Day 2- Learnings from Applying Trauma Informed Principles to the Research Processes

  1. Welcome to trauma informed research panel
Matt Bernius
  • Principal Qualitative Researcher for Code for America for Blind for Repaired and Pronouns for He/They
Aditi Joshi
  • Qualitative user researcher at UC Berkley
Rachael Dietkus
  • Founder of Social Workers who Design, which aims to leverage social work in design practices
Alba Villamil
  • Independent user researcher and partner at HmntyCntrd, where she consults companies on ethics and equity
  1. We’ve learned that no one in any setting is free from trauma, and it has come up throughout all the talks in the conference so far.
  1. I want to see how we apply trauma informed methods to anything and everything you do. Want to acknowledge that discussions of trauma will bring up feelings, sometimes overwhelming

    –  So I encourage people to participate in panel in way that’s best for them

  1. Any references will be included in the conference guide
  1. The panel has people who bring different perspectives to trauma, and we will all bring our own perspective
  1. Rachel, can you ground us with definition of trauma and trauma informed?


—> I’ll start off by stating that there are many definition of trauma that are out there
  • Won’t go into extreme detail or specific traumatic events, and will keep it at the 15,000 feet level
—> There are many aspects and contexts where trauma can occur. Before I get into definition, I did google search on the word “trauma”, and in les than one second got 1.9 billion results
  • Use of people seeking out meaning of the word has increased exponentially
  • Awareness of trauma over past 4-5 decades has increased as well
—> As social worker, I study trauma and how it manifests—especially in context of design


—> See many articles around mental health crisis and range of mental health care


—> Though trauma is considered more intense and extreme, it cross-cuts into other issues like anxiety and depression
  • Trauma is a large planet in the solar system of care that we need to address ourselves, and in our practice
—> For a grounded definition to set context, we can go to practitioners
  • Combination of their studies, trauma is due to a wide-ranging impacts of responding to things too much, too fast, too soon, too long
  • And in medical circles, trauma comes from lack of protection and support in these intense events
—> I see this with employee experience, and those who work in research or design
  • A lack of a system of comfort, reassurance, and stability is what makes trauma lasting in its effects
—> Trauma lives in the body as a sensation, or some kind of sensation or lack of sensation like numbness


—> Trauma is contextual, as it doesn’t impact us in the same ways


—> So what does it mean to be trauma-informed or trauma responsive?
  • Accounting for potential of research potential of participants for those we work with toe experience trauma
  • This is present in all of our work as researchers, especially with work in social/racial justice issues
—> Most approaches focus on six trauma informed care principles are explained by CDC as follows:
  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
  3. Peer Support
  4. Collaboration & Mutuality
  5. Empowerment & Choice
  6.  Integrating Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues
Q2: How have each of us incorporated principles into research processes? How do you collect data in trauma informed ways?


  • One of things that we need to recognize is how questions can be weapon, and language in surveys, focus groups can be harmful
    • I have the example of the demographic section in a survey, where I force participants between binary choices “Male/Female” for gender
    • This forced disclosure of gender within man/woman systems
    • Exclusionary in that it doesn’t express people’s experiences, and type of language can be triggering
      • Forces participants to recall traumatic experience from the past
    • Participant blamed for not fitting into pre-existing categories of the researcher
  • Safety and choice are key for data collection
    • I need to think about how can I remove harmful language from research material and allow as much participant autonomy as possible through choice.
      • Choice through question format, types of choice available, and ability to answer a question
  • Language we use influences how people see themselves in research done
  • Lot of trauma informed research has to do with harm-reduction
    • Harm is inevitably caused by doing research, when you are going into community you don’t know
    • Question becomes once you recognize it, what are ways you can reduce harm for individuals you are interacting with
  • Principles of harm reduction come from working with folks that are in addiction and thinking of ways they are empowered to have choice in decisions that they make
    • Excluded populations have no choices by systems and structures, telling people what they are eligible for, and how to go about their daily lives
  • How can we shift structure and give voice and choice to the research participant.
    • Think of compensation, and compensating research participants
    • Now question is what does compensation look like?
      • Not just giving $50, but is compensation culturally competent to lived experience, i.e. gift-card, cash, or childcare
      • Show-up for experience rather than saying what participants need
—> One thing that goes through mind, is concept of consent
  • Even something like a consent form i.e. are they readable or designed to protect the organization?
  • Having worked in commercial research, there is way to balance that
    • But if  consent is solely one-sided, it’s  not a consent form
  • To mitigate this, I work on sharing research scripts ahead of time with participants, and letting them take over the interview
Q3: Since trauma is cultural and manifests in different ways. What cues do we look in interview experience to see trauma, and how to manage it?


