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Abstract

Is participatory design outdated in Scandinavia? Many would say it is. Yet, as information Systems (IS) diffusion continues in familiar and new guises, IS researchers and developers face political dilemmas through the conduct of their work. These are precisely the original area of concern for the research area of Participatory Design (PD). How, then to make PD better reflect contemporary concerns?

This paper argues the danger of complacency among Scandinavian IS researchers about the position and meaning of PD: Some researchers reject PD altogether; some who previously have contributed to PD speak of new circumstances making it harder or less relevant today. The paper critically examines a number of such arguments. In a world made “global” by information and communication technologies (ICTs), political concerns remain of the minds of many. PD must encompass work motivated in political conscience which is expressed through a range of approaches and conducted at multiple points throughout the processes of computer development and adoption, not only participatory design. In this sense, PD needs to become broader. Further, participatory design work which does not contribute to challenging patterns of dominance or understanding how to do so currently remain within PD. This is another problem for PD and in this sense the area needs to become more focused.

In sum, PD must develop a stronger demand for analyses of societal/political/ethical consequences of ICT development, management, adoption or use. Thus, systems design would be one of several foci contributors might address. To indicate the range of new possibilities for activism, issues are suggested that might benefit from enquiry motivated in concern for dominated groups.

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