Negotiation, Values and Participation

This series of posts are written to help me narrow down my area of interest and shape my research question. I feel like I am very close to it at the moment and therefore try to explore it from many different areas to find the question that lines up my interests with the gaps in the literature.

There are three areas that I keep coming back to, but I cannot yet fathom how -even if- they are related. Not surprisingly if you read the heading the three areas are: Negotiation/Communication, Values and Participation/Appropriation. In this article I want to describe the three areas, outline the problem, pose a possible research question and outline possible methods to address the question. I hope that the process of writing will help me to understand whether the three areas are related or to understand which one is the one I want to tackle or find reasons why any would be more relevant.

Negotiation / Communication: This area is a development from my MA project, for which I made a design prototype that would use affective computing to provide a drawing and writing tool people could use shortly after they have been diagnosed with dementia. It has been designed to be used individually or shared by a couple. While I started off designing something that communicated the emotion of someone living with dementia directly, I found it more interesting after the initial literature review to design a reflective journal that would allow the user to take control of the process. But the main idea was to address the impact of the diagnosis which is at the moment rarely supported.
Within my current project I found that many of the current sensor-based technologies proposed to support dementia care pose complex questions regarding autonomy vs. privacy. My literature review and the initial study I did made it clear that people value these items very differently, but that technology currently is very limited in supporting individual use. Not only does it not offer ways if individualisation, it is also very ‘blackboxed’, giving little incentive to discuss the issues. It is an area in which I feel that interaction design can make a big difference. The problem I see is that while it has been suggested that monitoring of this kind must rely on informed consent and in the awareness of what is happening, the technology currently available hinders this process. The question resulting from this is: How can technology support communication about autonomy and privacy in the context of dementia care? Methods I would like to use this question are based in design prototypes and design futuring to develop alternative scenarios to the technologies in use today. These could be exhibited to a wider audience and could be used in sessions both with people with dementia and others without to evaluate their use and open up a discussion about the current technologies.

Values: This area of interest has been opened up to me by my own emotional response to many of the technologies developed. Through my literature review I have since then learned how useful it would be for these technologies to adapt to the users values. With an increase in networked and ubiquituous devices research in this area has wider implications as well. This question is possibly the one that touches the most on issues of survaillence and the way technology supports diversity in our society. The problem I see is twofold: In dementia care possibly useful devices are not used as users feel that they do not work for them. The wider problem I see is that technology can be prescriptive if we do not find ways to individualise them in a way not too overwhelming for the user. The question resulting from this is: What values are communicated through technology in dementia care today? How can design support more value-sensitive design that enables the user to chose? To address this question, I would use the following methods: Design future writing could be a starting point of exploration of current values by projecting developments both into positive and negative directions.

Participation / Appropriation: The project was originally called “Dementia Hacks” and this is the area that is closest to the originally proposed idea. It stems from the assumption that everyone has agency. Dementia care is one area which assumes lack of agency at the moment and therefore might take control away from the user. Even though calls have been made for technology that supports rather than overwrites user actions have been made, what is currently available does not follow these guidelines. A feeling that the current technology is normative stands in the way of its adoptions. Theories about technology appropriation become relevant in this context. If the development of Smart Homes and Smart Environment is just around the corner as suggested by some, research done as a case study in regards to adaptability of technology in dementia care can become relevant in this larger context as well. The problem is that current technologies are not adaptable, considering a static user. That way they are considered stigmatising which leads to reduction, which reduces user participation even more. The question resulting from this is: How can ew design technology in a way that enables participation and appropriation by people living with dementia? Methods used to to explore the question could focus on autoethnographic methods to understand the restrictions of current technologies, workshops with users with and without dementia to understand what level of participation would be acceptable and what matters to them as well as design prototypes to explore these issues further.

 Yes, this has been a helpful exercise in showing me that values is a topic that runs through everything I am interested in, while the other two are more interesting in their own right. Even though the two areas of communication and particiaption are similiar in some of the underlying assumptions, they are different. But I feel at this point both are relevant in their own right and it will be up to me to decide where I want to focus on. As a next step I am going to write a summary proposal of each to discuss with my supervisor.