—> Will link though that came to mind when others were coming to mind, and ties to starting where the client is
  • Can mean different things, and going to where client is and a place of comfort
  • Meeting people where they are with most pressing need and design practice
—> Something that comes to mind with virtual and face-to-face encounters
  • Virtually: Try to show hands, and be fully present and engaged with subject. This will convey some kind of connection that is made
    • For projects that are in-house, there are preconditions of care and communication building with subjects
    • Seeing someone dis-regulated or visible upset
      • People look off-camera and look visibly nervous and place hand on heart, get fidgety, or try to remove from conversation
      • Critical 90-second moment where you can drill in and take advantage of emotional response or back-up and give them breathing room
        • Examples of my research around racism
—> Responses are culturally specific. So talk with experts and community members to get sense of what traumatic response can look like.
  • What are scripts of refusal and knowledge of script
—> We focus on trauma-informed data collection, but we need to look at other parts of research process as well
  • Do we even need this research project?
  • I often work with people who are over-researched, and are constantly asked to share traumatic stories, and have the risk of experiencing harm
Q4: How to think of pattern of over-researching and harm?


—> Ask if research needs to be done in first place. What are we asking people to disclose or not disclose?
  • Even asking around a traumatic event creates pressure for subjects to disclose
    • Be clear about certain questions, and what we are or are not asking people to share
  • How can we pull from existing research or thought to set ground work for next project we want to do?
  • What we see from the user research field, is that we want to discover something new and something never shared before
    • This tendency can be harmful
  • Harmful for research participant, as participant is asked to provide unwilling disclosures
  • Comes from idea of research as colonial practice
    • Being explicit and intentional about the research
    • Don’t need to build next new thing, but need to grasp what we need to know to move the project forward and how we move forward with project participants
—> To build on these points, a question of asking am I the right person to be doing this research?
  • Even though I’ve researched with prosecutors, judges, and  other system actors, I walked through a conference of formerly incarcerated women, and realized I was unequipped to this research safely
  • CFA experimented with participatory research, to get people from community and allowed people to get ideas we couldn’t have gotten to
    • Building experience from their perspective
—> Will speak about project:
  • One thing that stood out from participatory research was that we often times talk about building trust and rapport with research participants
    • Trust you have with friend and mom is greater than UXR and research participant
  • Don’t have ability to move research participants to own communities
    • Let’s people ask what’s relevant to them
    • Let them feel safe in conversations
  • Recognize trust to share that intimate conversation
    • Sharing research findings is very important
    • Put audio series for those living with convictions
      • Will share story in audio series, and will make sure subjects would have out at each moment, and choice to define how story is shared
      • Complete control over language to talk through their story
—> What comes to mind, so much flexibility is needed and is analogous to research process. Celebration of being in gray areas
  • Another component is how to be constantly flexible, rooted and grounded in things, while also being able to be present and responsive to what is happening. This comes with significant practice
    • There is value of a daily practice of doing any aspect of trauma-informed work
—> An example that could be integrated in daily practice,
  • We should focus on us as researchers, and interacting with ourselves and others in a trauma informed way
  • As someone working with sensitive topics, and presenting work to stakeholders with those who don’t have training, and are reluctant to confront findings
  • Put content warnings, and consenting to hearing these topics
  • Pausing after difficult conversation to do body check-ins
  • Doing debrief to see any emotions like shame or guilt
    • What are processes or protocols used to help think what you are listening to as well as emotions or bodily feelings that emerge?
Let’s think how we can apply this as researchers to the work


—> Thinking of examples of how we process things
  • Able to compartmentalize things in the moment, and can be as focused as possible for those who need me to be stronger
  • I personally can spill-over to let the experience of trauma I see build up too much
    • This can lead to zone of vicarious trauma and burn-out
  • Elements of daily practice
  • How do you integrate trauma-informed practices on a daily basis?
    • Used to make case of issues that are there
    • Seeing designers feel triggered and overwhelmed by nature of work itself like the pace expected, and how we do the work as researchers
—> How have team set-ups helped?
  • Having common practices that include getting team together in a low-stress environment to get people talk through feelings of doing the work
  • Ties back to topic of building team resilience
  • Always having two researchers with us,
    • Trauma-informed is something you need to apply to yourself not just others
    • Example of interview with Aditi, where I had a reaction to fact that person had not understood purpose of interview and having trouble handling it
      • Had to step out
      • Need to do pre-planning to prevent triaging things in the moment
—> This scales to people, team, and organizational


Q4: For Aditi, there is relationship between self and organizational care, can you bridge to that?


—> For self-care, good job talking about pre-research practices. Post-research are important is what we call self-care
  • Nuanced conversation about self-care, and distinction between self-soothing to decompress from an interview
  • Being able to leave a homework environment and interact with others afterward
    • Also think of self-care, in addition to self-soothing, as a way to properly metabolize what happened
—> Self-care industry is very commodified, and you can buy products/apps for self-care
  • It’s important for organizations to recognize throwing money at a problem won’t solve it
  • Organizational change will need to happen to do the job well
Q5: Inviting Alba to think how identity intersects with individual identity and power? Does my identity influences how I experience things?


