Last Wednesday I attended the final conference of the research programme Beyond GDP growth: Scenarios for sustainable building and planning (Bortom BNP-tillväxt). Beyond GDP Growth is a multidisciplinary strong research environment funded by Formas, which has run 2014-2018. In total about 17 researchers from 5 different universities and research institutes, 3 municipalities and a large number of reference groups participated in the programme.
The programme’s aim has been to explore key issues and conditions for planning for a sustainable future beyond GDP growth. The key premise is that it is important to not assume continued economic growth but also plan for other futures, that in turn are futures within a safe and just operating space for humanity within planetary boundaries.
The conference started with a presentation of the final report. After a coffee break it continued with 20 ConverStations where researchers presented their work. Us conference participants could choose to attend 3 different ConverStations. The conference ended with a discussion where the final report was discussed four panel members. The panel members were Sofia Arkelsten (Moderate Party), Pär Holmgren (Länsförsäkringar), Carl Schlyter (Green Party) and Charlotta Szczepanowski (Coop).
The main outcome of the research programme are the four scenarios that were developed; Collaborative Economy, Local Self-Sufficiency, Automation for Quality of Life and Circular Economy in the Welfare State.
From a sustainable HCI perspective the four scenarios are highly interesting and relevant as digital technologies play an integral and explicit role in them.
The 30th of October, I attended another workshop, to which I had been drafted by one of the organisers – and I could attend despite not having submitted a position paper on the topic of Design Fiction in Participatory Design processes. This is however close to things I have done, for example in the Empowering Energy Futures project where we created the energy fiction Vitiden. The workshop had a hint of a sustainability theme, where we worked with the fiction of moving a future city to Greenland due to climate change issues. The workshop was fun, although somewhat challenging, and made me realise that I have a potential project proposal in my back pocket, we’ll see if I can come back to that.
A large part of what you discuss on a conference is keynotes! On Monday 1st of September, the proper conference started, with a keynote by Carly Cloge from (Google) X. She presented X’s work on moonshot ideas and great technological breakthroughs. In a sense it was good to hear that we can and should sometimes fail, in order to find the best solutions. The keynote was really slick, with amazing projects and beautiful pictures – however, I was left with feeling that if they had almost unlimited resources – why concentrate on these particular problems? On Tuesday 2nd of October, Jeanette Blomberg reminisced on her 30 years of anthropological HCI studies within companies such as IBM. Her work resonated better with me, mirroring what I did myself in my PhD-work – working to enhance the user-centerdness in public authorities, and also mirroring my own (and probably your) everyday work situation with all these ICT systems we have to wrestle down for unclear reasons. On Wednesday 3rd of October, Steven Jackson presented the keynote I had the highest hope for, ”Sustainability Beyond Design: HCI Meets the Anthropocene”. But it turned out, this was the keynote that made me the most disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, the keynote in itself was great and interesting, but Steven invited others into not taking it seriously by saying that it could be argued whether this ever would be central to HCI. And just so, the first to get the microphone did say that he did not think this ever would become central in HCI. But if we don’t fit our own field within the planetary boundaries, do we have any right to be part of forming the future?
The rest of the days went by in a blur, and the conference committee’s decision to blend full papers, design cases, future scenarios and work-in-progress papers in the sessions made the sessions diversified and interesting. Hanna admirably presented our paper ”Designing for Diverse Stakeholder Engagement in Resource-Intensive Practices” on Wednesday, in the only dedicated sustainability session. That there were only one session on sustainability (and smartness) might be considered a weakness from my (our) point of view, especially with a conference with the theme ”Revisiting the Life Cycle”. However, I do believe that efforts to address sustainability were visible in other parts of the conference. One of the lunches were completely vegan, to many peoples’ surprise, others included at least low carbon meat such as chicken. The conference dinner was held at a restaurant that serve fish – with salvaged vegetables. There was a goodie bag – but you didn’t get it automatically and the gift from the conference were a water bottle that you can use forever.
