Design for equity in higher education

June 2021

Liberatory design thinking—a way to address equity challenges and change efforts in complex systems—can help campus leaders rethink policy and practices for non-tenure-track faculty.


Serving as a resource for higher education leaders, this paper can help campuses make policies and practices more equitable for non-tenure-track faculty by using a liberatory design approach. This approach includes the following phases: organize, empathize, redefine, ideate, choose, prototype, buy-in and test. It also includes equity mindsets, notice and reflect throughout. Each phase is described and illustrated using two case studies.

Key Insights
To be successful, designers in higher education must navigate, collaborate, and negotiate with stakeholders and coalitions in ways that are not usually present in the private sector.
Successful higher education designers infuse equity-mindedness, both inward- and outward-looking, into every phase of design thinking.
In the liberatory design model, designers are encouraged to engage in activities that promote self-awareness of identity, values, emotion, assumptions and positionality before beginning the design process.
Conducting self-awareness activities first, before engaging in other phases of design thinking, helps to build relational trust among the team.

The research findings are based on focus group interviews with campus design teams at several institutions and an analysis of artifacts. The authors also profiled two campuses that represent the trends of the data across a larger set of campuses.