IBA meeting set

I have contacted the CEO, Vanessa Rosado-Calderon, of IBA and successfully scheduled a meeting for this coming Friday at 10 am to discuss the codesign process and how to integrate it into a documentary project for the community. Expectation handling and gauging the available resources for the project will be quite important. Stay tuned…

Participatory discord

A recent piece from Consumer Reports lauds Obama’s recently unveiled  “bill of rights for online privacy“, claiming that the administration “took a cue from Occupy Wall Street” by posing the initative as an “open, transparent, multi-stakeholder process.”  Let’s leave aside for a moment the absurdity of the claim that the process for decisions used by Occupy is the same as the process used by the IETF and W3C, and focus on the core observation:  the visibility and popularity of participatory deliberative processes is on the rise (and with it, uncritical conflation of disparate approaches to participation). To the extent that Occupy, the IETF, and Obama’s privacy initiative share a common ground, it lies in their deliberative orientation; an orientation which participatory design also shares.  This is the foundational stuff of “deliberative democracy”, which is based on the principle that given enough time, good will, and deliberation, any difference between stakeholders can be resolved in a solution that everyone can live with.

Not everyone agrees with this principle.  In “Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism”, Chantal Mouffe argues that the basic premise of deliberative democracy — that democracy is best construed as diverse groups working together to arrive at a mutually acceptable compromise — is flawed.  Sometimes, different stakeholders will have fundamental premises that are mutually exclusive; if so, it becomes inevitable that some participants will be left dissatisfied with any outcome.  Consequently, an uncritical adherence to a purely deliberative frame may result in poor results — at best inaction, or at worst a process that pays lipservice to claims of participation and inclusion, but which ultimately alienates some stakeholders.   The Economist has raised this criticism with respect to Occupy Wall Street:

Because the participatory democracy of OWS is an ideological endeavour, it can avoid the hard problem of liberal society: the ineradicable diversity of moral belief and the impossibility of consensus. Consensus-based communes composed of individuals who opt in specifically because they already agree with the commune’s founding values can work precisely because the people who would make consensus impossible—people with very different opinions and values—stay away.

Mouffe argues that the solution to this is to model democracy not in terms of consensus, but in terms of ‘agonistic pluralism’: diverse interests engaged in oppositional struggle to win.  Rather than seeking kinder aspirations such as understanding and dialog en route to consensus, agonistic actors seek to advance their interests to the potential detriment of others’.  It’s immediately obvious that even Occupy Wall Street adheres to this strategy, when interests diverge enough: activists participate in civil disobedience, advocate political positions in opposition to Wall Street and corporate interests, and structurally exclude participation from those who disagree with basic principles of equity and direct democracy.  The “big tent” is not so big as to include those who oppose change.

This observation can help inform our participatory design practice.  When the design community in a participatory process is sufficiently small and both designers and community participants are sufficiently like-minded, a model of participatory deliberation can be successful.  But if the stakeholders in a design area become diverse enough, consensus may become impossible, and the participants may have to draw circles to identify which stakeholders are included, and which are excluded, from the design process.

In his dissertation Contestational Design, Tad Hirsch advocates exactly this position. Drawing on Mouffe’s democratic theory, Hirsch describes an agonistic design process where activists design in direct opposition to the interests of some stakeholders in a domain, not as client- or market-driven hired guns, but as partisans.  Hirsch’s analysis helps to make explicit an implicit undercurrent present in literature which advocates the social-justice potential of participatory design: conditions of injustice and oppression don’t exist in a vacuum, but rather because of oppressive interests which must be opposed.  Thus, a participatory design process oriented towards social justice will likely be operating in direct opposition to the interests of some stakeholders in the design domain.  Hirsch never explicitly says so, but despite the contestational orientation of his design work, it operates using a participatory and deliberative model at a smaller scale.  Agonism doesn’t cut all the way through.  Participants who share contestational goals are chosen for an inclusive participatory design process; but designs are ultimately oriented in opposition to the interests of stakeholders who don’t share the same goals.

So is Obama’s multi-stakeholder approach to online privacy policy design likely to succeed?  If one considers the contrasting interests of multi-national corporations that monetize private data, political activists engaged in direct action opposing government power, and governments interested in controlling and acquiring information, it seems hard to imagine that a consensus will emerge.  An advantage that groups like IETF and W3C have is that within the domain of standards design, it is practical to be anarchic: if one stakeholder disagrees with a technology standard or specification, they can implement their own alternative.  No coercive force commands them to implement a standard, other than its utility or ubiquity.  Regulation, by contrast, can compel conformance to a standard; and thus stakeholders have more invested — if they don’t get their way, they lose.

Another take on this same topic is this blog post from The Office of Urban Computing and Human Ecology, which contrasts Bjarke Ingels inclusive design theory with Tad Hirsch’s contestational design.

Defining my Community and First Steps

I met with two groups this week- Service Leaders at the first HIA/PSC Service Leader Dinner and a group of concerned students at The Forum’s MIT+150: Dysfunctional Wisdom event. Both were incredibly enlightening and showed me the students and voices that I should try and tap into.

I stepped into the Service Leaders Dinner with a new set of goggles, those that I am starting to construct with the ideas of co-design. Ajoke and Srav, members of HIA organized the event with the guidance of Sally, the Director of the Public Service Center (PSC) over IAP. I am really excited to say that some really great things resulted.

We had a really strong crowd. Along with PSC Director Sally and the head of the Student Activities Office (SAO), Leah Flynn, there were about 14 people in attendance, the directors of Amphibious Achievement, the heads of MIT’s Global Poverty Initiative, the founders of MIT’s Relay for Life, the heads of China Care and a couple of solo players like a project leader from the International Development Club and one of the new heads of InnoWorks. Even though it was our first dinner I think that everyone took something away. The admins were able to get more feedback about what MIT students know about the resources that are available to us and the undergrads representing these organizations reported that they enjoyed sharing their experiences and got something out of sharing their battles in forming and/or maintaining their organizations.

There were a lot of small things that the SAO and PSC  were advised to pursue like creating videos instead of holding workshops on topics like leadership and using MIT resources along with some more structural knowledge such as the fact that SAPWeb a common learning hump for MIT treasurers cannot be revamped.

After attending the Forum and the Service Leaders Dinner I would like to design closely with two parties. First and most relevant to HIA’s current vision, the Student Service Leaders: there are some well defined and high impact needs that they present. The other group is the group of students that people that showed up to the Forum’s event. Right now my motivation is character.

Both the Dysfunction discussed at the Forum Event and the inadequacies outlined at the Dinner can be talked about from that frame of reference.

Potential to Work with PressPassTV

I wanted to provide a synopsis of my meeting with Cara from PressPassTV.  Yesterday, I traveled down to Copley Square to find the humble but active office of PressPassTV tucked within a 3rd story landing.  Cara’s partner in crime, Joanna, was there as well as another woman.

Cara kindly treated me to a Boloco mini-burrito, while we talked about a variety of topics.  At the forefront was what Cara called the two important social justice issues for which people are blamed: poverty and weight.   She said a big problem is how at the national level we frame issues of nutrition and health and socioeconomic disparities to children in a way that fails to get at the root causes of the problem.  It seemed the general theme was that in trying to apply palliative remedies, eliminating snack machines, getting kids to lose weight and exercise more still did not teach kids what types of behavior would make them more less healthy.  I thought this was interesting because culture plays such a role in the consumption of food as well.  Anyway, this was not the gist of what Cara necessarily would like me to work on for my co-design project but it was an interesting conversation that spun into the I-Word campaign, which she is currently putting together.

PressPassTV’s proposed campaign is modeled after the Drop The I-Word campaign (http://colorlines.com/droptheiword/) started by the Applied Research Center (ARC).  (The ARC is an organization which advocate on a number of racial justice issues and also publishes a magazine called, Colorlines; in this magazine, one can find news and different perspectives on racial justice issues.  ) At the ARC site is even a toolkit for those who want to start their own campaign.

Cara asked if I could work with her initially on planning a rollout schedule for the campaign helping with outreach to get early adapters to their campaign.  Such individuals and entities could be partners and community allies of PressPassTV, community and organizational people who have made the pledge, grassroots organizations, community members, media outlets, individual journalists and academics and academic institutions.



Press Pass, Personas, and the Past

Mothers for Justice and Equality PSA, by PressPassTV

Press Pass

During last Friday’s Codesign Studio, we had two visitors and a hands-on workshop. Notes from the two presenters are available on this etherpad, but I’ll provide short summaries here.

First, Cara Lisa Berg Powers from Press Pass TV gave us an overview of the work that they do to link youth media and community organizing. The Center for Civic Media has collaborated with Press Pass TV before, on the Aago project, which Rogelio has been a part of. Currently, they’re gearing up to launch a campaign called Respect In rePorting (RIP), designed to shift the ways that journalists cover youth violence. They’re excited by the possibilities of reworking a news remix tool we’ve been developing, as an engaging way to bring the RIP campaign into high school classrooms. Later, Cara emailed me the following recap:

*We would love to work with your team to create a branded version of the
news hacking tool for the Respect in Reporting Campaign

*We could definitely use a student interested in working with us on our
website and social media strategy

*Please let us know if there's anything we can do to be supportive of
documenting the Aago project



Next, J. Nathan Matias talked to us about his own trajectory as both a developer and humanist, his background working with startups that mine vast amounts of user data to generate useful tools, and his work with the Ministry of Stories. Last semester in my Intro to Civic Media class, Nathan developed a timeline of co-design in context, and we talked a little bit about that. However, the conversation mostly focused on design personas. I don’t have time to do justice to the discussion, but we did come up with the interesting idea of “Social Justice Personas.” As Nathan tweets:

@ricaroseroque a strong critique against personas is that they take people out of the process. Can we use personas for social justice? How?

Social Justice Personas in the context of technology design might mean something like ‘design personas based on ideal-type users who are social justice activists,’ or it might mean ‘design personas that are developed through a process that is accountable to social justice values’ – or perhaps both. For example, under the former approach designers might specifically create personas for activists from social movement communities or in particular contexts – under open or repressive regimes, or with high or low levels of technology access or literacies. Under the latter approach, designers might meet with community members not just once, to extract information and generate design personas (personas are often created from interview notes), but also to share the design personas back to the community as a kind of accountability measure or reality check.

The Past

During the last hour, we shifted to a hands-on collaborative timeline exercise. We drew both from the work that Nathan shared with us and from workshops developed by Project South. Project South has been around for over two decades, organizing for social, racial, and economic justice among grassroots groups in the U.S. South and beyond. They focus on bottom-up movement building and popular education; one of their techniques involves the development of contextual timelines that link movement history with political history and economic history, as well as with individual experience. We employed this strategy and produced a timeline that tracks ideas, geopolitical events, technologies, and social movements, then added key events from our own lives:

When we went around the room to discuss the timeline, almost without exception each person described some kind of personal connection to the events they added. This was true whether the event was in the distant past, or more recent. At the end we stepped back to consider contexts in which this workshop might be useful, or not, in a collaborative design process. Adding the personal events (birth, politicization, migration, family, and so on) provides a space for workshop participants to locate themselves within the arc of intersecting historical forces while simultaneously learning more about one another and building community. An emphasis on the technology timeline might in some cases help participants focus on how past technology design processes may or may not have included their community, get excited about the idea of playing a part in design, think about how technological change is linked to other historical forces, or simply build trust.



Don’t forget your self

In Freedom is an Endless Meeting, Francesca Polletta writes about how community organizers in the IAF in the 1960’s were able to get broad support for common definitions of the problems that communities faced, and what actions the community should take to address them.  Organizers would go door to door, engaging in deep one-on-one interviews, emphasizing each person’s self-interest and needs.  Then, the organizers would consolidate stories, relate them, and build a shared understanding of common problems.

Organizers say that what makes the consensus authentic – what prevents people from kowtowing to their pastors or to organizers – is the emphasis organizers place on self-interest. Self-interest rather than altruism or ideological principle is what motivates people to effective action, organizers maintain. (Freedom is an Endless Meeting, 2002)

The IAF organizers believed that even in a participatory community process, self-interest was the key to effective action.  But the discourse on codesign in seems to have little emphasis on the role of the designer as a self-interested actor. Among the many introductions, handbooks, toolkits and manifestos for participatory design methodologies are arguments and justifications for why participatory design is valuable – generally falling into the broad categories of pragmatic arguments (participatory design strategies lead to more successful results), or normative arguments (participatory design strategies are morally better).[1] But I have yet to find a justification within the PD literature which comments on the role of the designer as an actor with self-interest, emotions, and needs, operating within institutional constraints.

The designers themselves face institutional, social, and personal constraints that influence their work, and might limit their ability to use a participatory method. For example, an academic designer may face academic hurdles such as theses, dissertations, publishing, tenure reviews, and mentorship. An industry designer will have concerns of employment and promotion. Whatever the circumstance, there will be constraints that limit the designer’s capacity to do work within any given methodology. As I read case studies of successes and failures in participatory design practice, I find myself asking repeatedly: who was the designer?  What circumstance of their design practice led to failures in choice and execution of design methodology?

What’s your motivation?

The participatory design literature might benefit from greater reflection on designers’ interests. This is an area where literature and practice of participatory research in the social sciences may be taking the lead over similar research in design. Participatory Action Research (PAR) emphasizes the importance of incorporating the researcher’s self, emotion, and affect into the research process. The aims of PAR are very consonant with the aims of codesign – the main difference is just that PAR comes from the background of social science, rather than design:

Action research aims to solve pertinent problems in a given context through democratic inquiry in which professional researchers collaborate with local stakeholders to seek and enact solutions to problems of major importance to the stakeholders. (Greenwood & Levin, 2000)

However, it’s not always straight forward to integrate such practices with the expectations of academic institutions. Janet Moore writes in Living in the basement of the ivory tower: a graduate student’s perspective of participatory action research within academic institutions:

In a model of true participation, participants have more control over the outcomes and process of the research.

This emerging paradigm of research enables researchers to be engaged in collaborative knowledge production, but it does not fit within traditional academic models for writing, publishing or promotion. Collaborative inquiry challenges academic institutions to create a system that accepts (and even rewards) these alternative processes for research. As a graduate student I am attracted to the often promoted collaborative projects within academia; however, my success within the institution is more often related to my individual endeavours (grades, publications, presentations, etc.) (Janet Moore (2004))

Research is conceived as a process of mutual growth and liberation; but it may not follow the demands of an institution.  This is a positive feature insofar as it enables research trajectories which undermine racism, sexism, imperialism, and class barriers that operate within academic institutions.  But it can also limit the practical ability of researchers to engage in the practice.

Designer as another self

As students in this class embark on participatory design projects, I wonder whether we are being sufficiently mindful of the communities we will be working with, and sufficiently self-reflective about our own motivations and needs. Perhaps, as the organizers of IAF suggested, we should reconsider and reformulate our project plans in the language of self interest.

“A person’s self interest incorporates all of their concerns, values and desires, including the need for self-preservation, creativity, self-definition, power, money, love, and the meaning of life,” Cortes writes…. Common interests and agendas are not assumed; rather, they are arrived at through a process of negotiation. (Polletta, 2002, p183)

The responsible thing to do, it seems, is to share with community partners in any codesign process the details of our own needs and circumstances, including the uncomfortable details of professional constraint that might impact the collaboration, and to work towards a consensus that can meet both community and designer’s needs. To ignore this is to open the door to the moral hazard of an engaging in a research practice which uses the language of participation, but fails to deliver, instead extracting the energy and participation of the community partner for the benefit of academic classwork alone.

So here’s my worry: I’m couching my dissertation work within a nominally trans- or anti-disciplinary (but actually more technology-focused) academic program on a participatory process. What do I do if I find through the participatory process that the most appropriate designs don’t meet the needs of the academic hurdles I face?

[1]: These two broad justifications (pragmatic and normative) parallel the division in justifications used by the OSI and FSF for promoting free software – the OSI argues that open source software leads to better quality (pragmatism); the FSF emphasizes the moral imparative of freedom. Benjamin Mako Hill argues in When Free Software Isn’t Better that the fact that free software projects often fail is a threat to the pragmatic argument.  It would be interesting to pursue a similar line of argument with regard to participatory design. Does the moral imperative justify the methodology, even if the outcome is not always better?

Community Collaborator Possibilities

There are three organizations that I am considering to partner with for a project that can be completed within the semester timeframe.

They are:
1-Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion (IBA): http://www.iba-etc.org/
This organization is the product of the founding of the Villa Victoria affordable housing development in the hear of the South End. They are responsible for social development programs within the community. Villa Victoria came out of the grassroots community efforts to save their neighborhood from urban renewal in during the ’60s. As an immigrant community they successfully received development rights of parcel 19 and imbued the area with a Puerto Rican design. The history of this neighborhood is rich and a positive example of the impact a latino community can have on a city.

2-Centro Presente: http://www.cpresente.org/
When I first moved to Cambridge I wanted to volunteer at a Latino based community organization. I found Centro Presente, an organization started in the early 1980s to support the influx immigration of central americans escaping civil war and dictatorial regimes. They support immigration and immigrant rights. Because my family is from El Salvador and came to the US under similar circumstances I am particularly interested in the goals and mission of this organization and would love to work with them.

3-Unskilled Laborers United: They do not have a website.
When I went to visit the Occupy Boston site in downtown this organization had a table by the campsites. They were providing information to the campers and visitors about their organization to gain support, donations, and volunteers. They help about 100 families in the Dorchester and Roxbury area through legal, translation, and employees training services. Additionally they provide food for the families during the holiday season to ensure they can enjoy good family dinners.

community-describe the community

The community I hope to work with will be a Boston based community which we would have chance to communicate with the members in a face to face style. Our first week readings show that in codesign, local community is considered as codesigners rather than consumers or test subject. The design process must actively involve the local community.  Thus, face to face communication is important for the success of a codesign project. Second, I hope my expertise has a good match with the need of the community. As a communication and media researcher, among the current list of potential community partners, I thought Press Pass TV has a good fit with my expertise. (http://presspasstv.dreamhosters.com/about-us/) I am also interested to work with some NGOs who have interest to web2.0 technologies because my experience in Web2.0 and communication capacity training in NGO2.0 project will be helpful for the organization. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_2.0 )

Youth Empowerment Through Media

I am hoping to work with youth from the greater Boston area. I am interested in many intersecting issues, such as educational access and youth empowerment, and I have worked with low-income youth in the Los Angeles. If possible, I would like to continue working with youth from low-income backgrounds. The community-based organization that I would like to work with is Press Pass TV. I have worked with Press Pass TV in the past during the development of AAGO, the citizen youth mobile application being developed with the Center for Civic Media. I really admire Press Pass TV’s emphasis on critical media practice and youth empowerment.