—> Thank you from shifting conversation to organizational care


—> People will experience trauma differently, and organizational structure will harm certain people, along with the added harm of being researchers
  • Will have certain researchers experience burden of work more than others
—> Panel quote comes to mind: “When comparing myself to white colleagues, I might have the same title, but not the same role”
  • Truly trauma-informed research can identify how trauma can manifest differently and impact others
—> Pre-pandemic had bunch of cameras and recorders I used, and was often pulled aside in airport after being profiled as a Muslim
  • A trauma informed team has protocols in place to prevent something like this from happening
—> Happening infrastructure in place to help process experience
  • From intervening with a participant being racist
  • Including proper digital hygiene to prevent stalking
  • Need to consider intersection with different identities and positionalities
—> If you haven’t read the HmnCntrd trauma-centered playbook it’s a great resource to think about this
  • Responsibility of org, not researchers and team to implement this
—> Trauma informed is fractal: “What is small is large”
  • Allow consent for participants and researchers and way to say no
Q6: How do we communicate importance of doing this work to others?


—> Example of Civilla, a civic design consultancy in Detroit, which reached out for guidance on trauma-informed design research principle
  • Whole context of the work was that they were anticipating that due to work Civilla was doing, they expected members of the team to potentially be exposed to traumatic stories and events, and being traumatized themselves or experiencing vicarious trauma
—> Want to lift them up as way for organizations, and way for them to prepare for the work
  • Also brought in Detroit specific people
—> Example of bringing in resources to assist ta team


—> Can speak to performative ways of trauma-informed organizations
  • Do the opposite of what Rachel suggested, and using superficial changes in org, without supporting people
  • Idea of floating mental health-days, and stipend for therapist
    • Org will then not put in work of making access to resources easy
  • Can also think about ways to think of nature of work
—> Think of how orgs recreate conditions that will traumatize workers
  • Capitalism can be traumatizing, especially for those who have no power in the workplace
  • Goal of thinking what it means to share power with workers, and giving people autonomy
    • Crafting spaces where people can show up as true selves
    • Can be hard to show-up and pretend to be a mask to someone else, and shifting to home life
  • Crafting organizations that don’t make people do that
  • Creating environments that were equitable and inclusive
  • Environment you create in workplace changes how workers researcher show-up


—> Want time for audience questions to pull things together, and one understanding is that we are in relationship with each other
  • To be in relationship with others, you will cause harm
  • Account for that at every level, and give people grace
    • Give yourself small steps, in trying to change things that are very big


Audience Q&A


  1. How to take care of people, post-interview?
—> Having a list of resources ready, like connecting to people like local legal-aid groups


—> Having plan for someone in acute distress, while recognizing we are not therapists and not taking work on all by themselves


—> Art of warm hand-off is crucial. When and if it is possible to connect someone out of your scope, and make the call on their behalf
  • A lot  can be done of bridge to next best person
—> Have appropriate started for interview, and emphasizing that we are not therapists, and what we can/cannot connect people too
  • Otherwise you are violating their trust
—> The end is based on care established at beginning of session


  1. How to frame screener questions to capture those with cognitive, sensory challenges?


—> Not an accessibility expert, but important to understand culture of disabled community and working with people who are deaf, versus those with hearing impaired


—> Know people with different language and cultural elements of disability


—> From Sherry Bryne-Haber: Suggest distinguishing between someone who acquired disability vs someone with congenital disability
  • People are used to living through disability over period of time, versus someone who had it for a shorter period
  1. What does trauma-informed hiring process for UXR look like?
—> Have seen some glimmers of hope around  that question
  • Even mentioning trauma-informed in job description would be a big plus
  • Have only seen one from organization in Canada. It was most welcoming acknowledgment of how it was worded and phrased, and want to see more of it
  • How are you crafting interview experience through interviewee?
  • Trauma-informed hiring process, means nothing through organization. Need to do internal work to recognize it
  1. Any researchers from existential definitions of trauma like emergency-room physicians?


—> Spouse is critical care nurse and work through pandemic
  • What she’s seen is that it’s hard people who are experiencing traumatic work-place situations, and no escape for people in healthcare
    • Institutional betrayal and lack of organizational support
    • Research done with hat
  1. Where to learn more about topic after conference?
—> Resources listed book and articles
  • HmntyCntrd Master Class to handle things
—> Trauma-Informed Design group, and Creative Reaction Labs, as well as Social Workers Who Design
  1. How to avoid over-incentivizing participants?
—> Really good questions, during pandemic I had  influx of requests to participate in research studies, since so many people were unemployed


—> Ongoing conversation and dependent on people and community you are researching with. Having people be involved with research planning process that are from community can help answer questions
  • If you have questions, ask the people you will be researching
—> We often assume we are over-incentivizing
  • Don’t trust people’s own sense and autonomy and how are we valuing their insights and translating it to appropriate compensation
  • Really about grasping what are community norms around research
  • Trusting that people know what they need
Thank you and take the time to process the conversation.