Conducting research with vulnerable communities

A talk by Sarah Fathallah

Conducting design research in the public and social sectors presents a set of challenges that researchers and designers need to be cognizant of, and that are not always present in commercial work.

Let's cover specific approaches and methods to employ when working with vulnerable populations, starting with a definition of vulnerability and an overview of ethics in research with human subjects, and then discussing how to ensure that researchers and designers do no harm and remain respectful, fair, and culturally appropriate, specifically when:

- Planning for design research, including choosing the right research methods for the participants and topic at hand;
- Recruiting and compensating research participants;
- Obtaining informed consent and ensuring research participants are aware of their rights and potential risks for participating in the research;
- Managing participant data by ensuring their identifiable information is not traceable and doesn’t put them at risk.

The talk will be illustrated with examples of my own work over the past couple of years in Niger, Croatia, Jordan, Lebanon, and Myanmar, working on services related to agriculture, reproductive health, refugee resettlement, and education.


Sarah Fathallah

Social Designer & Design Researcher

Sarah is a Moroccan social designer and researcher, who specializes in applying community- and human-centered design to local and global development. She has worked on projects of all sizes with non-profits, governments, and social enterprises, on topics ranging from civil and human rights, to healthcare and education, financial inclusion and consumer protection, and media development. Her clients have included the World Bank, the International Rescue Committee, Open Society Foundations, and Population Services International, to name a few. Sarah’s design work has been honored by the Core77 Design Awards, the International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA), ONE Prize, and the GSMA mWomen Design Challenge.

In her spare time, you will find Sarah volunteering as a teacher, a translator, or a crisis mapper. Most recently, she co-founded Design Gigs for Good, a job board listing opportunities at the intersection of design and social impact. Sarah is a graduate of Sciences Po Paris, where she studied International Business and Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Affairs. She also studied design innovation at the Paris Est d.school and User Experience design at General Assembly.