Designing for Civil Society blog

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This blog was started at a workshop on Designing for Civil Society in September 2003. See original notice below. Report here.

We hope develop a wider community of practice around the issues discussed here, so please use the comments facility under postings to give us feedback or ideas for content.

David Wilcox
[email protected]

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Andy Dearden
Computing Research Centre
Sheffield Hallam University
Sheffield UK, S1 1WB
Tel: +44 114 225 2916
Fax: +44 114 225 3161
email: [email protected]

Steve Walker
School of Information Management
Leeds Metropolitan University
Beckett Park, Leeds, LS6 3QS
Tel: +44 113 283 7448
Fax: +44 113 283 7599
email: [email protected]

1. INTRODUCTION This workshop will bring together campaigners, practitioners and researchers to examine the use of technology by the organisations of civil society, such as trade unions, NGOs, campaign groups and charities. The workshop will explore how existing knowledge of Human Computer Interaction (HCI), in its broadest senses, can be applied by such groups, and what questions such groups pose for our emerging understanding of HCI.

We invite submissions from practitioners, designers, campaign organisers, activists and researchers who are:

* involved in designing for, or supporting NGOs, trade-unions, community, campaigning or voluntary groups;
* concerned with the relationship between 'the network society', democracy and the capabilities of socially excluded groups and people in developing countries;
* interested in understanding the impact of electronically mediated communication on the development of civil society.

If you are interested in participating, please email an expression of interest to the organisers ([email protected] / [email protected])
Participants will be asked to submit a 1-4 page statement which may take the form of:

- case studies of design experiences (successful or unsuccessful) or innovative applications and campaigns;
- discussions or examples of current issues and challenges;
- position papers on development or evaluation methods
- discussions of the relation between on- and offline organising;
- relevant personal experiences.

Statements should include a short paragraph detailing relevant personal experience.


* Position papers/statements - 12th August 2003
* Notification of acceptance - 15th August 2003
* Workshop - 8th September 2003, at HCI 2003 University of Bath


The development of the internet has opened up many opportunities for a range of progressive social movements and organisations. Groups promoting (for example) women's rights, human rights,disability rights, community development, third world development, industrial democracy and more recently anti-globalisation and global justice groups are all developing ways of using technology to further social ends, as have others with less desirable ends such as hate groups and a variety of cults.

The use and development of information systems amongst these groups raise both practical and theoretical challenges for HCI and related disciplines. We know that social and organisational context are critical in designing appropriate technology. Therefore, methods developed for the needs of commercial organisations may not be appropriate to support socially-oriented organisations in their use of information and communication technology. Indeed, such methods may be antithetical to their values. Many social organisations may want to develop and apply design methodologies which more closely reflect their own values.

The needs of such social movements differ from industrial applications of HCI because they:

* rely heavily on the work of volunteers who are not professionally trained in their area of work;
* may involve groups of individuals who are very widely distributed with limited opportunities for face-to-face communication;
* exhibit complex interwoven value systems beyond commercial profit and 'efficiency';
* typically suffer from extreme shortages of resources;
* may be engaged in conflict with other social actors;
* often aim to reach individuals with limited access to information and communication technology (e.g. in developing countries, in disadvantaged areas of the developed world, or people with disabilities or suffering other forms of social exclusion).


This workshop posits a number of key questions for practitioners and researchers, including but not limited to:

* How can we design systems to enable and encourage fair access and participatory democracy in a world of computer mediated communication and digital divides?
* How might practitioners maximise the impact of electronic tools on their campaigning goals?
* Which HCI techniques are appropriate for such movements and organisations, and is there a need to develop new methods and techniques?
* What kinds of design and development tools can be made available for (generally inexperienced) volunteers to make best use of available technologies?
* How can we study the interactions between participants in social movements and systems designed to support them?
* How does engagement with electronic campaigns relate to 'real world' activism?
* What are the challenges in attempting to counter undesirable developments, e.g. campaigning by racist or sectarian groups, and how might this differ when computer mediated methods are used?
* Can open-source be used to support such groups, without technical and usability challenges undermining dissemination?
* How can campaigns integrate electronic and physical information systems to maintain involvement?
* How can social movements organise across boundaries of language, organisations and culture?
* How does the globalisation and computerisation of campaigning impact on the developing world?
* How might different developments of internet governance arrangements and intellectual property rights relate to such groups?


The morning session will consist of a short introduction, followed by an opportunity for each participant to present their initial position statements / case studies.

The afternoon session will consist of a set of break-out groups to address selected topics from those above. The groups will report back and the final part of the workshop will be given over to planning future activities and support networks.

We are currently in discussion with Springer-Verlag about a book based on this and related activities.