Center and projects

Centers

PIT

The Computer Mediated Activity research group is member of the AU interdisciplinary research center: Participatory Information Technology Center (PIT). PIT will establish a new interdisciplinary research foundation for Participatory IT and aim to position the center internationally as one of the top-five research groups in the field. The center will provide models that support more direct participation in the public and society at large. Danish IT industry is invited to pick up these alternatives, and not least PIT will build upon and maintain Aarhus University’s esteemed position on the research World-map.

Current research projects

In alphabetic order

Aesthetics of participation

The overarching purpose of the theme of ‘Aesthetics of Participation’ is to revitalize participation in an era of new systems and domains of computing. This will happen through an understanding of the ways in which people become critically engaged with situations, and developing new possibilities for people to engage with societal, daily and personal challenges.

Web 2.0, social media, and so forth have moved computing into the arenas of everyday life, public environments, public government, private homes, global financial and energy systems, and the like. In certain areas, this has led to increased participation and engagement. Anyone can publish their artistic productions, such as music and writing. Social media, such as fixmystreet.com, are used to combine resources to solve community problems. However, in other areas this is not the case. Digital governance has left citizens as uninformed, powerless, and not in control of their own situation. On Facebook, teenagers are inveigled into disclosing sensitive, personal information. We have an environmental crisis on our hands, yet still we have few means for resolving it in our everyday lives.

We are engaged with the ways in which these societal and personal arenas are mediated by interactive technology and new media. The theme ‘Aesthetics of Participation’ investigates how we can learn from the field of aesthetics, to establish new ways for people to critically engage with such challenges.

Contact person: Olav W. Bertelsen

Read more: pit.au.dk/research-projects/aesthetics-of-participation/

CIBIS: Creativity in blended interaction spaces

Today, more and more forms of participatory activities involve a repertoire of digital devices, ranging from cell phones to tablets and desktop computers, to electronic whiteboards and wall-sized displays. Whereas some integration across multiple devices is supported by access to shared data, for example, via cloud computing services, more sophisticated kinds of integration that connect devices and amplify their potential are limited. Interestingly, many creative practices, including design and architecture, still rely to a large extent on analog materials and tools, for instance, pen and paper, Post-it® notes, and whiteboards, which are neither connected to, nor supported digitally. As the engine for advancing research into ICT-supported creative practice, the CIBIS project develops and explores blended interaction spaces for supporting and developing the creative potential of young people at the high school level. 

The objectives are to 1) demonstrate the potential for integrating multiple digital devices and analog materials in a shared environment, to support individual and group creativity, and 2) develop the theoretical foundation for the study of constraints on creativity, design ideas, generative design materials, and creative methods in design processes. As a foundation for achieving these objectives, CIBIS has established an interdisciplinary collaboration among researchers from the computer sciences, interaction design, and creativity research. 

Additional information at www.cavi.au.dk/projects/CIBIS

Exploring community artefact ecologies and local technology essentials

In our research we look at different types of communities: those who form around a shared interest, a practice and/or a place, and how they appropriate digital technologies and how this co-shapes the community in itself. We try to understand how and why communities appropriate given tools, how and when working ecologies of tools are shaped, and how do the appropriated tools and the ecology at large affect the community. We are especially interested in communities of place, interest, or practice, who operate outside a traditional work or institutional context., They range from self-organised groups addressing specific issues or shared concerns – the Deweyan or Habermasian public - to the more open and subtle communities around specific neighbourhoods and urban places inspired by Jane Jacobs' idea of the city as familiar strangers. We are currently initiating research within four  different communities within different areas: A traditional Danish social housing organisation, where the shared place defines and delimits the community. A community of interest forming around exploring new practices around organic food and sustainable distribution of food in the city. A maker community where open source technology and do-it-yourself is a strong shared interest. And finally, a emergent community forming around urban gardening in a new urban area.

Contact person: Joanna Saad-Sulonen

Local Area Artworks

The idea is to develop a number of interventions in art institutions that exploit the potential of public wifi connections as a means for participation. This provides a socio-technical infrastructure for the public to actively participate in the interpretation of individual artworks and exhibition concepts (from the bottom up).

Research Questions:

  1. What tensions exist in the interplay of local/global networks and writeable/readable systems?
  2. How might the issue of spatiality and the role of physical presence in online networks encourage different modes of participation?
  3. Do these participatory interventions encourage critical reflection on the socio-technical topologies and systems of control over meaning within the cultural field?