I was invited to sit in the panel on the last day of the conference, debating what is Nordic about NordiCHI. Before the panel I was wondering how radically I should push the sustainability agenda. The conference had been as many other conferences I have visited. With a few exceptions, I often sit in the audience and wonder why. Why do you do this research and what is the aim, what will change in the world if this research was widely spread and is that a change we want? Sometimes I hear the voice a dear friend, that often say when we are discussing the state of the world: ”Why? For the worst possible reason – cause we can”. In the end, I did push sustainability a bit, openly by arguing that we need NordiCHI since we will have to travel less by airplane in the future, and implicitly by suggesting that we should have a court jester (a nod to Daniel) at the conference that makes fun of us, and perhaps sometimes tell us that we are on the wrong track. Personally, I am too polite (or afraid of conflicts?) to question the papers as they are presented, but somewhere I am beginning to think that we have to, I am just not sure how. How do we change the culture and norm of what is good HCI research, so that it becomes more relevant in the age of Anthropocene, help us adapt to coming climate change, and keep us within the planetary boundaries? Not by being silent at least.
On October 29th, team members (Daniel, Elina and Rob) co-organised a workshop together with Ben Kirman and Oliver Bates at NordiCHI2018 on the modest topic of computing and wisdom!
The people attending had all sent in a fictional abstract (an abstract of a research paper that potentially could be presented in the future) – on some aspect of computing and wisdom in 2068. The year 2068 was chosen with inspiration of a special issue of the journal Futures – which is turning 50 this year – where the guest editors are looking for ”structured reports of dialogues” of what wisdom might be in 2068 (50 years from now).
As workshops go, this workshop went well (despite, to be honest, the fact that we spent a bit too little time planning it). Many participants actually agreed that time flew, and that we realised, with some surprise, that 1.5 hours had just passed without us feeling it. The fictional abstracts played their part, they instigated discussions on possible futures and discussions about our fear and hopes in relation to computing. The one hour given to discussing wisdom, after having spent the morning exploring various futures through the fictional abstract, passed quickly and with some intense discussions. It even felt as if we could have spent even more time discussing this topic together.
The goals of the workshops were high, but we feel that it met them, and that there are two possible publications brewing based on results from the workshop – one being a structured report on a dialogue about the futures of wisdom from an HCI point of view, and the other being a paper about fictional abstracts as a method.
A great thanks to my fellow organisers and to all the participants – honestly, this was probably the best workshop I have attended/organised.
Putting LIMITS and ICT4S back to back made sure that both events received attendees that probably would not have attended (both) and that for at least some of us, travel was reduced. Personally I really appreciated this and hope for more synergies in the future.
Besides the pleasure of networking with colleagues of the same persuasion, the list of key note speakers and papers presented were wildly interesting. At LIMITS Peter Victor kicked the workshop off with a keynote on Ecological Economics and a Steady State Economy. This was followed by interesting papers and discussions, with the program allowing break out sessions and mingling. The second day started with Alan Borning presenting SEED – Solutions for Environment, Economy and Democracy.
The ICT4S conference was yet again facilitated by Peter Woodward who made us laugh, cringe and to the fullest connect and communicate with each other. Also this conference had brilliant keynote speakers, William Rees (the father of the ecological footprint), Lisa Nathan (whose talk on privilege made an impact on many) and John Robinson (who talked about how to interact with buildings). Personally, I was touched most by Sanjay Khanna, a futurologist who seemed to be well connected to his own feelings, letting it show how deeply emotionally affected he was in light of the future we are facing.
Finally, despite being relatively unplanned, the workshop om Computing + Sustainability + Education became a great success with interesting exchanges on how we teach sustainability within computing (HCI, Software Engineering, Computer Science etc). Steve Easterbrook also led us through an exercise on Systems Thinking. We have already drawn up plans on how to continue the energy from this group at the next ICT4S conference – in the form of another workshop and a tutorial. More to follow.