Reflections on my own motivation

Writing my literature review just did not go well lately. I am caught in this annoying phase in which things are not yet fully ‘together’. When the structure does not really flow and sentences still circle the issue rather than expressing it.

To make this feel less of a wasted day I turned to this reflection. Even though I am fully aware that it is important to ground my research in the literature to ensure that I do not follow a whim, I also find it easy to lose myself in the literature. Lose what drove me towards this project and what will hopefully drive me through.

One thing I find really important is that this project and the first turns it took are motivated by anger. Anger about the derisive language with which people with dementia are addressed, the passiveness and lack of agency that is attributed and the resulting products, many of which I find dehumanising. Dementia is considered as a static thing in many of these projects, affecting people who have either come fully to terms with the diagnosis or who are too far gone to understand. With earlier diagnosis, more awareness and from my own family history there is a third state. A state of ‘becoming’ a person with dementia. Negotiating what this means. With oneself. With others.


Visualization how my MA prototype might be used

Technology that could be useful in this area needs to be very different from what is available today. It needs to be exploratory, ambivalent, conflicing and disruptive. Following from my MA project I am interested in the role technology can play in this negotiation. Something that I have not seen yet, but something that I find exciting as a tool to charter new waters, learn and understand.

Because I am coming from a point of anger and the view that things are going wrong at the moment, I find it hard to accept this project as a ‘nice little’ design exercise. I do not want to play it safe, I want to disrupt, confront and pose questions rather than answering them.

I got very angry about the projects that I consider unethical, especially in regards to privacy and the way that others address people living with dementia as passive. From my literature review I have come to accept this as my values, which are shared by some, but not by others.There is no right or wrong answer, but it looks like everyone needs to find an individual solution. Current technologies in my opinion do not support this, for two reasons. Firstly they are not very adaptive, giving little choice of how to interact with each other through them. Secondly they become invisible, hiding away in the background. Even though this reduces stigma and might be supportive it takes away contol and possibly gives way to coercive methods.


A visualisation of how I expected my MA prototype to be used.

Understanding how much I oppose these technologies and reading how people using them have actually been allright with them, has been a real eye-opener to me as it has shown how easy it is for designers and developers to impress their own values onto technology. Which is why I argue towards technologies that are ‘hackable’, technologies that can at least be adjusted at best made by the people who will use them. I am slightly vary at this point of participatory design projects that lead to single use devices. Even though I understand how emancipatory they can be for everyone involved, they often set out to answer questions, close down the discussion rather than opening it up.

So, 500 words on why I am angry. Where do I go from here? This little execise has shown me two things: Firstly I am really interested in the role technology can play within communication. Computer-Human Interaction as interactions between humans via computers. About dementia, about technology, with people concerned, with the general public. I need to break down who I want to reach to narrow down my project at this stage.
Secondly I consider technology in dementia care as too prescriptive. Something I would not like to be used on myself. I want to explore ways of opening up technologies in a way that people can use them in the way they want.

I am still unsure whether I have to focus on one of those areas or if there is a question that links the two of them. It has become clear to me though during writing this that I want to use design methods to explore the topic: design fiction and speculative design as well as design prototypes as tools for exploration.

Another important point is that monitoring technologies in dementia care are an example for me, not the topic. It is an interesting area to venture in as the conflicts are researched and worked out, but the role of technology within it is still debated. And this is my point of interest: the role of technology. I do not want to create better products in dementia care, but I want to enhance the way current trends in technology shape our behaviour, particularly in regards to communication.

I think that a study of this kind, that explores monitoring technologies and its future implications gives interesting insights into other technologies, opens a discourse more generally about Smart Houses and the Internet of Things. It will give insights into the role of the user within these systems and how they might form our behaviour. Towards the technology and each other.

Elements of my question:

  • What role does technology play in communication about values in dementia care?
  • Can design methods open up the discussion about individual values and preferences?
  • Can alternative technologies open up the discussion how we will engage with health care in future?
  • Can design prototypes help us to understand how to design for a user with changing needs?

Reflection on “Interaction Science”

During the last term, I took part in the MSc Course ‘Interaction Science’. Even though I have known of many of the concepts about cognition and perception used in HCI from my MA studies in Interaction Design, the overall approach in this course has been complementary and very different from the more practice based introduction I had earlier.

