Notes from the Workshop on Ethics, Roles and Relationships in Interaction Design in Developing Regions

Yesterday, the workshop Ethics, Roles and Relationships in Interaction Design in Developing Regions took place in Uppsala, Sweden and around the world, as people where joining presentations and discussions online including from the UK, Madeira, and Malaysia. The workshop is part of the INTERACT2009 conference, which takes place from 24-28 August.

Eight very interesting papers were presented and discussed during the workshop. For example, Andy Dearden raised the question of how to analyse the risks of unintended consequences; Maira Carvalho investigated different approaches for designing interactive systems at a distance, where researchers don’t have access to the users; Chu Yin Wong presented a user-centred design process for developing a mobile community service addressing the deaf in Malaysia; Eugene Danilkis and Sofia Nunes presented results from their field research on mobile banking in Mozambique; Pam McLean talked about the work she is doing at Dadamac, and how this can benefit researchers.

An important issue that Ida Horner raised in her presentation, and which we have also experienced during our work in Zanzibar, was the importance of doing research in the field and familiarising yourself with the environment, before implementing anything. Ida stressed that it is particularly important to understand how communities are organised. Otherwise researchers run into conflicts before they even started.

Overall, I expected the workshop to focus more on interaction design and experiences regarding methodologies, while most of the discussions that followed each presentation focused on ethical issues, often raising high-level problems that interaction designers might not always be able to solve. These issues were also reflected by the workshop themes, but the questions that remained for me where: what is the role of interaction designers in developing regions, how is it different to their role in more traditional contexts, and what are appropriate methodologies?

An interesting discussion emerged around problem solving, which seems to be a very engineering/technology-driven approach, and whether this approach is appropriate in a developing context. Are interaction designers solving problems? And are researchers bound to only generate new knowledge and understanding, but not supposed to solve problems? Although being an academic I personally don’t completely agree on that, but maybe that is only because I always had one foot in industry projects as well. I would be interested to hear others’ opinions on this.

We also presented our paper Designing an SMS-based application for seaweed farmers in Zanzibar (and why it failed for now) at the Workshop. In this paper we discuss a project that we started, while we were in Tanzania again last year, working on the Hello Africa movie. The project described in the paper was not successful measured by our initial goals. It was successful given the insights that we gained by applying a user-centred design approach in the field. The aim of the paper is to share our conclusions of why the project failed, since we believe that many projects in an African context might experience similar challenges. Below are the slides from our presentation.

All workshop papers are available from here. Many thanks to Andy Dearden and Niall Winters for organising this event! It’s a really valuable step towards better understanding the roles and ethical issues interaction designers need to be aware of in developing contexts.

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Notes from the Workshop on Ethics, Roles and Relationships in Interaction Design in Developing Regions
was published on 25.08.2009 by Martin Tomitsch. It files under global
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4 Responses to “Notes from the Workshop on Ethics, Roles and Relationships in Interaction Design in Developing Regions”

  1. Martin Tomitsch Says:

    The workshop continues today. Participants will discuss specific themes that emerged during the first day and future steps of this field. Although I won’t be able to attend the session due to the time difference from Sydney to Uppsala, I will try to post a summary here in the comments section.

  2. laura Says:

    Thanks for up to the minute reporting, it sounds stimulating. Really important discussions, ethical issues can get lost in pragmatic day to day stuff. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. links for 2009-08-25 « Design in Africa Says:

    […] Notes from the Workshop on Ethics, Roles and Relationships in Interaction Design in Developing Regio… An important issue that Ida Horner raised in her presentation, and which we have also experienced during our work in Zanzibar, was the importance of doing research in the field and familiarising yourself with the environment, before implementing anything. Ida stressed that it is particularly important to understand how communities are organised. Otherwise researchers run into conflicts before they even started. (tags: design_research mobile_research) […]

  4. ICT4D.at » Blog Archive » Internal #Q3 2009 Says:

    […] Later in august Martin Tomitsch and Martin Konzett attended the INTERACT2009 workshop Ethics, Roles and Relationships in Interaction Design in Developing Regions which took place in Uppsala, Sweden and online. They presented a paper on Designing an SMS-based application for seaweed farmers in Zanzibar (and why it failed for now). Notes on INTERACT2009 on ICT4D.at […]