And happy news for us! Next ICT4S conference will be held in Lappeenranta in June 2019. See you all there!
[here is a placeholder for the link to Daniel’s blog post that will probably come]
The 5th of October, a large contingent of team members were attending the conference ”Design för energieffektiv vardag” arranged by the Swedish Energy Agency, which is the final conference of the research program ”Energi, IT och Design”. The conference cover a summary of the projects that has been financed during the last 10 years, and a workshop on what kind of energy and design related research is needed for the future.
There were also an exhibition where the projects financed during the third and last period of the research program presented their results. There are several projects where current or previous team members have been part of. For example from Green Leap, the projects Sensing Energy, Hållbara Livsstilar, Energiframtider and Ett bilfritt år are exhibited.
We are all hoping there will be a continuation in some form, some kind of research program with similar themes as the past has had, since practices and everyday life is still missing in the energy research and development. And we need more visions of a sustainable future.
The Democracy and Participation in the 21st Century conference was held in July 2017 in Lisbon, Portugal, organised by the International Sociological Association. Conference participants engaged with the issues surrounding democracy at a time of technological change, including the collaborative, or platform economy. The platform economy is where a software platform facilitates matching of freelance workers to short-term work. Justin participated in the ”Democratic participation in the platform economy” session organised by Åke Sandberg from the University of Stockholm and Justins presentation drew on the work he has been doing with Åke in the past year. This session explored the impact digitization has had on the nature of work and on traditional forms of collective action. In particular, unions in many countries are losing members as their worker base increasingly finds employment as freelance workers and in the platform economy rather than in traditional firms.
David Peetz’s presentation focused on how firms still maintain a core of employees, offering a way in for unions, however unions will need to embrace on-line media such as the Our Walmart app. Todd Wolfson was unable to attend, but his presentation would have highlighted the importance of collective identity for platform economy workers, which is different from that of regular workers. Bela Galgoczi’s presentation asked the questions what makes an employee and what makes an employer in the digital economy and what are the implications for trade unions. There is the potential to create new structures such as platform co-ops but they still need to compete with mainstream platforms such as Uber.
Our presentation offered ”a new producer-consumer interaction model for facilitating collective action in the collaborative economy”, based on our exploration of how guild-like cooperatives and trade unions could work in an economy where growing numbers of individual freelance workers interact with their employers via online platforms. We presented the Software Review Alliance Board, a model that brings together union members, software programmers, workplace managers and researchers to enable collective action.
Åke Sandberg brought the session to a close, highlighting that the platform economy has led to a rise in self-employment, which is an opportunity for unions to engage with self-employed workers and negotiate on behalf of them. In the UK, the Taylor Report on working practices suggested a new category of workers, but the unions are resisting the report’s recommendations. One possibility is that workers could create their own platforms, our proposed Review Alliance model indicates how such platforms could work in practice.
The conference highlighted how human-computer interaction has changed in recent years, to play a more central role in society. Software platforms are now increasingly governing how people work, creating a new class in the process, the ”precariat” working in the ”gig economy”. However, the ideas and research presented in this session and during the rest of the conference shows that it is possible to use this technology to create new mechanisms for workers to take collective action.
The 6th and 7th of December some of the team members attended the program conference for the research program EID (Energy, IT and Design) arranged (and funded) by the Swedish Energy Agency. The program is in it’s last phase, and will end in the summer of 2017, and has then been running for 10 years!
At the conference, all the project managers in projects funded by the program present the current status of the projects or the results from finished projects. From our group I (Elina) present the project ”User-centred images of the future energy transition”, Björn present his project ”Improved energy counceling and energy habits by Quantified Self Assisted Advisory”, Loove present his project ”Sensing Energy”. For a full program see this PDF. Daniel wrote a longer blog post about the event, including many personal reflections.
Here is a picture of the opening slide, notice Green Leap is mentioned, as a ”result” of the program, with which several of us are affiliated. 🙂