Students have voices, and we need to listen.

The Indigenous Participatory Design Toolkit is a prototype design tool created by and for students, staff, and faculty at Montana State University. 

The primary purpose of this toolkit is to create a safe space for creative and critical thinking around the real challenges and strengths of Native students. The tool can help generate dialogue and understanding across diverse populations, and it can generate ideas for new services in support of Native student success.

Goals and Outcomes

The toolkit has three main goals:

  • Break down barriers between Native students and non-Native professionals in higher education
  • Generate dialogue, understanding, and empathy around the challenges and strengths of Native students
  • Co-create new services in support of Native student success.

How to use this toolkit

This toolkit is intended to be used collaboratively by Native and non-Native students and professionals in higher education. 

The toolkit is comprised of cards that present topic summaries of common strengths and challenges of Native students. To structure dialogue around these topics, the toolkit contains a set of exercises for participants to complete together. There are two categories of exercises:

  • Inquiring exercises allow participants to investigate a topic and build understanding.
  • Solving exercises help participants co-create ideas for addressing challenges and amplifying strengths

To work with this toolkit, gather a group of people who care about these issues, and complete exercises together. For productive results, sequence inquiring exercises with solving exercises. For example, complete the exercise Strength Building using Academic Success as the strength card. Then, complete the solving exercise Walk a Mile. New ideas for amplifying academic success can emerge from the group's collective experience and insight.

Contact information

For inquiries, please contact the project leads: Scott Young, Assistant Professor in the Library, or Connie Brownotter, Human Development and Family Science student at Montana State. We are happy to consult on the usage of the tool, and to co-plan design workshops and participatory sessions. 

To learn more about the project, please view the slides from Empowering Native American Undergraduate Students with Participatory Design, presented at the 2018 Native American Advocacy Institute.

Native Student Strengths

academic success card community spaces card cultural pride card

 resilience card friends and family cardself-determination card


Native Student Challenges

 cultural differences card distance card  family care card

 funding card housing card isolation card  keeping organized card lack of identity cardracism card self-doubt card 

Exercises for Inquiring

build your vehicle card float your boat card jumping obstacles card

rewriting history card strength building card two author story card

Exercises for Solving

build a billboard card     next year's headlines card     walk a mile card

 card describing the highlights exercisecard describing the big sky thinking exercise   card describing the clockwise exercise


This project is generously supported by:

  • The MSU Office of the President, through the Presidential Emerging Scholars Grant program
  • The MSU Office of the Provost, through the Native American Recruitment and Retention Grant program
  • The MSU Department of Native American Studies
  • The MSU Library


Cards employ icons from the Noun Project. Many Exercises are borrowed or adapted from 75 Tools for Creative Thinking, Gamestorming, and the Design Method Toolkit