I had a number of conversations with people about my last post on HCI4D (for those of you who didn’t read it it was a short reflection on the role that the 4 plays in ICT4D and its implications for HCID/HCI4D). I’d like to begin by thanking everyone who wrote to me and engaged me in these discussions, as usual I learnt a lot. And this post is a reflection of some of what I learnt, and some thoughts about what I think might be done.
I learnt that there has been some discussion about forming a community (a la UIST and CSCW) within SIGCHI focused on HCI4D. As part of that the name was discussed. Several things about it, including the term Development and the question of its relationship to HCI. I will try to summarize the debates as I understand them. Development is a concept with a long, complicated, and problematic history. Development for who, by whom, how, with what objective (asking any of these questions when faced with the term development gets at some of the issues). The relationship concern is about what it means to separate (which a community does, in a way—it marks a set of things as being some how of the same and different from others) HCI4D from HCI. Also there are definitional boundary challenges, what is the set. For example, as I have mentioned before, I still find it strange that ICTD can only happen some countries and not others.
These are real concerns. And I wonder whether rather than engaging them as a set of things that make the formation of a community complicated, they might be precisely the reasons to create a community.
As I understand it communities are organizational tools. They support the growth and awareness of a collection of concerns. And HCI4D is a really interesting space to discuss the types of issues that the very discussions about its name have raised. Development is a complicated term historically and that history has impact on what we do in contemporary practice. But it doesn’t mean that contemporary practice shouldn’t be explored and its lessons understood, and used to reflect back onto Development (and whether indeed what is being done qualifies or whether the agenda is different, and whose agenda it is, and the role of location, partnerships and so forth). A community could give Development a central place in their agenda.
Concerning the relational boundaries, I also think that the value a community could bring is through reflection on why the distinction was drawn, whether its the right distinction, and so forth. In other words use the feeling that it is complicated to split whatever it is we do into HCI and HCID/4D as a point of reflection on what are attempting to accomplish, or how it might have arisen. One thing that seems different to me is failure. There seems a lot more willingness to discuss failures in the HCID/4D context. Is that because there are more of them? Or has HCI constructed a discipline in which failure is not a learning opportunity but a paper that was not able to be published? I think another lesson that might come out of comparing the two is methodological, I think some of the methods that we’ve developed in HCI do not import straightforwardly into HCID/4D, but they were never described as having limitations.
Finally, I think the project of examining the constituencies served by HCI could be done through HCI4D. Its presence suggests that HCI has focused on a subset of people (hence the problems with methods). But it makes it more visible. In the end I think a regional grouping of people is tricky and will be tricky for ICTD/HCID also. However, I think a community makes it more visible, and opens it up for discussion, and I feel that that is something worth discussing.
I suppose what I am saying in a rather clumsy way is that its the very concerns about HCID/4D that I think make it interesting to create community around. Not a community that is awkward about their presence, but uses these challenges as motivating concerns for reflection and discussion.