The course consisted of 8 weeks of lectures in the morning and practice seminars in the afternoons. Additional possiblity for practice has been given thorugh the use of the Peerwise platform, in which students are encouraged to write questions about the course content, which are critized during the answering process and the opportunity to ask questions by other students.

The lectures gave a good overview about frameworks used withing HCI research. It was a good revision from what I learned in the taught elements of my MA course, going into more depth in some cases. While the MA teaching familiarised me with some of the principles that underlie cognition and the way it influencd HCI such as the ‘Human Processor Model’, the Interaction Sciece course gave more background into how these concepts had been developed, who had been important in their discovery and how they are used within HCI today. It was useful to see these frameworks tested and evaluated in experimental designs, rather than the design implications they lead to. Throughout the course, the lecturers pointed towards academic papers that adress the topic discussed, which I found very useful as it combined the basic theory with different approaches of HCI research.

The study sessions have been particularly useful for me as a tool to critique and improve academic writing. Often struggeling with the planning of my writing and structuring it in a way meanignful to the readers, especially the first sessions gave me good guidelines on how to improve my writing. I have since taken to outlining my writing more with subheadings to stick to formats recognizable and useful to the reader.

It will have to be confirmed when I start writing, but I feel that the course has enhanced my vocabulary both in terms of planning of studies, but also in the reporting. I can observe that I read academic sources differently and more critically since the start of the course and pay more attention to the report of method than I did before.

Another point I found very useful about the course has been the opportunity to plan out conceptual studies and discuss the process with others. In my MA course I did not do any structured experimens, nor had it been of great importance during the taught modules, so that I have no experience in this area. Working together in teams with psychology students, who have much more experience, has been useful to get into the process of planning. Even though I feel I will have to study further before setting up my own successful experiment, I am more aware of principles of good research and the plannning process in general through this course.

The progress from research focussing on internal processes within the individual towards a more distributed cognition, covered in week 5 has been very interesting to me as I think something comparable is happening at the moment in technology for dementia. With a focus on office-based work in the beginning of HCI, it feels that other areas, such as health care go through comparable steps with a delay. The process can obviously not be transferred one to one, but addressing socio-technical systems rather than individuals to make technology more effective, more useful and more used, is a step I recognize from my current research.

Many of the insights of the ‘Interactive Search and Information Foraging’ module sounded familiar, which I expect to be a reminder rather of my library sciences course rather than the MA. Information access and retrieval has been a large part of the course and even though the role computers play within the search process has only been hinted at – I graduated in 2005, when computers where slowly becoming a normal occurence in libraries – the role cognition and strategy played in the process has been covered. It is very interesting to compare the contents taught in this course with what I learned 10 years earlier and how both understanding and practice has been developed since then.

The part of the course that focussed on ‘Human Errors’ was perhaps the one that offered the most new content to me. Even though I was aware that this is an important part of HCI research, it had not played a large role in my work before and had not been covered in the MA course as far as I can remember.

One of the insights about this course I found the most interesting was not in the content, but in regards to my understanding of HCI. Coming from a design background, making the step from fashion into computer science in a very short timeframe, I tend to question my role within HCI. Not being familiar with certain frameworks and ways of working supports this feeling. There have been sessions within Interaction Science when I experienced this particularly strong, especially when the focus was on the measurement of interaction modes, such as point and click experiments related to Fitts Law, covered in the last session. Even though I can understand why this may be of importance in a work setting, it does not relate much to how I work, what is important to me and what I cover within my PhD. The sessions have therefore been a good preparation to defend my way of working in contrast to other approaches that are also used in HCI. I hope I will be able to preempt criticism from more experimental, work-based researchers and use this to strenghten my arguments.

Reflection on ‘Creating and Exploring Digital Empathy’ Symposium

Empathy, or rather the lack of it, is something that comes up in my research project regularly. Looking into assistive technologies for people with dementia with a focus on monitoring technologies, I consider that the rigidness and ‘invisibility’ to stand in the way of empathy. There technologies have been framed as dehumanising as they are used ‘on’ people with dementia rather than by them in an active and engaged way.

