Q&A: A Playful Tool to Design More Gender Inclusive Programs

How might we create solutions that address people’s overlapping identities?

The Chroma Collective, made up of gender practitioners from global development institutions, convened in November 2021 for its first design sprint. The Gender+ Puzzle emerged as a solution to proactively integrate gender+ intersectionality across multiple levels of a development program. It helps program teams visualize the overlapping identities of those in their target population.We asked members of the design team to take us through the process of coming up with this tool.

Q: Before we get started, for those who are new to the gender studies space, could you explain the concept of intersectionality?

MaryBeth Bognar: If you design and implement a program without considering gender norms, you risk causing harm to those most marginalized, or at the very least you will not enable them to thrive. This is known as being “gender blind”, which has a disproportionate negative impact on women, girls, and gender non-binary persons—as well as as on men and boys who do not align with traditional gender norms.

Now, people who have the same gender identity are not a monolithic group, and therefore cannot be thought of as the same. Intersectionality recognizes the layers of discrimination and oppression that are experienced at the overlap of multiple identities. The term was originally coined by Kimberé Crenshaw in 1989, in work that assessed the experience of black women at the overlap of their gender and race. The more that gender is integrated without considering other intersecting identities, the greater risk of further marginalizing those with multiple overlapping layers of oppression—and thereby perpetuating inequality.

Q: What issue were you trying to tackle with the puzzle? Who is it geared towards?

Ademide Adefarasin: Today there are a limited number of teams tasked with integrating gender in development. We were designing for the people who are at the frontlines—spearheading the projects and programs that are driving towards development goals (think: WASH, Climate, social welfare) and are not always trained in how gender/ other identities impact the development outcomes they are working toward. Although a lot has been written on intersectionality, it’s often tricky to translate it into practice. Our goal wasn’t to create something comprehensive, but to help them build the muscles to arrive at more comprehensive solutions.

Q: How did you go from that concept to this really fun puzzle?

Erika Diaz Gomez: It’s already such a complex subject that we wanted people to feel they had an actionable step on an overwhelming issue. The goal was to make it a fun and approachable conversation. The very first version was inspired by a children’s book (Animalaria) where you can mix and match different animal parts to create a new creature altogether. We ended up making something similar related to people’s different identities but conscious of the sensitivity of the identity issue, we created an abstract version based only on squares and color. After receiving feedback on how we were lacking the human reference, we started playing around with the idea of the cubes.

We went back and forth a lot with gender experts because we originally had 19 identities and we got them down to nine. The heart of intersectionality is to bring marginalized identities to the center so it felt weird to discard. So although we did a lot of research, we are still hoping to understand how encompassing these nine really are.

Q: Could you take me through the general mechanics of the puzzle?

Erika Diaz Gomez: Of course. The goal is to create a snapshot of a person’s life that represents their composite identities and intensity of each identity. Each cube represents a facet of who they are —be it religion, race/ethnicity, class, disability, etc—and practitioners can choose how intense is the presence of that identity in their communities.

Q: That’s fascinating. I’m sure it also kindles very intimate and interesting conversations. What’s next for the collective?

MaryBeth Bognar: Ultimately, the Chroma Collective wants to know if this prototype will successfully advance the presence and quality of intersectional actions across development programs by testing it with users within their networks. In this next stage we will be looking out for how to improve its utility, desirability, and feasibility to make it more effectively.

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