Ethical Things: Workshop v1, Amsterdam
On March 21, 22 and 23, we held a series of co-creation workshops with developers and designers who make connected devices in Amsterdam.
Our goals were to try to understand, deepen and then reflect the system around creators of connected devices. We also sought to begin a community of people who can continue to collaborate and co-design as we begin our research on tools for ethical reflection and self-assessment.
In the workshops, we wondered:
Firstly - what are their processes of design - what is the timeline like? Who is part of each stage? When are major decisions made?
Secondly - diving in to an ethically-problematic decision - why was it made? What were the influences around it?
Thirdly - how could that decisions affect the product and the world around the product?
Lastly - how might we take these ethical dilemmas into account in our momentary, daily, weekly... (you name the time-scale) process? And what tools might we need to better understand and address these dilemmas?
We identified relevant individuals and companies and emailed all with a customised note per contact and a game-like invitation.
In advance, we asked the participants to tell us about an IOT product they either had created or were in the process of creating. They could use either google slides or print and draw by hand to illustrate their answers. The questions we asked for the homework were specifically focused on trying to understand what their product creation process looks like - what is the world around their process - who was involved, how do they describe their phases, what kinds of decisions were "easy" and "hard."
We then used that homework in the first exercise of the day, the "Mandala" exercise.
This exercise was designed to zoom in as much as possible to a specific decision and ask the participants to (in pairs) discuss and build out the influences that surrounded that decision.
Our goal was to tease out the "responsibility chain" through discussing this difficult decision. A learning for next workshop will be to redesign a little so that we can more specifically probe at that notion of the chain.
In this exercise, the influences were identified, but the paper tool did not ask the participants to record the various weights of those influences, or to dive deeper into the shared (or unshared) responsibilities that surrounded the decision. However, this kind of discussion came up in their pairs. The other goal for this activity was to provoke articulation of the difference between decisions and values. Again, this came through - in some of the "No __" post-its, but our tools could be refined to prompt this specific element more overtly.
The second and main exercise was a "Speculation Tree" where we zoomed all the way out to a systems level and invited participants to imagine what might happen if everyone in the world had their product.
Here, our goal was to probe the potential of speculative thinking to consider - what are the different directions a given decision could take? Also, it revealed an interesting potential in how to make room for discussion across disciplines within IOT - what happens when a software engineer and UX designer speculate about the possible outcomes of the product they are building?
Both exercises were also designed to provoke the participants to identify challenging moments and "time-travel" back or forward to those moments. In small groups and through the paper tools, they discussed and articulated why the decision was challenging (from an ethical point of view).
The activities led naturally into a brainstorm session about what kind of tool might help them find their way out of the dilemmas they had identified - or to avoid the scenarios they imagined. Our goal was to try to understand how the participants understood the challenge and what they would want - as well as to encourage a sense of community for the future. The brainstorming activity helped us understand the immediate response to the idea of building a tool that can help developers think ethically while working on their projects. Some of the areas identified: slack extensions, database of ethically relevant decisions/problems, team effort tools, ethics scenario / speculative tools, in-person ethics, checklists, taking other POVs.
Finally, we asked the participants to vote on which ideas they would actually like to be part of building, and asked if they would consider joining some sort of community to continue the discussion.
Friday night, games night -
On Friday afternoon, we played games with a small group. Our goal was to understand what already exists, what it does well or not so well, how VIRT-EU could contribute something new.
We began by "playing" various IOT card "games" only to find that they were not games as much as product creation tools. One group enjoyed the way that they could explain their product through the futurice IOT service kit, but the kit in and of itself did not probe at their choices. Moreover, the instructions and delivery were highly lacking.
We continued with a few more abstractly ethical "games."
One - a card game where teams have to choose whether to drone strike one another. The overhead for learning meant that we couldn't get much of a grasp of whether it would lead to deeper reflection.
Second - the MIT moral machine. We projected this and sat around in a circle. This was surprisingly successful in terms of how it brought out group dynamics and discussion around choosing what the autonomous vehicle should do.
Third - the Data Centre Attack game. Again, quite successful in terms of engagement but here there was a bit less discussion as the experience was more passive, more like watching a movie (with certain decision points). The highly polished production level took some of the energy out of the room. And at that point it was time to leave!
All in all, it was a positive first round. We are excited to dig deeper and probe more specifically in the upcoming workshop(s) in London. We also plan to hold interim workshops in CPH during the summer - and possibly return to Amsterdam again, if it makes sense.
Luckily, these two small workshops are just the first of many we can do.
The question is always - how to make the most of them - for us, at CIID, as well as for the project.
For us at CIID, the workshops will become even more useful as we get into the specific tools we need to co-design. For now, they are a meaningful foundation for those tools and hopefully adding (at least they are for me) some filling into a few gaps that might still be there in our research about the process of creating connected things.