I therefore attended the ‘Creating and Exploring Digital Empathy’ event organsied by the CEDE study group, consisting of members of UCL Casa, University of Sheffield InstEAD and Lancaster University Speculative and Game Design. In various talks throughout the day, the connection between empathy and the digital world have been introduced, while prototypes and design concepts that came out of this project have been displayed for people to explore.

In “Digital Systems for community empathy” the speakers introduced a design prototype that allows visitors of a church to display a prayer publicly. The idea has been tested in two very different churches and design recommendations came out of it as well as insights how the ‘making public’ of formerly private prayers, could create empathic connections within the community. The project will be taken further by 5 “sets” than will be tested and displayed in other churches. What I found particularly interesting was the notion not only to design ‘with empathy’ but in a way that designs ‘for empathy’, giving users the oportunity to connect through the use of technology. This involves a step away from designing user-centered, but rather in a community-centered way. While the project has generally been considered quite interesting, some discussions during lunch questions whether introducing technology into something as personal as prayer is not a step too far and sign of an overly technological society.

In ‘Voight-Kampff: A machine from the future’ Paul Coulton introduced his speculuative design project with the question: How and why would you develop a machine that measures empathic responses today? Developed for the film BladeRunner, this machine was introduced to detect Cyborgs, which would not be considered useful in todays society. But developing a ‘Kickstarter’-style video, a design prototype and other forms of communication, the idea has been transformed into something that makes machines more empathic to our needs. Even though not functional, though believable, these objects pose questions about the way our technologies might interact with use in future and pose the question whether  users want to engage in this way. Design ficition in this way can pose questions about technology before they exist.

‘Out of the eye of the beholder’ was a more applied talk which dicussed how a similiar technique could be used for interrogation purposes. Understanding what someone is thinking even before he might by aware might be possible using ‘implicit Associations Tests’, physiological measurements and machine learning.

Looking into the relationship between Empathy and Economics, Philip Powell introduced four studies they have undertaken during this research project. Even though only proliminary results could be shown for some of them, the areas are nonetheless interesting. They looked into the determinants for digital empathy and found that different contexts and media evoke different kinds and levels of empathy of empathy. Being given biofeedback of ourselves or someone we play against can make a difference in who we interact in economic games.

In ‘Sensing and Communicating Emotions’ a range of different protypes have been introduced that do exactly as the title says. The speakers made the point that the new sensor technologies offer new ways of measuring empathic and emotional responses. Not only does it not rely on self-reporting, it also can be done less introsuce over a longer period of time. These prototypes can be used to pose social questions rather than answering questions.

In ‘Interaction Design and Empathy’ projects from agency Soda have been introduced which engaged people and invited people to share emotional context and evoke emotions in the viewers of the project.

Even though other definitions of empathy have been introduced during the day, the panel disussion focussed on empathy as making a connection between people as a working definition. Which sums up one of the points I take away from the day as really important: User-centered design may not be a good way to address empathy, but it rather needs a wider look into the whole network. The other thing I take away is that speculative design can break up arguments about technological determinism, but rather introduce alternative technologies and futures.





The search for a research question

Even though from the activity on this blog it looks like I have been idle the last month, quite the opposite is true. I look a lot like staring out of the window, but I spend a lot of time thinking at the moment; clarifying my aims and coming closer and closer to the research question. For me, as for many I assume, this is quite a big step, because it will close down some doors. At the moment my project offers many different areas of exploration – all of which I find interesting – but I need to limit it down soon and formalise my research. It is a bit like picking the favorite child.

One of the ways in which I kept myself busy was writing up a literature review. Which is still ongoing. Today I decided to support the process by writing and drawing out theses and quiding questions. My writing is divided into three parts: in the first one, I identified 4 big areas for which technologies are developed. DONE. In the second I look deeper into the way these are developed and how they are perceived. Tougher, but I identifyed three problems that you will find below. Third step will be to outline ways in which to address these criticisms. Thoughest. But again I have outlined three areas that you will find here:


Now that I have a bit clearer what I want to write, I should go back to it. It is helpful to clear my mind. But maybe I tried too much by writing it all in one go. Maybe I need quick and easy fixes like this. So, hopefully, there will me more activity here soon.

