Beki Grinter

Posts Tagged ‘HCI’


In discipline, HCI, ICT4D, research on May 24, 2012 at 11:05 am

One of the many things I’ve learnt as I have learnt more about ICTD is that there is an intentionality to the presence of the 4 in some of the formulations of the name. In other words, Information and Communications Technologies and Development is different from Information and Communications for Development. And its not just difference in words, the choice means something.

Information and Communications Technologies and Development concerns the relationship between technologies (whether in use, or being built) and development. By contrast, Information and Communications Technologies for Development is the study of what should be done and how it should be done. It ties research to the practice and takes a stronger moral stand about the outcome, that something should actually happen.

I like this because of the degree of intentionality it gives to the process of doing research and its outcomes for the people who participate in that work. Of course you can see the same type of intentionally in participatory design, action research and in some of the recent discussions about Value Sensitive Design. But the intentionality is tied to the methods used, its about the discipline itself, the corpus of knowledge and the common shared values of the community.

In HCI the term HCI4D has been gaining increasing traction—I have not seen the term HCID in use—but perhaps its time to have the same type of discussion about whether we are for or and. And this discussion would happen at an interesting time in HCI, as I have heard other discussions about whether there is a common core in the field, and if so what it is that unites the collection of very diverse activities in HCI.

HCI4D or HCID? Values

In discipline, empirical, HCI, ICT4D, research on June 27, 2011 at 8:38 am

In some of the Information and Communications Technologies for/and Development (ICT4D, ICTD) an important distinction is drawn between whether it is for or and. To paraphrase Tim Unwin, ICTD (i.e., and) has foci of what is, and what can be done. ICT4D asks critically, what should be done and how should we do it? While both entail a degree of social change (asking what can be done), ICT4D has a much stronger moral agenda of making change.

As HCI becomes increasingly interested in the “Global South” so we’ll be asking whether we’re going to do HCID or HCI4D. I think we’ve adopted the label HCI4D, but for some within the community that means as it does in ICT4D. See for example, Ho et al. in the special issue of ITID focused on HCI4D. I wonder whether the community at large has internalized the distinction, do we use HCI4D because it is the most popular term or does it reflect our stance?

There has long been a recognition that values matter in design. But recently, I am under the impression that there’s more attention to this, and to questioning whose values. It comes in a variety of forms. First there are efforts like HCI4D that for some are very intentional moral as well as scientific positions on the role of design. Second, there are critics of persuasive computing. For example, Purpura et al.’s Fit4Life paper that examines the principles of persuasive design applied to their logical conclusion on a technology for individual weight management. (link to the paper One of the things I very much like about this paper, and another piece by Maitland et. al. is that they both get at the important point that persuasive computing is taking a moral position (positing what change is right) and they both want to have a discussion about the consequences of that. And third, I just finished reading Shaowen and Jeff Bardzell’s CHI paper (well one of them, I think they could have had their own session) on Feminist design. One contribution of a feminist approach is to navigate a path between the distanced “truth” of science and an active agenda of social change.

As I write I think that values may not be the right term here, although I am at a loss for something better. I am struck I suppose in all of these by a tension between traditional notions of science, pursuit of knowledge, and the far more morally complex terrain that opens up when we come to design. HCID or HCI4D? Scholars in this area are asking us to take a position, but I walked away from CHI this year thinking that there are more voices in this arena than just those associated with the Global South.


In computer science, discipline, HCI on November 8, 2009 at 9:53 am

I think some of the arguments I’ve been making about Computer Science also play out within the disciplines of Computer Science. I am struck by some of the common themes that appear in James’ post about frustrations with CHI and UIST echo thoughts about Systems and CS more generally. Having a discipline in disciplinary flux creates confusion and frustration around the objectives. I think there are upsides too, but I am convinced that they require a type of risk/courage to take. The type of risk that’s not about extending a program to do more, deeply, more of the same, but about taking the risk that what you do might even be perceived as not counting. So, real risk.

Thoughts on Systems Software Research is Dead

In computer science, discipline, empirical, research on October 20, 2009 at 7:31 am

I’ve just finished reading Rob Pike’s Systems Software Research is Dead talk that he gave in 2000 (right before I left Bell Labs). It’s a provocative piece, but I think that’s Rob Pike.

The piece made me think several different things.

First, he claims that the Systems research community has abandoned the development of operating systems and languages in favour of measuring things about existing systems. Measurement as a “misguided” focus on science, but then he adds:

“By contrast, a new language or OS can make the machine feel different, give excitement, novelty. But today that’s done by a cool Web site or a higher CPU clock rate or some cute little device that should be a computer but isn’t.

The art is gone.

But art is not science, and that’s part of the point. Systems research cannot be just science; there must be engineering, design, and art.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Computer Science is all about, what (who 😉 it should embrace recently. And I have to say this just sounds a lot more exciting to me, this statement draws me into an exploration of systems and machines as a holistic activity. Do we have to strip out the design, art, and engineering so that we can live up to the name Computer Science?

It also got me thinking about impact. There’s a lot of attention given to having research that has impact. Impact. One way, although probably not the only way to have impact is to have industrial/commercial impact. Having studied commercial software production processes, I’m somewhat cynical. I used to, especially when I was attempting to make change, think it was a miracle that any software ever got built let alone shipped and used. This type of impact, I firmly believe requires patience and intelligence and also a degree of luck. I suppose that’s true of many things, but impact and luck are an interesting pair.

Setting aside luck. One route to impact is to have success in American Industry. I’ve said before that I think this raises questions for some research areas, ones where there are interesting collisons between profits and innovation.

But, as I was reading Pike’s talk it also occurred to me that Computer Science has a peculiar relationship with industry. While we, as researchers, approach it as a way to have impact, it is this same industry that’s simultaneously closed off research opportunities.

He says “Even into the 1980s, much systems work revolved around new architectures (RISC, iAPX/432, Lisp Machines). No more. A major source of interesting problems and, perhaps, interesting solutions is gone.”

I’m trying to think of another discipline that has had commercial impact so central to its sense of self-value as Computer Science. And there was a time when commercial systems, in their biodiversity, gave rise to challenges. But, the Computer Industry seems to have shut down opportunities as it has focused on the creation of hardware and software standards that at least according to Pike may have ended the best of Systems Software Research. I can’t help thinking that the relationship of industry and academia in Computer Science is at best more complicated than I recall ever having had discussions about. FWIW, and since it’s my blog, I think that there are other problems with what I increasingly see as a play towards a notion of impact, success and business in general being equated to industry because the two organizational types are not the same.

And of course Pike agrees with me. He ends his talk with “The community must separate research from market capitalization.”

Woah, in which I ended up with a Blog

In research, social media on July 18, 2008 at 4:23 pm


For a while I’ve thought, well I ought to have a blog.  But, you know, I have a busy job, and I figured that I don’t have time for a blog.  And then, a colleague of mine whose on a grand adventure decided to add me to her blog, and in so doing I signed up for wordpress, and clicked on that link that says “make me a blog”.  And here we are.

What will I write about?  I have no clue.

Will I write? I have no clue.

But we’re here, and it’s live, and well lets see what happens.