Participatory publics

What constitutes participation in IT-supported community settings, and what technological platforms and processes are needed to support and develop it?
Currently, electronic and physical communities are merging, for example, through Facebook groups. Physical places become populated with interactive arrangements that reflect and make public people’s participation. Currently, Foursquare is a key example of such a technology. Technologically augmented publics where people meet take new forms, yet they are poorly understood. And, they are typically supported by technologies that are closed, and are not developed through user participation.
Denmark is inhabited by a variety of community-based organizations, from sports clubs to housing organizations, which depend on the member participation. Furthermore, the Danish government and public  institutions are largely rooted in a tradition of transparency and participation. Land-use planning is an example where public participation is invited. The format of this participation, however, is that it takes place away from the locations discussed, typically in a town-hall meeting room. By this sort of closeness or distance, the city may support or hinder participation. Over the last decades, however, new publics that critically discuss and develop IT have formed in open source software development and in hacker labs, and these may inspire new forms of participation also in civic life.
Participatory design in such settings needs to be developed methodologically, to embrace emergent publics as exemplified above. Transparency of process and product is suggested as essential for the theme of Participatory Public.
We wish to understand publics so as to develop an open and exploratory platform upon which people together can explore and develop IT-supported community settings: What constitutes participation in such IT-supported community settings? What technological platforms are needed? What are the roles of open data and open platforms? What design methods may be developed to emphasize design for the public? How is transparency of process/product embraced by IT platforms and design methods? How do research results scale between small, clearly -defined communities, and larger, more dispersed ones?

Contact person: Susanne Bødker

Read more: pit.au.dk/research-projects/participatory-publics/

Sustaining IT development

We examine how IT innovations are transformed into sustainable outcomes, by rethinking the ways in which stakeholders participate in the design process, and the way IT innovations are appropriated by organizations.

In a report on public IT projects, the Danish Board of Technology concludes that the main limitation on public IT development is not related to technology itself, but to the extent to which institutions are capable of appropriating and sustaining new technological potential. The PIT research centre studies how IT innovations are transformed into sustainable outcomes in public institutions by rethinking the way stakeholders participate in the design process, and the way IT innovations are appropriated by organizations.

While many IT development projects may succeed in establishing new organizational initiatives, or developing technology that is attuned to the people affected, the issue of how such initiatives are appropriated and sustained once the project ends remains an important challenge. At the PIT centre, we will explore new ways of sustaining IT development in public institutions, by developing new methods and tools for supporting IT-related organizational changes.

Developments in web, mobile, and DIY technology offer significant opportunities for organizations to create lasting changes. However, there is a need to further our understanding of the processes by which sustainable IT development may be achieved through participation. In educational institutions, much funding is used for acquiring new technology, such as tablets and interactive whiteboards, with the aim of supporting new learning styles and formats. However, in most cases new technology is merged into existing, curriculum-based teaching practices, rather than becoming part of innovations in learning approaches. In a similar vein, for some years museums have looked to technology to develop new ways for visitors to engage with their natural and cultural heritage. Rarely, however, is new technology considered a part of reshaping the ways in which their heritage plays a part in people’s everyday lives, and in society at large. In general, one of the most important challenges facing public IT development is not so much the technology, but how public institutions realize technological potential through new organizational initiatives. Participation in IT development should not only be envisioned as an approach for generating demands for IT systems, but as a driving force in organizational development.

Contact person: Susanne Bødker

Read more: pit.au.dk/research-projects/sustaining-it-development/

The Technologies of Participation

The technologies of participation is a cross-cutting theme, that takes outset in understanding what makes a technology participatory and what makes it not.

The focus of this theme is on the (IT) artifacts, and what assumptions and power relationships that are crystallized into them.

Concretely this for example concerns issues as the privacy model of social media, or the ownership model of software and data when it comes to cloud-based applications such as Google Docs.

The questions of the theme are both addressed critically and constructively. As an example of the latter, the research project Local Area Artworks generated a technical platform, ProxiMagic [1] (proximagic.projects.cavi.dk), for enabling easy participation in activities in a local space mediated through personal devices. ProxiMagic include technological innovations allowing a system local to a particular space, to deliver content to personal devices in the space based on their proximity to points of interests, and achieving this without having to install an app on the personal devices.

The outcomes of the theme are both concrete technologies or prototypes of technologies that can serve as critical alternatives, but also conceptual outcomes such as taxonomies for participatory IT that can be used both critically and generatively in relation to technology.

Contact person: Clemens Nylandsted Klokmose

Read more: pit.au.dk/research-projects/the-technologies-of-participation/

Unfolding participation

The last few years have witnessed a growing realisation from various research communities interested in participatory approaches to information technology – the Scandinavian participatory design one but HCI more generally – that it is high time to define what they mean by participation (Halskov & Hansen, 2014; Vines et al., 2012). The time seems also ripe to start building rigour and accountability into research practices in these fields (Frauenberger et al., 2014).