Reflections on “Qualitative Data Analysis”

During the last term I attended the course “Qualitative Data Analysis” of the Psychology Department, which has introduced methods of Qualitative research I did not know before and given me a deeper understanding on how to analyse data. While much of the course has been given as talks, the role, aim and methods of qualitative methods have been discussed throughout. In addition to giving overviews about the topics, the lecturers both gave examples from their own work; explaining how they applied this theory.  The course consisted of four parts, which were: Introduction to qualitative research methods, Data elicitation, Thematic Analysis and Q-Methodology.

In the introduction the lecturer showed an interesting example in which the researcher team compared representations in the media with lay understandings. Going into details how techniques have been combined, I found that inspirational and very useful to consider. I think I am still very ‘one-dimensional’ when planning data collection and hope this is something I can improve on during my PhD.

In the second part “Eliciting data” the lecturer introduced interviews and the Free Association Method as examples. While I had short training sessions about interviewing, this session had a different approach. The lecturer emphaised the use of open questions to avoid asking the participants “Why do you think this?”, but rather work with the participants words and ask them to expand on them. Taking part in an interview shortly after I learned for myself how complicated it is to rationalize certain exclamations and how intimidating it can be. Even though it is such a small thing, it made me question the way in which I would approach an interview and I hope it will support my work in future. Even though useful, the lecturer warned that interviews are ‘time consuming and costly’ and therefore need to be planned carefully and with a strong research question to make the best of the time people offer.

This seminar was the first time I came across the Free Association method and it is one that I consider quite useful as a way to elicit quick, associative responses. Like probes these seem useful to start a conversation about a topic, in a very open way; ‘naturalistic’ as the lecturer called it. She introduced the grip elaboration method, as a way to elicit ‘first thoughts’ which lay latent in people’s thinking. These responses can then be used in further interviews to learn more about the reasoning behind them.

Interestingly the seminar part on “Thematic analysis” fell into the time when I was doing the analysis of my study from the 32C3 congress. As I was struggeling with analysing the data at the beginning, this course gave me new angles with which to approach the data. The point I struggled with the most at the beginning was the question how not to focus on the literature I read before. While I wanted to approach the data deductively, I felt I was guided a lot by the topics I had already identified in the literature research initially. Using an initial coding frame, I was able to divide the data in new ways that made it easier for me to approach it in new ways. I came accross this method in the seminar and discussed the problem of being too close to the data shortly with the lecturer, which both gave me new inputs for working with the data.

Even though I had not been able to attend the labs in which a data analysis using Atlas.ti was undertaken, though this course I do have an initial idea on how to approach this, when it might be useful to use an analitical tool and many sources with which to train myself, should I need it. As for my own analysis the amount of data was quite small, I felt it might be limiting to use a tool and I also felt it would be a useful experience to do it “by hand”. Learning about the arguments for and against using tools, I feel I am now more fluent in arguing why and how I undertook the analysis.

The lecturer put a strong emphasis on quantitative elements with qualitative research, e.g. when highlighting that she always gives the number of codes within a data set when reporting the data. The emphasise differs from the way  Braun and Clarke approach the analysis. It was useful to see different ways in which people interpret the same method. For this analysis I have chosen a less quanitative way, but I can see how this is more interesting with a larger data set, in which relations might become more meaningful.

The section on Q-Methodology was completely new to me as I had never heard of this technique. It differed from the other methods introduced as it was more prescriptive in my opinion. While techniques such as Free Association put a strong emphasise on working with the participants voice, Q-Methodology gives pre-defined statements to work with. Even though these might be generated from the participants themselves, I found the technique less approachable from this point of view. I nonetheless think it might be useful tool to approach ‘wicked questions’ such as the question about autonomy and privacy in my own project and I could imagine using it at a later stage.

Evren though we did not build up our own q-set, we sorted the data and tentively analysed it in the week after. The lecturer had the statistical evaluation prepared and we have been able to work with the data and go into the qualitative analysis. It was an interesting experience to see both sides of the technique.

As I was already thinking about using qualitative methods in my research, the course did not change my mind. But it helped a lot to learn more about different approaches towards qualitative analysis and enriched my knowledge of what tools and techniques are out there. It has supported my first analysis and given me more confidence in approaching analysis.