Upcoming workshop: The role of ICT in transforming society through engaged communities

Posted on July 20, 2015


PAINT - 4th workshop
I’m very happy that this workshop will be held at ICT4S in September (see more info here)

On the basis that sustainability problems are not amenable to single-point interventions (because they are both wicked and numerous), we need a step-change in how we approach ICT4S.  Rather than trying for separate interventions for every aspect, or for passive awareness, focus needs to be placed upon engaging people to affect worldviews.  This deeper engagement might be through community conversations, through reflection and so on.  This workshop explores the meaning and role of engagement, its potential for change, and how ICT4S can contribute to that.

Workshop structure:

The workshop will be structured around a series of critical-observation role plays. At the start, a set of research questions will be posed. Then, in a series of four mini-workshop activities, workshop participants will swap around roles as activity leader, participant, and critical-observer group. Each role play will explore a different approach to community engagement through ICT4S.  Novel practices that will be workshopped include Ferrario’s Speedplay, Mann’s Participatory Decision Modelling and PAiNT, Larsson’s Gasco and Kreitmayer’s 4Decades (the selection of these will depend on the outcome of the call for participation).  During each role play the critical observer group will (quietly) discuss the approach and at the end will provide feedback to the larger group about their learnings from the process, as will the participants. These learnings will be captured and build towards a final integrative discussion of the research questions and any emergent themes. We envisage these learnings forming the basis of an article for publication.

Who should come to the workshop?

The workshop will be of interest to researchers and practitioners in HCI and related fields such as Software Engineering and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work.  You might be experienced in ICT4S or new to the field.  We also welcome  participants from disciplines such as geography or sociology who could contribute to the political and community engagement aspects, learn what ICT4S has to offer, and build transdisciplinary partnerships.

There is more information on https://ict4sengagedcommunities.wordpress.com/

That sounds great, what do I do now?

Any attendee is welcome. Please sign up through the EnviroInfo & ICT4S registration system.

Also, submit a brief statement describing your interest in this workshop.

We also invite you to suggest alternative engagement approaches suitable for the workshop.  This description should consist of three of paragraphs: describing the theoretical positioning of the approach;  example(s) of application area; and a brief description of how it would fit into a critical-observation role-play session during the workshop.


A sustainable future is not going to be reached by incremental change and picking low-hanging fruit. In the words of David MacKay, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, “if everyone does a little, we’ll achieve only a little”. Eventually, a more transformative change will be required – a societal transformation. This transformation requires an engaged community. The workshop addresses the role of ICT (and specifically that of Sustainable HCI) in that engagement.

ICT is not just about carbon emissions or energy. How can ICT counter biodiversity loss? Massive global inequities? Or even local problems such as why the logs are transported on the road instead of the adjacent train track? Ethics and sustainability are rarely as simple as choosing between an obvious good and an obvious bad. The world is beset with wicked problems, but as Andy Read describes, “the wickedness of problems is no excuse for standing by”.

On the basis that sustainability problems are not amenable to single-point interventions (because they are both wicked and numerous), we need a step-change in how we approach ICT4S. Rather than trying for separate interventions or for awareness as a passive activity, focus needs to be placed upon engaging people to affect worldviews. This deeper engagement might be through community conversations, through reflection and so on.

This workshop explores the meaning and role of engagement, its potential for change, and how ICT4S can contribute to it.

We recognise that the low-hanging fruit of sustainability are behaviours such as individual energy use and we do not deny that these need addressing. But we look beyond that, to a potentially more rewarding place but one that is down a difficult route. Our usual route markers don’t work here – we can’t pre-prescribe desired behaviour change; we can’t easily measure success, we are not really sure of the destination; changes might take decades to occur; our stakeholders might not have been born yet; going forward might turn out to be the wrong way; and so on. But these missing route markers are in the very nature of the sustainability journey. This workshop could be considered wayfinding in explored territory.


Much of Sustainable HCI comes from a solutionist framing, a belief in technological fixes – that simple interventions mostly aimed at changing individual’s behaviour – can do away with unsustainability. This thinking is flawed for many reasons but mostly because of the wickedness of sustainability. If we could fix climate change, or plummeting biodiversity or global poverty by a light that tells us we’ve been in the shower too long, then we would already have done. Engineering systems are fine until you are in a situation where you don’t have that support. Knowles argues we need to work on values rather than ”solutions”. But it is all-too-easy to switch back to ”saving money” as an argument for altered behaviour. This is unfortunate as “saving money” is a shallow motivation that can sometimes be aligned with sustainability – but sometimes can’t.

The challenge (and opportunity) is described by Mann (after Stagl): “As a society we have to learn to live in a complex world of interdependent systems with high uncertainties and multiple legitimate interests. These complex and evolving systems require a new way of thinking about risk, uncertainty, ambiguity and ignorance (Stagl 2007). These systems require that we can think simultaneously of drivers and impacts of our actions across scales and barriers of space, time, culture, species and disciplinary boundaries. It means that we need to switch from a focus on outcomes to one of process”.

