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Technology Development with an Agenda: Interventions to Emphasize Values in Design

Katie Shilton

(Submission #40)


Social science research has begun exploring techniques to promote socially desirable values within the technology design process. Increasingly, such projects include interventions: action research which inserts social scientists into design to promote values of interest. This article details interventions intended to promote privacy and anti-surveillance values in a ubiquitous computing design laboratory. It describes a multi-year project with developers of mobile phone systems that collect data about people and their environments. The paper explores how interventions by outside social scientists, mentors and colleagues, clients and research subjects, and institutional authorities increase designers’ ability to consider, foreground, react to, and incorporate privacy and anti-surveillance ethics into design. Data from two years of participant observation describes techniques and structures that changed ethical deliberation about anti-surveillance values, and influenced the resulting features of lab technologies. Drawing from this experience, the article suggests criteria by which social science researchers can evaluate the success of a design intervention, including 1) moving the values advocate from outsider to insider; 2) changing the topic of conversation; 3) making values considerations a positive, rather than negative, part of design work; and 4) materializing new values in resulting technologies. Though the project features a difficult-to-replicate blend of personalities and power dynamics, analysis of the supporting structures that enabled successful interventions can be broadly useful to researchers concerned with values in design.


Program Track:  Track 6 - Information and Society: Economic, Political, Social Issues
Submission Type:  Research Paper

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