The aim of the PIT theme Unfolding participation is to return to one of the core questions of PIT: What counts as participation? This theme will provide an arena where we bring forward our own experiences with participation and invite others to bring their own. We will thus open up the different meanings of participation used in the fields of HCI and PD as well as some key issues and challenges identified there. We will also start conversations with practitioners and researchers from other fields, such as political studies, urban planning, participatory arts, and business, around the topic of participation, bringing forward the notion of IT-mediated participation there.

Contact person: Joanna Saad-Sulonen

 

 

Current PhD projects

Hyper-local technologies

Somehow, when developing a new technology, software application and service being connected to the internet and using network technology is taken for granted. The ethos is connectivity and the ability to access everything from anywhere is the hallmark of novel technology and services, recently expressed in the notion of the Internet of Things. Now that we all are online, surely the Things around us should as well. But is this given and implicit design feature of global network connectivity such a good idea? Why do the local area network merely serve as a proxy to the internet for our countless personal devices? or more importantly, why does it seem like a good idea to give equal access to your smart fridge, inbox, digital storage and online social world regardless if the IP address is from your dorm, company, city, Brazil or China; NSA, Google or Lulzsec?

Under the title Hyper-local Technologies, this PhD project examines how localised technologies support in-situ community practices, collaboration and place making. As many of us participate in multiple communities anchored around a geographical place and a shared practice, how technology represent, mediate and support these local communities and their specificities become increasingly important.

PhD student: Henrik Korsgaard

Supervisor: Susanne Bødker

Technologies for Systematic Creativity

The focus of my PhD study is the creation of software architecture and user interfaces to support practices of invention. Common to such practices is that they involve both aspects of artistic imagination of unorthodox alternatives, and a systematic component of learning and making things work. They also contain central elements of reflecting on tools and methods, and of creating immediate structures to support the process of creation.

In my PhD, I study how component architectures and interactive, adaptable user interfaces can be used to support these practices.

My research is centered around two main prototype systems. SketchCode is a programming environment that allows its users to extend it with their own visual editing components in order to express the concepts of their problem domain better. It is informed by theories of sketching, craftsmanship and reflective practice.

The Horse Uber Shell (Hush) is a wrapping architecture and user interface for Linux systems on desktop, mobile and embedded devices that enables users to interactively combine functionality across devices to allow their own, perhaps idiosyncratic, workflows. It is meant as an alternative to application-centric computing, and based on theories of instrumental interaction and object orientation.

The PhD study is funded by the CIBIS project[1], in which we use and apply multi surface technologies to support creative ways of working in high school education, LEGO robotics programming and professional design practice.

1: http://cavi.au.dk/projects/cibis/

PhD student: Siemen Baader

Supervisor: Susanne Bødker

Previous projects

in alphabetic order

eGov+

Better public service through new use of IT research and technologies to create IT based collaboration between citizens and the public sector

Three Danish municipalities and three IT companies are working together with the Alexandra Institute and researches from Aarhus and Aalborg University on a new type of public IT services. These services will utilize the latest Web 2.0 technologies to bring the citizens and the public sector closer together.

The eGov+ project explores e-governance services and infrastructure. The focus is on efficient, and democratic e-services through Web 2.0 technology at the interface between citizens and public administration. The project works with visualization of decision processes and workflows, adaptive documents and services, processes and methods of design, and management.

The pivotal idea of the project is to examine how citizens may be supported in achieving as much as possible on their own and in cooperation with other citizens, and how collaboration between citizens and municipal services may be enhanced. Furthermore the project looks at the development, implementation and everyday management of such eGovernment services and infrastructures.

Methodologically the project works through a combination of grounded approaches to the understanding of organizational and use issues and participatory design-oriented approaches to design, involving caseworkers as well as citizens. Participant observation and interviews are combined with workshops involving citizens and caseworkers. Technology is developed through iterative prototyping to give future users access to hands-on experience, while making it possible to work with alternatives as opposed to just one solution. When applied in a research setting, prototypes are also used to capture and probe research hypotheses.

Read more: egovplus.dk

IT-Security for Citizens

The work in the research project IT Security for Citizens (ITSCI) aims at better and more usable security. This is expected to result in technology that is easy to use for citizens with a limited knowledge of IT and computers, yet is more secure than systems typically in use today.

Better Security

The project aims to solve two basic problems: first, existing hard- and softwareproducts often do not communicate security in a way that ordinary users can understand and relate to. This can degrade security because users take security-related decisions based on incomplete or wrong information.

Second, security-related solutions such as digital signature systems or netbank systems are often tied to one particular computer, and thus mobility and flexibility suffer. Also, this type of solution can often be broken by a sufficiently severe attack on only a single machine.


Read more: itsci.borgernesitsikkerhed.dk