Social Distancing???!!! Perspective For Nurturing Environments For Hybrid?remote Multicultural And Multidisciplinary Collaboration
Digitally Engaged Learning conference 25 - 26 September 2020| Online
Samira Shiridevich, Alejandra Silva Uliarte

Two international graduate students in design studying at a US public research university describe and analyze their experiences of working together in design research and design collaboration with a local BIPOC organization. Their goal is to share strategies that were useful for them to gain team engagement and respond to a series of communication challenges in remote collaboration. They focus on the range of misunderstandings and miscommunication situations they lived throughout the semester–pre and during COVID–due to their cultural differences and their diverse disciplinary backgrounds. Also, they address frustrations around having to communicate online only when mutual understanding seems to be gone since the strategies they developed when working together in the studio were no longer applicable to working remotely. For each of the situations and challenges described, they analyze the practices, strategies, and formats they developed to respond to each difficulty and aim to include them as part of a human-centered methodology of dialogue, negotiation, and reciprocity.

Practices, strategies, and formats for building nurturing environments for hybrid or remote collaboration between multicultural and multidisciplinary groups.

As a team of international design graduate students coming from three distinct cultures into a fourth one, we reflect on our learning experience during spring 2020, when we shifted from site-specific studio and fieldwork to remote collaboration. This panel focuses on some of the practices, strategies, and formats we found successful in building a nurturing environment for hybrid or remote collaboration between multicultural and multidisciplinary groups. Particularly, the reflection addresses cases of challenges related both to interculturality and COVID-19, strategies that worked in response to them, and learning highlights of the experience. Some of the biggest challenges faced by the team–related to communication, processes, and conceptions of time–had their origin in how different the team members are culturally and disciplinarily. We have different levels of expertise on the design and the research processes; we come from diverse educational and professional backgrounds; all of us communicate using English as our second language; our cultural identities are distinct as the South American, Persian, and Arabic can be; and this was the first time each of us participated on a co-design project. In this case, one in which participants collaborate, having as a starting point the understanding that everyone is an expert in their own field. The complexities listed paired with the complexity of working with marginalized BIPOC youth, which means a fifth culture was involved in this co-design project, making this transcultural experience unique and valuable to reflect on. Moreover, the experience was crossed by the shift from on-location to online development due to the coronavirus pandemic. All these features made a unique combination, full of challenges and misunderstandings, but also filled with opportunities for personal and professional growth. In a co-design project like this, communication between stakeholders is key since no steps are taken without mutual participation on each level of decision. This is the reason why they need to solve the communication challenges within the design team became so relevant. In this panel, we analyze the experience of overcoming cultural misunderstandings around expressing disagreement, refusal, and frustration in a remote collaboration environment. As an outcome, lessons learned on interpersonal and intercultural communication styles are transformed into a series of strategies, digital resources, and discursive formats that foster working dynamics in multicultural, multidisciplinary teams. The horizon of expectations of this reflection is that a human-centered methodology of dialogue, negotiation, reciprocity, and co-design helps to build healthy, supportive, safe collaboration environments of design research and design with local communities.
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