Some insights into participatory design and research in computer science

Today I gave a presentation at the Science in Public 2012 conference at the University College London. The topic of my talk was “Participatory design and feminist interventions. Emancipatory potentials of public engagement. Some insights into participatory design and research in computer science.” Here you can find the slides and the transcript including full references.

I will write some more introductory words and also report on some (personal) highlights of the conference in the next days.

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5 Responses to Some insights into participatory design and research in computer science

  1. BevGibbs says:

    Hi Jackie
    Thanks for your presentation on Friday, Im just trying to go through things I missed or was a little too dazed to take in!
    Is there any chance you could explain what you meant by ‘Marginalisation of Participatory Approaches’ on slide 12 please?

    • Hi Bev,

      thanks for the question. Well yes, I have probably explained that too fuzzy. Also there probably would be a better word than “marginalisation” for what I wanted to describe by that.

      Basically what I wanted to say is, that if you try to apply participatory approaches in computer science you seldom find cooperation partners or funding bodies. If at all, participatory approaches are side products of bigger projects. Probably a bit similar to what in many emerging technology project is the case with social scientists or ethicists who are a bit singled out in the project and should cover all the social and ethical issues, while the core technoscientists just go on with their usual business. And on the other side, if computer scientists really want to conduct participatory design and research, they usually end up in the field of Participatory Design, or in some hybrid position between CSCW, HCI and social sciences and humanities.

      In the bigger computer science community there is often (at least in the german speaking countries) this talk of the “Binnen-Informatik”, which means that computer science / informatics is divided into several subdisciplines like theoretical informatics, technical informatics, scientific computing, software engineering, media informatics, and many more. And while some of those are considered core areas, others like media informatics, especially CSCW and HCI are considered as some sort of optional soft skill add-on. Usually this happens with those disciplines that explicitly deal with the socio-material setting surrounding their research.

      And then there is also this issue with computer scientists who care about not only technical feasibility but also the social acceptability and who try to engage with theories and methods that account for techno-social entanglements. Many of them then end up either in social sciences like STS or some hybrid position that is usally rather precarious regarding career paths and sustainable research environments.

      So, I hope those examples did shed some light on what I meant by “marginalisation of participatory approaches”. If you or anybody else does know a better word or phrase for that please let me know.

  2. BevGibbs says:

    Thanks for that Jackie
    I have been wondering why participatory design does not have a higher profile than it does. I feel we do not talk of it regularly in the ‘toolbox’ of engagement approaches we have….it seems to run on its own, in parallel. I’m not sure public engagement scholars know what to do when a product becomes real!!
    In your experience is this participatory design done by researchers in public institutions (eg Universities) or by companies, as they refine commercial products? Where do you think the natural ‘home’ of these techniques is?
    Thanks, Bev

    • Well, the ‘natural’ home – if we look to the genesis of PD – lies somewhere between labour unions and academia. Originally this approach was facilitated in the Scandinavian countries by interdisciplinary research teams that engaged with labour unions to establish more influence of workers on work aumatisation/computerisation processes in the 1970ies and ’80ies. After those first projects there was also increased academic output in PD – although it was then usually not termed as PD but e.g. ‘work-oriented design of computer artifacts’. Only later as the field got bigger and also U.S.-researchers hooked up the label Participatory Design was invented. Also the focus opened up from strictly work-oriented contexts to also e.g. product design, education, communal activities, etc. At the same time PD, or specific forms and aspects of it, where taken up by commercial software productions – perhaps a bit analog to the emergence of pracitices like ‘user interface design’ and ‘usability engineering’. Meanwhile there are even textbooks on PD for business contexts. Nevertheless I would say the field is mainly academically driven and primarily based in computer science, despite its high degrees of inter- and multidisciplinarity. But in the end it is usually about ICT-artefacts and not other technoscientific research/products. And it has a strong drive on actually building, designing and changing specific artefacts and environments – which is certainly different in most STS and social science contexts (here I found the talk of Adam Bencard regarding OOO very intriguing, btw.). But I will try to find out more about that at the upcoming Participatory Design Conference 2012 which takes place from 12th-16th August in Roskilde.

  3. Pingback: Science in Public 2012 – what I heard and what I learned | Beverley Gibbs

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