The process we need ICT4S to address, is the process of engendering societal change.


The nature of the engagement can be explored by example:

Speedplay is a Digital Social Innovation (DSI) management framework whose reflective, participatory and agile process is characterised by four iteratively overlapping steps: prepare, co-design, build, and sustain [Ferrario et al. ICSE 2014]. However, Speedplay is best described as a research management style [Ferrario et. al ICT4S 2014] with a work ethic built around six key core principles mapped onto Schwartz’s universal values [Schwartz 1992]: 1) Equality: work in partnership with all stakeholders and users as research peers. 2) Mutual-help: support team building by engaging in cross-cutting tasks. 3) Responsible Independence: promote individual self-direction by matching primary responsibilities to skills. 4) Creative Freedom: be ‘un-disciplined’ with methods, from mixed methods to design thinking. 5) Open to change: be opportunistic with change and the unexpected. 6) Broadmindedness: open up technology to be part of the enquiry rather than the end solution. Speedplay has emerged from several years of working in community-university partnerships with hard-to-reach groups including homeless charities, adults with autism, and remote rural communities. It has been applied to a range of project domains including public space design, anxiety management and renewable energy supply.

Current eco-feed approaches focus on telling people how much energy they use with the aim of reducing consumption. Research shows the variable success of this approach which also carries a largely negative message. This begs the question: can we think differently about energy supply and the use of natural resources? Researchers at Lancaster University have explored this question through ‘onSupply’ a 9-month partnership with the Community of Tiree investigating the opportunity presented by renewable energy (RE) supply by synchronising electricity consumption to the time-varying nature of renewables. Tiree is a small island off the coast of Scotland, with favourable exposure to wind and sun, a community turbine and an extremely fragile energy supply system. In this nine-month period, ten technology prototypes were designed and tested with groups of different ages and backgrounds including the local school and organisations. One branch of this work resulted in ‘Tiree Energy Pulse’, an eco-forecasting located display that presents the energy ‘pulse’ of the island by integrating local RE production forecast with local weather data. TEP was co-developed and deployed in eight Tiree households over five weeks [Simm et al. CHI 2015]. The team is currently translating lessons learned to further develop the onSupply systems into an integrated platform in partnership with businesses, communities and organisations at a local and regional level.

Participatory decision making
Climate change and peak oil need to be taken into account by a city developing a long term plan. Beyond simple engineering impacts, broader decisions are being made now about whether to focus on suburban development or inner-city intensification. But the community has not made these connections and cannot understand what climate change has to do with land zoning decisions (beyond water inundation). One project, PowerSim, is a structured process for policy development using interactive visualisation and computer simulation (Randall et al 2012). It is foremost a participatory process to engage people in thinking about issues such as those involved in the development of long term strategies. Rather than a static model, the outcome of the process is the modelling process itself – of increasing understanding, uncovering assumptions, and in jointly recognising drivers and implications. Another project, the City Wide Energy Meter, aimed at fostering discussions of long-term energy usage (Attfield et al 2014), the success being defined as Community Energy Literacy being an individual’s confidence to take part in community consultations.

Clasp is an anxiety management and peer support network system for adults with autism (ASD) [Simm et al. DIS 2014], it was developed during a nine-month research partnership with ASD adults and their families, it has received wide media attention, end-users, and care-providers’ support. Clasp has now entered a second phase of development (www.myclasp.org) aimed at the development of a sustainable technology platform to support the design of personalised anxiety management technologies for people with autism and their support network. The platform is being jointly designed for building a range of personalised digital care technologies that in future may not be necessarily related to autism. One of the main lessons learned from Clasp’s first development phase is that “everybody is unique” and “has different needs” [Simm et al. DIS 2014]. This raises fundamental research questions: how can we ‘open-up’ and ‘tear-down’ a technology to suit both individual and collective needs? How can we do it in transparent, sustainable way? How can we move beyond ‘gadgets’ and investigate the long-term societal and ethical implications of personalised health-technology? Our ultimate goal is to make digital-health technologies accessible and affordable to all parts of society including the hard-to-reach groups. Our approach is to include Amartya Sen capability approach as well as circular economy principles into Speedplay agile and action-research based innovation framework [Ferrario et al. ESEE 2015].

Other approaches include Larsson’s Gasuco, Benford’s “Conversations with Trees” and “Uncomfortable Experiences” and $Decades from Kreitmayer et al. (2012). This latter example consists of participatory simulations whereby teams are encouraged to collaboratively explore a given model as a means to promote discussion and reflection upon uncertainties. The 4Decades simulation allows teams to repeatedly play through different what-if scenarios with regard to global policies and climate change.


Is engagement as a means to behaviour change a goal for S-HCI
What can we learn from examples of a focus on engagement in S-HCI (and beyond)?
Attempt to define engagement?
Measures of success? (on individual and community levels)
Can we establish a pattern language/or a handbook for S-HCI mediated engagement