This workshop is interested in the "development of digitally
-mediated technologies that value social cooperation as a common good rather than as a source of revenue and accumulation" . Therefore, it focuses on grassroots initiatives and local communities wishing to contribute to the ongoing critique of platform capitalism and its sharing economy narrative, questioning the commodification of collaboration , and engaging in building platforms for a caring economy that values cooperation as an emancipatory practice . Moreover, this workshop focuses on the sustainable appropriation of emerging technologies by grassroots communities. Indeed, following arguments developed in relation to interaction design research and environmental sustainability , we argue that the works discussing the relation between design researchers and grassroots communities can be expanded and rethought in the light of the crisis of sustainability humankind is going through. Here sustainability is intended as encompassing not only the ecological aspects of life but all the dimensions, as social, economic, and political, that traverse what the United Nations have called “Sustainable Development Goals” .
Although most available technologies are not explicitly oriented to grassroots communities, the last decade has been characterized by a low intensity but constant conversation on grassroots technologies, as shown by the COST Action “From Sharing to Caring” . Indeed, in some recent work, a systematic analysis of existing platforms has been conducted showing that grassroots initiatives need better support for collectivity when they work to design their technological platform . While some features of existing platforms support aspects of collectivity implicitly (such as building trust and enabling participation), the ’social’ aspect of the participation is often not directly enhanced by the design. When grassroots initiatives attempt to scale beyond the level of a very basic technological platform, the pre-existing trust and social capital benefiting from their local focus might not be sufficient. In addition, if one wants caring communities to become an alternative to classical models of consumerism, driven by more altruistic and community-driven motives rather than profit-oriented ones, supporting collectivity should be a central premise when thinking of emerging technologies to support them. Indeed, this is something that is still lacking in current implementations, at least from a design perspective—or sometimes even explicitly hindered, as the example of Mechanical Turkers starting their own platforms to self-organize illustrates .
At the same time, there are more and more academic contributions focusing on how technologies can be designed with grassroots communities and on the reflexive positions of the design researchers, opening the conversations to novel questions or empirical contexts, aligning with the needs and desires of society.
For example, a few contributions have shown how technologies have been designed and/or appropriated by grassroots initiatives interested in food. If work done with a group buying organic food has highlighted the usefulness of analytical lenses like the distinction between strategies and tactics or the concept of artifact ecologies [6,7], other work conducted with activists trying to reduce food waste has connected the appropriation of technologies by activists to social values like collective care and commons . The conversation on food reflects some of the key axes along which the discussion on technologies with and for grassroots communities has developed, namely: starting with problems that matter to people, like the aforementioned food or the transformations in employment [12,13,21] and welfare provisions [3,9]; acknowledging grassroots communities’ perspective on commons and care as theoretically relevant for design research [17,20,22]; discussing designers and people’s actions through the same language, e.g. the one of strategies and tactics, refusing to attribute a privileged position to the design researchers ; and, considering the collaboration between the design researchers and the grassroots communities in relation to existing institutions and institutional constraints [10,11,18,23,24].
The aforementioned contributions have had the merit of advancing understandings of the relationship between grassroots communities and digital technologies, but we think their conceptual focus can be expanded, technologically and socially.
Technologically, the focus of the previous contributions has mainly been on digital platforms or web-based technologies. Recent events in society suggest that there is a need and space to expand the technological focus of the relation between grassroots communities and design research on digital technologies. For example, a controversial technology like face recognition has started to be reappropriated by social movements to identify police officers involved in critical situations like the beating and killing that has been at the center of phenomena like Black Lives Matter . Therefore, in this workshop we point to the importance of looking into the appropriation by social movements of technologies beyond digital platforms, mobile apps, and web-based solutions, to refer to what we call, generically, emerging technologies.
Socially, issues like fighting racism, promoting feminism, or combating climate change have emerged as key points of attention for social movements all around the world, siding the material aspects of food, work, and welfare mentioned before. The grassroots initiatives engaging with these issues, and the social movements emerging, have been advancing radical requests, e.g. defund the police, that are based on questioning the ecological and social sustainability of the dominant ways of collectively organizing life. Therefore, in this workshop we look at these social movements as bringing new ways of looking at the relations between communities and the world, relations with which designers can be entangled [22, 24] and relations in which the design, development, and use of technologies are important elements.
This workshop welcomes contributions enlightening how we, as technology design researchers and activists can understand, promote, and design for such sustainable appropriation, at a descriptive, technical or conceptual level:
Technical descriptions of grassroots-oriented technologies and/or of the artifact ecologies that grassroots initiatives might adopt;
Conceptual contributions illustrating or expanding concepts, values, tactics and other socio-cultural aspects that are central to the appropriation of technologies by community initiatives. e.g. commoning, caring;
We welcome conceptual, methodological, and empirical contributions discussing sustainable appropriation of technology by grassroot initiatives in different forms: position papers, pictorials, manifestos, design portfolios, and design fictions.
In particular, we encourage potential participants to discuss their interest in the workshop theme, submitting contributions regarding next steps of working on a topic related to the theme. The following, non-exhaustive, list provides an overview of potential topics of interest:
The position of design researchers in relation to grassroots communities, e.g. problematizing the idea of expert/diffuse design, overcome by the bottom-up engagement with emerging technologies; that includes the relations between grassroots initiatives, design researchers, and existing or new institutions;
The exploration of (alternative) research outcomes that make results relevant to communities and other non-academic audiences.
The relation between grassroots initiatives, digital technologies, and aspects of scaling or meshing, grassroots initiatives.
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