The CHI 2013 workshop on Designing for- and with- Vulnerable People was held on the 27th of April 2013, as part of the 2013 ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Paris, France. This website acts as an archive of the workshop, with information about what motivated the workshop, who organised it, the papers that were accepted for discussion, the researchers and practitioners who took part (thank you to you all!) and documentation of what happened on the day.
In total we received 53 submissions to the workshop. All of the papers were reviewed by at least two members of the workshop and program committees, following which we were able to accept 22 papers for discussion at the workshop – we would have liked to have accepted far more however, such was the quality of the submissions.
The accepted position papers included a diverse spectrum of projects where researchers and design teams worked with what might be considered vulnerable individuals or communities. Papers ranged from those that described innovative designs for people with conditions that might make them vulnerable, to detailed reflections of the practicalities of working with vulnerable groups of people, reflections on the impact such work may have on the researcher, and critical unpickings of how the HCI and design communities conceptualise the notion of vulnerability. All of the papers can be downloaded here.
AT THE WORKSHOP:
The day of the workshop was planned around a series of plenary and group discussions/activities, all of which was hoped to catalyse dialogue between attendees with different experiences, expertises and perspectives related to the workshop theme. A brief description and some images from the workshop follows below, and a more detailed report will be published on this website in the near future.
Session 1: Plenary introductions
Everyone taking part in the workshop had the opportunity to introduce themselves and their work in front of everyone, and also explain why they were motivated to participate in the workshop and what they hope to get out of the day. During this session we got a feel for the highly diverse expertises and backgrounds to those taking part in the workshop as well as the great range of topics and issues addressed in the accepted papers.
Session 2: Group interviews
Before the workshop, papers were placed into reading groups of 4-5 papers and the authors were asked to read those papers in their group and prepare some questions for the other authors (see here for the groups). These readings and questions structured a group interview activity, where each author took it in turns to be “interviewed” by attendees and organisers in their group and identify contrasts and relationships across their positions. Each reading group created basic ‘posters’ documenting the main themes that came from the discussions (click images below to see larger versions).
Session 3: Plenary group feedback
After lunch, the groups were given the opportunity to feed-back the main themes coming from their discussions to the other attendees. A number of commonalities and tensions emerged from this discussion, including:
Design as a therapeutic process: A number of the groups had touched on the potentially therapeutic benefits that participating in a design process might bring. This raised considerable discussion, with some attendees believing that while design processes could in some way be therapeutic these are distinct from a a process of therapy. Rachel Clarke explained how from her experience of working with survivors of domestic violence, her participants would not consider her a therapist and neither did they see her workshops as ‘therapy’, and doing so would alter the type of the relationship she had formed with this group of people.
Leaving technology and legacies: Several of the position papers had reflected on issues researchers came across when deploying or trailing a novel technology with vulnerable groups and then having to take them back at the end of the project. This raised a discussion of the ethics of limited timescale field trials where technology might be seen as an ‘intervention’ and potentially improve the wellbeing of those participating in a study. Cosmin Munteanu explained that from his experience in the Canadian context, returning trialled equipment is a requirement of ethical clearance and study exit. Other attendees coming from participatory backgrounds instead saw it being vital that some form of ‘legacy’ was left with groups or communities at the end of a project.
Research ethics and ethics of participation: Perhaps the issue that was agreed upon the most across groups was the great limitations of existing institutional ethics procedures and review boards in the context of working with vulnerable groups and individuals. On one level, many of the attendees commented on how many of these procedures can appear box-ticking exercises and can fail to support researchers in addressing or thinking about the practical and emotional challenges of working with a certain group. Others highlighted how ethics procedures tend to focus on what participants can’t do, meaning those who might benefit the most can be excluded from participating. The candour of the workshop led to a number of attendees telling of experiences where they had to navigate around strict ethical guidance in order to facilitate the involvement of some participants, or indeed to allow some participants to keep the technologies and designs they had been using as part of a study.
Researcher as an intervention: Some position papers reflected on the challenges of the researcher as part of an ‘intervention’ into a specific context and the potential positive and negative effects this may have on participants. For example, during her work with socially isolated older people Jenny Waycott realised the positive impact her visits were having on her participants social lives and these were experienced as far more than a visit from a researcher. They became social events that were an important feature of the participants week. It was also commented on how researchers are always as much a part of an “intervention” as research methods, designs and technologies – but perhaps working in these contexts make us more aware of this.
The vulnerability of researchers: Finally, as well as the vulnerability of research participants, some of the discussion also touched on the vulnerability of the researcher. Some of the attendees suggested that working in an emotionally sensitive or unsettling context heightened researchers to their own vulnerabilities as human beings – and indeed, as Jill Woelfer’s paper noted, all people are in innumerable ways vulnerable. Others countered this discussion by suggesting that while researches can be vulnerable, in the context of the workshop discussion their problems or concerns are minuscule compared to those participating in our research.
Session 4: Vulnerability and the research and design process
In the session, new groups were formed randomly and given a poster with a “diagram” of a “text book” research process that is often used to describe research and design processes in HCI (click here to download a pdf of the original poster). The groups were tasked with annotating, editing and completely redesigning this diagram based upon the discussions so far in the day and their own experiences of working with vulnerable people or in sensitive contexts.
This activity resulted in 5 heavily edited posters of the research and design process when design with and for vulnerable individuals and groups. Some of these posters introduced more appropriate methods for designing with specific groups, while some suggested the addition of new institutional and organisational processes to ensure researchers identify and perform best practice. Others reflected on the dynamic, iterative and cyclical nature of design processes, and also challenged the overriding theme of only designing ‘for’ or ‘with’ vulnerable people, and not counting design ‘by’ such group. The annotated posters from each group can be found below (click for larger images).
Outcomes from the day
The discussions had on the day were rich and diverse, highlighting the diversity of those in attendance and also the multifaceted challenges of designing with vulnerable people and in sensitive contexts.
As a number of those taking part in the workshop undertook participatory research, one venue to continue the discussion is the upcoming special issue of the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies on ‘Perspectives on Participatory HCI Research, which some of the workshop organisers are guest editing. Although this SI is not focused on working in the types of settings explored in this workshop, a number of the issues related to research reflexivity and research legacies are shared.
There will also be proposals for new special issues (or potentially an edited book) following on from the workshop. This website will be updated as soon as further information is made available.