important in politically-designed systems).


Indigenous Research has many methods, drawn from many societies, but the one I mention here is the need for professionals to recognize their power before trying to transfer it.

Together, these ideas offer the option for all professionals to seize the opportunity of encountering users/customers/citizens as moments to pass over their skills to help build stronger communities.

Not big change by big organisations but small change by individuals.

Rather than waiting for commercial organisations to find a business case for doing good or fighting within bureaucratic systems, simply choosing to do small things using personal knowledge and experience.

There are 3 parts to this.

1 Valuing Your Self

Many people do not value themselves enough. Being small parts of large systems, being Juniors, being in the ‘wrong’ department: many reasons to not feel that you cannot act.

One of the necessary parts of passing power and knowledge to other people is valuing your self.

Spend time writing down what you’re good at, what you love, what you do.

Recognise your own individual value.

2 Understand Your Value

Recognising your power and valuing your skills is the start but the hard part is understanding how you can be valuable to others.

This is a time for empathy. To recognise that moment when your power and knowledge needs to be judged from the needs and perspectives of others.

Not everything you know and value is valuable to others (my deep knowledge of the Mission Impossible TV series is one example).

It may take time to understand how to understand what you value is valuable. This will be hard but it’s necessary. Don’t do it alone: talk, share and try (and try again).

You will find small things that are valuable.

Recognise them as things that create value in communities.

3 Create Communal Value

Once you value yourself and realise what you have that is valuable to others, then share it.

Create value in communities that you meet.

Perhaps your organisation cannot deliver change but that’s no reason why you can’t.

Leave small things, show new ways, provide new practices.

Small goods can create great good.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX