Probes as Participatory Design Practice

I afront coverm delighted to announce that the Special Issue on Probes as Participatory Design Practice which I co-edited with Susanne Maaß has been published. The special issue is interested in some of the fundamental questions of participatory design: How future users can be involved in design processes in meaningful, empowering and creative ways. The particular focus is on the ways in which (cultural) probes may serve this purpose and can be understood as participatory design practice. The concept of cultural probes was developed by Gaver, Dunne & Pacenti (1999) to collect ideas for creative design solutions from prospective users: A set of materials and questions stimulate users to observe, document, reflect and comment on their own everyday life over a certain period. Examples for such probes are diaries, cameras, postcards or maps. As a means of writing ethnographic self-description and self-disclosure and in combination with interviews or group discussions, they allow to communicate insights into everyday processes and structures, which are difficult to observe or investigate otherwise. Since their first introduction, cultural probes have enjoyed increasing interest in the field of human-centred or user-oriented software design. The concept has been amended to include concepts such as “design probes” (Mattelmäki, 2006), “technology probes” (Hutchinson et al., 2003) or “mobile probes” (Hulkko, Mattelmäki, Virtanen, & Keinonen, 2004) amongst others.


All iscreenshotn all, the special issue features five papers that analyse and discuss the use of probes in participatory design contexts, how users may be involved and empowered to design, contest, interpret and reflect on probes; how probes may inform a participatory design process. My colleague Ulrike Gerhard and I have contributed one paper on the use of probes in sharing (tacit) knowing between designers and participants/users and amongst participating users. The paper is based on our research and innovation project MobileAge and is available as open access.


Article on data transparency and environmental activism

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Map showing deforestation patterns, main roads, and protected areas in the Amazon. Source: IBAMA, PRODES/INPE, and IBGE 2010

Yesterday my paper with Prof. Raoni Rajao (UFMG, Brazil) was published at the Journal for Social Movement Studies. The article examines the relation between data transparency and environmental activism in the Amazon rainforest. For this purpose, we analyze the history of PRODES and DETER, two satellite-based monitoring systems developed by the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE). We discuss its role in environmental activism and the formulation of policy toward the Amazon over the last three decades. Based on this analysis, we argue that the level of aggregation (e.g. regional figures vs. individual events) and temporality (e.g. yearly consolidations vs. near real-time releases) of open data configure different ways of performing environmental activism. Aggregated figures tend to have wider policy significance due to their simplicity and scale, yet allow very little room for reinterpretation, contribution from environmental activists, and direct use in policy implementation. Disaggregated data, while allowing more forms of (unexpected) reinterpretations and additions via the overlay of different data-sets, also require the intervention of environmental activists and other info-mediators in order to acquire meaning for the broader public. Similarly, while consolidated data-sets have the advantage of allowing more time for the creation of higher quality data, they are often published at a point in the policy-making cycle in which the negative effects of current choices are irreversible. At the same time, while more frequent data releases may lead to more responsive policies, they also place governmental agencies in a more vulnerable position since near real-time data are more prone to contain errors. Based on these considerations we conclude that monitoring data do not simply represent deforestation in the Amazon. Instead, different publics and data configurations (i.e. spatial and temporal aggregation levels) produce different objects (e.g. a threatened Amazon, a successful policy) and subjects (e.g. knowledgeable environmental activists, an unresponsive government).

You may find the full article here.

The research was supported by the University of Bremen and the Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research (ZeMKI).

Themenessay zu Digitalisierung und Gesellschaft

Vorige Woche ist mein Themenessay zu „Digitalisierung und Gesellschaft“  in der Soziologischen Revue erschienen. Im Themenessay gehe ich auf die grundlegenden Herausforderungen der Erforschung dieses Phänomens ein – einer Soziologie des Digitalen. Hierzu habe ich vier neuere Publikationen  in diesem Themenfeld besprochen, Gemeinsamkeiten und Unterschiede in der wissenschaftlichen Debatte herausgearbeitet (siehe unten).

Inhaltlich argumentiere ich, dass die zunehmende Digitalisierung in dreifacher Hinsicht relevant und interessant ist: (1) als Forschungsobjekt – die digitale Gesellschaft, (2) durch die Entwicklung neuer Forschungsmethoden – digitale Methoden und (3) durch neue Plattformen für die Kommunikation von sozialwissenschaftlichen Forschungsergebnissen (siehe auch Marres, 2017).

Eine wichtige Aufgabe einer kritischen Soziologie des Digitalen ist es aufzudecken, wie sich Gesellschaft durch Digitalisierung verändert. Alle vorgestellten Bücher demonstrieren die Relevanz einer Soziologie des Digitalen, die verschiedenste Disziplinen zusammenbringt und stark empirisch ausgerichtet ist, denn traditionelle soziologische Fragen stellen sich im Verlauf des digitalen Transformationsprozesses neu.

Im Themenessay werden folgende Bücher besprochen:

Jessie Daniels / Karen Gregory / Tressie McMillan Cottom (Eds.), Digital Sociologies. Bristol, UK: Policy Press 2017.

Noortje Marres, Digital Sociology. The Reinvention of Social Research. Malden, MA: Polity 2017.

Roberto Simanowski, Facebook-Gesellschaft. Berlin: Matthes & Seitz 2016.

Florian Süssenguth (Hrsg.), Die Gesellschaft der Daten. Über die digitale Transformation der sozialen Ordnung. Bielefeld: transcript 2015.

Ein Tisch auf Wanderschaft

Im Rahmen des MobileAge Projekts haben wir in den vergangenen Monaten einen digitalen Stadtteilführer für ältere Menschen in Bremen Osterholz entwickelt und umgesetzt. Dies haben wir und das Forschungsinstitut Technologie und Behinderung der evang. Stiftung Volmarstein gemeinsam mit älteren Menschen aus Osterholz und lokalen Akteuren wie etwa den Quartiersmanagern, dem Ortsamtsleiter, verschiedenen Organisationen (z.B. BORIS, Geschichtswerkstatt, Mütterzentrum) getan. Ein erster Prototyp ist seit einigen Wochen online und wir sammeln Feedback sowohl zum Design als auch der Korrektheit der bereitgestellten Informationen. Um den Stadtteilführer im Stadtteil bekannt zu machen, aber auch Menschen, die keine digitale Geräten besitzen, den Zugang zu ermöglichen, werden wir in den kommenden Wochen verschiedenen Osterholzer Einrichtungen unseren Multi-Touch-Table leihweise zur Verfügung stellen. Begonnen haben wir heute im Café Blocksberg (Blockdieck), in sechs Wochen wird der Tisch dann ins Café Gabriely (Tenever) umziehen. Danach folgen Standorte in den anderen Ortsteilen (Schweizer Viertel, Osterholz, Ellener Feld).

Wir sind auf die Rückmeldungen der Nutzerinnen und Nutzer gespannt, und hoffen, dass viele ältere Osterholzer Interesse haben.

Den Prototypen kann man auch hier besuchen:

Eine unserer Teilnehmerinnen hat uns bei der Erstellung eines kurzen Erklärvideos unterstützt und führt in die Nutzung des Stadtteilführers ein.

Vorstellung- Digitaler Stadtteilführer für ältere Menschen in Osterholz from MobileAge on Vimeo.

Interim Study on Co-creation Practices

Since my last post, we have had a busy time with our co-creators in MobileAge to not only co-design the map-based application for Bremen’s district Osterholz but to also co-creation, validate and integrate relevant data. Our participants received their own tablets for the duration of 8 weeks and actively complemented the efforts of other stakeholders in the district. We will soon launch the official app (usability tests and evaluation are still to be done).

We have also submitted the interim study of our co-creation activities in Bremen and South Lakeland: D1.2 FINAL Interim study on co-creation practices.



MobileAge in Bremen begins with concept development

The co-creation activities at MobileAge’s German fieldsite are progressing well. Since May 2016 researchers from ifib meet regularly with senior citizens from Bremen’s district Osterholz and other relevant stakeholders and intermediaries. One objective of MobileAge is the development of a co-creation methdology and the evaluation of suitable methods.

One method we are currently using and evaluating is called “cultural probes”. In Bremen Osterholz 11 participants were asked to keep a diary for one week, take pictures and illustrate neighbourhood maps in order to allow ifib’s researcher a glimpse into their everyday activities. These so-called “cultural probes” were subsequently analysed and each of the participants was interviewed individually for about 90 minutes. On the 12th of July we conducted a workshop were the results of the probes and interviews were discussed with the participants. Subsequently we jointly developed 3 “personas” based on workshop results and the German Senior Citizen Survey (Deutschers Alterssurvey). These personas portray different ideal types of elderly people living in Osterholz and their life situations. We discussed these personas on the 16th of August. At this workshop we identified relevant topics and themes, information and communication requirements as well as resources of senior citizens. The ideas developed so far are interesting, engaging and very relevant to the life situation of many senior citizens living in Osterholz. We are hence looking forward to the upcoming months and our further collaborative co-creation.

The next project meeting will take place on the 7th of September from 10.30 – 12.00am at the EastSide Internetcafé in Tenever. New participants are very welcome as this would be an ideal event to join our co-creation activities.

MobileAge project meeting

APserveImage.phpThe second project meeting of our EU-funded project Mobile Age was held in the city of Zaragoza, Spain from 5th to 6th of July, 2016. Through the connection of open data, mobile technologies and public services Mobile Age aims to improve the public participation of senior citizens across Europe and facilitate their independent living. The objective is on the one hand to collaboratively develop mobile applications with and for senior citizens and on the other hand to test and implement methods for the involvement of elderly people in the development of public online services. The city of Zaragoza is besides Bremen (DE), South Lakeland (UK) and Central Macedonia (GR) one of the field sites where Mobile Age is carried out. The local government of Zaragoza already provides innovative projects for the participation of (senior) citizens.

The meeting was held in the premises of the local government. On the first day of the meeting the current state of the work packages was presented by the responsible partners. An important item was the exchange between the two pilot field sites in Bremen and South Lakeland, where ifib and Lancaster University already are working with elderly on the development of service applications. Besides, the project partner from the local government in Zaragoza reported on their already existing local activities and services for elderly. On the second day a workshop was held to coordinate the activities of the technical and the process strand and the further action was coordinated. The next meeting is going to take place in Bremen in the end of the year.

(text originally posted on ifib blog here)

Kick-off for MobileAge activities in Bremen

We kicked-off our co-creation activities in one of Bremen’s most diverse districts: Osterholz. Last Wednesday, 8 June 2016, we conducted the first workshop with 12 interested participants in a meeting room of the district’s administration office. The participants were recruited with support of a local project team at an information event that took place two weeks earlier, through ifib’s participation at a neighbourhood festival and articles in the local newspaper as well as personal communication. The goal of ifib’s co-creation activities in Osterholz is to jointly design and develop a mobile public service application for senior citizens that facilitates social inclusion.

After presenting the project and the team, the participants were asked to introduce themselves. Most participants emphasised their close connection to the district and were looking forward to learning more about it. They bring together a great and complementary mix of expertise and knowledge with respect to knowledge about the district, experience and use of mobile technologies and technology development as well as engagement in voluntary work. They all share an interest in creating something together that might be helpful and interesting for themselves, other seniors and their district

The workshop’s main engagement activity was the validation of a customised quartets (card game) about Osterholz. During the information event, our project team had asked participants to complete questions concerning places of interest, information needs and other topics regarding the district such as “What do I like about the district?”, “Where do I go with visitors?”, “What is missing in Osterholz”. At the kick-off workshop we discussed the contents and complemented them while having coffee and cake. This was a first activity to jointly develop an understanding of the potential diversity of information needs of senior citizens as well as an appreciation for the knowledge and experience that the co-creators bring to the project.

At the end of the workshop cultural probes were handed out to the participants. Cultural probes are hand-made research materials that help participants to self-document their everyday activities regarding certain topics. In case of the Mobile Age project we are especially interested in the participant’s relation to their district, their social networks, their information needs as well as their technology and media experiences and use. The participants examined the cultural probes bag and its contents with curiosity and said they were looking forward to engaging with the material.

We will be meeting again with our participants in ten days to collect the cultural probes. After analysing the materials, single interviews will be conducted with the participants in order to discuss the probes and to gain deeper understanding of their content. We feel excited that thanks to the local support we are able to start their fieldwork with so many interested and motivated participants and are looking forward to the future co-creation process.

Against the rule of algorithms! How do we resume control?

Yesterday I took part in a panel entitled: “Against the rule of algorithms! How do we resume control?” („Wider die Herrschaft der Algorithmen! Wie bekommen wir die Kontrolle zurück?“). It was part of this year’s Media Convention and 10th re:publica.The panel was organised by ARTE and moderated by Carolyn Hoefchen. I discussed with Prof. Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer (director @ Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung in Berlin), Dr. Cornelius Puschmann (project manager @ Humboldt Institut for Internet and Society) and Jonas Schlatterbeck (Senior Social Media Manager ARTE).

Prof. Gigerenzer opened the panel by presenting his co-authored “Digital Manifest” („Digital Manifests“).He pointed at the example of “Big Data Nudgung” and asked whether algorithms had taken control over our everyday live. Subsequently we discussed the risks of an increasing datafication and relevance of algorithms as well as the role of media and governmental organisation. Closing the session all panelists proposed concrete ideas on how to resume control.

pictures (c) Uwe Völkner Fox for MEDIA CONVENTION

EU project on co-created personalised mobile access to public services for senior citizens

2016-02-10 12.35.03 I am very excited to announce that we have been selected by the European Commission for a 3-year research and innovation action. The MobileAge project started in February 2016 and will focus on open government data, mobile technology, and the provision of public services in relation to Europe’s elderly population. Europe’s senior citizens are growing steadily and are predicted to comprise of 28% of Europe’s population by 2020. However, senior citizens do not normally share the same level of connectivity to the Internet as younger generations, and while government agencies are increasingly providing their services through digital platforms, this risks excluding senior citizens from the design and use of such services.

Mobile Age will provide the basis for the development of mobile-based open government services focused on senior citizens. We follow a co-creation methodological approach that will allow for a substantive participation of senior citizens. MobileAge will focus on the co-creation of services related to the production and use of open data for cities. This will be achieved by pursuing four objectives:

i) exploring and implementing innovative ways to support senior citizens to access and use public services through personal mobile technologies that are based on open government data,
ii) develop and deploy co-creation approaches and methodologies to engage senior citizens effectively;
iii) develop a situated, practice-based understanding of accessibility, mobility and usability of services from a senior-citizen point of view; and
iv) develop a framework for impact assessment and evaluation for co-creation approaches to open service development for the ageing population.

Mobile Age’s approach will be applied in cities and counties that are already providing innovative approaches for the participation of senior people in the development of city services: Bremen, South Lakeland, Zaragoza and the Region of Central Macedonia, with scenarios related to social inclusion, extending independent living, data curation for a safer and more accessible city, and the management of personal health information.

My role will be to lead a work package on Participatory Design in Civic Tech and Open Data, and I am very much looking forward to this challenging project.