Designing a digital tool to connect Inuit circumpolar greenhouse networks

Client: Makivik Corporation in partnership with the One Drop Foundation


Challenge: Understand how Inuit culture mediates interactive technology, in order to build a knowledge-sharing and community-building application by and for the Inuit.
Outcome: We carried out a thorough multidisciplinary research, as well as interviews, focus groups, and co-design activities to identify the design features an application must have to respond to the communities’ needs and accurately reflect Inuit culture.
Services: Multidisciplinary market and user research, Co-design, Low-Fidelity prototype design. (match colour to Service banner-colour)

In partnership with the One Drop Foundation, the Makivik Corporation is implementing the Pirursiivik Greenhouse and Social Art Project to develop a greenhouse and health improvement project in Inukjuak, a remote northern Inuit community located in Nunavik.


Through the use of arts-based and experiential learning community engagement methods and activities, the main goal is to cultivate locally-grown produce for the specific needs of Inukjuammiut (people of Inukjuak) and in so doing, contribute to the development of a stronger, healthier and sustainable community—positively impacting economic development, water, and food security in Inukjuak.


The Pirursiivik Digital Tool is a complementary project which aims to identify a digital solution where information, tips, and training materials on these new skills can be centralized and easily made accessible (desktop and mobile) to various community members in Inukjuak, across Inuit Nunangat (Inuit communities in Canada), and other circumpolar countries.


As greenhouses and composting become more prominent in the North, challenges emerge around building a local Northern-based network to share information that is accessible, pertinent, and context/culture-specific.

Mutual Design designed Pirursiivik, an application to share knowledge and build community among diverse stakeholders from Inuit communities in Northern Quebec. This tool bridges Western Science and Indigenous Knowledge (language, culture, and politics) and revolves around food production and sharing practices.


We were mandated by the Makivik Corporation (the legal representative of Quebec’s Inuit) to undertake a thorough Market and User Research to better understand how technology is mediated by Inuit indigenous language, culture, identity, and territory.


As settlers, this project required us to implement decolonial approaches to design. Hence, we made sure our research and co-design activities respected and honoured Indigenous ways of knowing and being; and that the research and design process was Inuit-led.


We conducted a Multidisciplinary market and user research to identify the needs, limitations, and opportunities of diverse stakeholders (users)—as well as Co-design activities—which led us to design a Low-Fidelity prototype. This prototype was then finalized by the firm Design Shopp.


Indigenous Led Co-design Co-design—also known as participatory design or co-creation—is an approach to design in which the end-users and stakeholders are actively involved throughout the different design phases of a project. Co-design utilizes techniques and activities that allow for discovery of situations/states, as well as subsequent ideation of solutions, by and for the end-users. In some cases, particularly for traditionally disenfranchised groups, participation is not enough. [1] An active leadership role is required from the users and stakeholders involved, in other words we must honour the Pirursiivik mandate of the project being Inuit-led, by and for the community—an approach that will generate more ownership and pride of the final Digital Tool and Greenhouse.

We believe it is important that the digital tool successfully understands and transmits an Indigenous way of understanding the world (knowing) and the social relationships of a community (being). As Jason Edward Lewis argues, “one of the challenges for Indigenous epistemology in the age of the virtual is to understand how the archipelago of websites, social media platforms, shared virtual environments, corporate data stores, multiplayer video games, smart devices, and intelligent machines that compose cyberspace is situated within, throughout and/or alongside the terrestrial spaces Indigenous peoples claim as their territory.[2]

In order to achieve this our co-design practice is based on the active leadership of community members facilitating the brain/body-storming sessions, as well as any other digital tool design activity (prototyping, user feedback forum, etc). Attention to language, cultural cues, and the needs of the community are paramount to the success of the co-design sessions.



References [1] Peters, Dorian, et al. "" Participation is not enough" towards indigenous-led co-design." Proceedings of the 30th Australian conference on computer-human interaction. 2018. [2] Co-director or Aboriginal Territories in Cyberspace (Abtec), and co-author of Lewis, Jason Edward, et al. "Making kin with the machines." Journal of Design and Science (2018).

Recommended readings [3] Lewis, Jason Edward, ed. 2020. Indigenous Protocol and Artificial Intelligence Position Paper. Honolulu, Hawaiʻi: The Initiative for Indigenous Futures and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). Download at https://spectrum.library.concordia.ca/986506 [4] Lamalice, Annie, et al. "Imagined foodways: social and spatial representations of an Inuit food system in transition." Polar Geography 43.4 (2020): 333-350. [5] Lamalice, Annie, et al. "Building food security in the Canadian Arctic through the development of sustainable community greenhouses and gardening." Écoscience 25.4 (2018): 325-3.