Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Participation design

I was revisiting earlier today a podcast conversation between two people I much admire –– an episode of Team Human recorded by writer and host Douglas Rushkoff with security and privacy architecture consultant Eleanor Saitta.

Rushkoff's first book Cyberia (01994), for me as a teenager in Australia, was a gateway to a whole lot of things I'd never heard of before. I've followed his work for about 25 years, and we've met a few times over the past decade. Saitta, whom I first met when we spoke on a conference panel in Singapore together in 02013, blew my mind over breakfast, in I think our first face to face conversation, by putting me on to Nordic Larp, a big topic to dig into more at some stage. She coedited the excellent Knutpunkt book The Foundation Stone of Nordic Larp (02014), a great entry point if that topic piques your interest.

So there's this exchange towards the end of their discussion that has come to mind more than once since I first heard it.


Douglas Rushkoff: [You have written about] our determination to maintain this illusion of individuality and selfhood in the face of an increasingly networked reality. In one of your essays, There is no Future, which is a way of saying that the future distracts us from the present that we're in, you say:

Our production of narratives runs very deep. We create the "self" as a distinct entity, different and separate from the world, and create a narrative about how that self has interacted with the world through its history. This, even, is where the problems start. We try to live in that narrative, instead of in the real world. The self we create doesn't really exist, and the narrative we create is more fiction than real.

Eleanor Saitta: And I should caveat that by saying: Creating and living in fiction can be an incredibly powerful tool for political change –– as long as you know what you're actually doing. As long as you you remember that you're doing this thing.

This is something that I've argued at a completely practical level. It's really interesting to look at the toolkits that people use to design, for instance, social networks. “Experience design” –– the experience that they're talking about there is the individual experience, and that is the thing that is designed.

DR: Right, UX/UI [user experience and user interface design] is the individual user. It's not community experience, collective experience.

ES: There is no practice of, the phrase that my friend Andie Nordgren uses is 'participation design'. And this is looking at a participation frame that says, yes, we have a set of personas, and they have their individual interests, but the participation actually happens between personas, and between different parts of the community, and that's the thing that we actually really care about designing.

It's useful to consider individual experiences, and certainly every system has interactions that are individualistic, but a lot of what is interesting [lies in between these].

If you've got the in-house wiki for some organisation, there's the person who always starts pages, there's the person who cleans up pages, there's the person who is really unlikely to start a page, but will absolutely go through and flesh out all the details and find the citations. And those are participatory roles that are happening between people, and you want to encourage and shape those interactions. And trolling and griefing and all of these things; these are also participatory roles that we want to discourage.

But there isn't a design discipline that focuses on those things, those interactions, those participations, as the first-class structures.


(Starts ~54 mins in.)

I've transcribed this to share here because it's interesting in its own right, and partly also as a bookmark: the fact it has come to mind multiple times seems to be tugging at some threads that are important and that I hope to tease out properly in another post. 

For now I'll just say that this idea of 'participation design' rhymes with approaches we've been working with around 'structures of participation' (Natalie Jeremijenko), 'designing for emergence', and 'situation design' (including, over the past five years, and thanks to Ella, live action roleplaying games).

Engendering circumstances in which we can usefully speculate and improvise, it turns out, is all about this design terrain made up of the spaces between people.

> Dreaming Together (pdf)