Research

Mission

The Center for Participatory IT (PIT – pit.au.dk) has strong roots in the Scandinavian tradition for Participatory Design (PD), which combines the areas of technology development and use with a broader interest in participative practices at the workplace. The PD field has since the mid-80’s developed into a distinct research community, demonstrating that the quality of IT could be im­proved by involving future users in the design process. With IT in recent decades diffusing from the workplace to people’s everyday lives, PD practice and research face new challenges due to the nature of new communities of IT use as well as technological developments.

Currently the penetration of IT, including the Internet, into people’s lives is dominated, paradoxi­cally, by lack of choice and transparency. PIT is working on providing alternatives that are transparent and malleable by users together, in inclusive communities, where users are not just passive providers of data. In that sense PIT has an important mission in re-conceptualizing participation, while providing alternative ways of understanding and deploying IT.

In order to develop the foundation for understanding alternative forms of thinking and supporting participation through IT, we emphasize the need for the encounter of humanistic and computer science traditions. To pursue this intellectual challenge PIT has brought together a team of researchers who come from aesthetic, cultural, practice-oriented as well as technological research disciplines. Furthermore, all of these have a track record of doing research through a combination of working theoretically, carrying out empirical studies and deploying technological experiments.

Goal – research questions

At the strategic level, the goal will be pursued by advancing four positions of strength at Aarhus University:

  1. The internationally unique interdisciplinary research profile, gathered at IT-City Katrinebjerg;
  2. The integration of theoretical studies and real-world action cases with development of innovative technological alternatives;
  3. Critical investigating of alternative ways of developing and using IT for participation;
  4. A strong commitment to advance the use of IT improving quality of life.

Participation lies at the root of democracy and of orderly, equitable societies. Participatory IT explores how and when to bring the values and practices of participatory processes into the design and use of IT. To pursue these goals PIT addresses a number of core research questions, including:

  1. What counts as participation?
  2. How can participation be understood, addressed and supported through IT at different societal and technological scales?
  3. How does or can IT support or impede participation?
  4. What are the qualities of design processes that enable or constrain participation?
  5. What constitute the (technical and use) qualities of innovative, participatory IT?

Methods

Methodologically PIT does research in an iterative research process, which combines theory development, empirical studies, and analysis of design and use with explorative technology development. The themes function through seminars, talks, literature reading and discussions. Based on literature in the field, we work to develop and utilize an intermediate level of strong concepts that tie together theory and empirical findings within the themes.

To address the unfolding practices of use and the real potentials and problems of IT in use, PIT deploys action cases.  The cases are core materials for our joint research. They are understood as practice-based research, including research through design, informed by qualita­tive analyses of the particular participatory practices.  We have initiated four cases in the past year. All cases combine theoretical hypothesis or questions rooted in the PIT core disciplines with empirical studies of current practices of participation in the case setting. From there, design processes are carried out exploring various elements of participation. This leads to technological challenges, designs and alternatives as well as experience gathering regarding possible use and hence new forms of collaboration, ultimately challenging or confirming the theoretical hypotheses.

The PIT AU funding has been supplemented with several smaller and larger research grants and is from 2017 funded by these grants.