A few weeks ago Cliff Lampe visited UMD to give a talk about his work on citizen interaction design, connecting the University of Michigan iSchool with the City of Jackson, Michigan and other cities around Michigan. At a high level the goal of the project is to get iSchool students out in the field working with local governments to try to collaborate on solutions to problems that they have.

Lampe stressed that much of the work was in determining what problems could be effectively worked on in a semester, and jointly arriving at sustainable solutions. The sustainable part is hard, especially when the students are here one year and gone the next–leaving websites, databases and other artifacts behind that need attention, care and repair. A focus on the actual dimensions of the problem and not the technical solution is key, as is sustained support from the University and the city. I seem to remember he also highlighted the need for simple solutions: e.g. a Google spreadsheet, rather than a full blown Web application with a database. You can see a list of some of these projects here.

One thing Lampe really impressed on me was the importance of a practice orientation to this and other information studies work. He has been very active in the HCI community for a number of years, and feels like there has been a trend towards a broadened study of the processes and contexts that information systems are a part of (Practice paradigm). He said he was working on a paper to discuss this trend in HCI, but then found that Kuutti and Bannon had already written one (Kuutti & Bannon, 2014).

I’m still in the process of digesting the paper, but thought I’d just jot down some quotes that struck me as I was reading.

For the Interaction paradigm, the scope of the intervention is viewed as changing human actions by means of novel technology. For the Practice paradigm, a whole practice is the unit of intervention, not only technology, but everything related and interwoven in the performance is under scrutiny and potentially changeable, depending on the goals of the intervention. Thus the changing technology is but one of the options.

Only focusing on technology and immediate interactions isn’t enough. It’s important to decenter the technology by placing it in the larger cultural and social context. Of course that perspective can be difficult to maintain without getting completely abstracted and lost. Zooming in on actual practices seems like a useful way to avoid doing that. It feels like there might be connections to Latour’s work on Actor-Network Theory and Object-Oriented Ontology here too, to aid in this kind of study of practices–particularly regarding the interest in artifacts.

Practice theories do not locate the origin of the social in the mind, discourse, or interaction, but in ‘practices’ - routines consisting of a number of interconnected and inseparable elements: physical and mental activities of human bodies, the material environment, artifacts and their use, contexts, human capabilities, affinities and motivation. Practices are wholes, whose existence is dependent on the temporal interconnection of all these elements, and cannot be reduced to, or explained by, any one single element.

I like this idea of practices as wholes, since too often we focus on one small part of the practice and miss the larger picture. This larger picture where technology is just part involves the values and outcomes of particular practices. What do we want to happen in the world?

From a practices perspective the world is a network of performances that are durable, because the ways of doing things are coded in minds, bodies, artifacts, objects and texts, and connected together so that the result of performing one activity serves as a resource for another.

Kuutti and Bannon remind me a bit of work we’ve been doing in MITH on our Digital Incubator series, where we are focused on process rather tool building. Many digital humanities projects are oriented around tools or a particular set of content, but often what can be really rewarding is teaching a process or practice that involves tools and content. It’s a craft thing I guess.

Anyhow as a student I really like these kinds of papers because they serve as guide posts and provide lots of useful pointers out into the literature. The paper build Davide Nicolini’s work in this area, which I’m adding to my reading list (???).

References

Kuutti, K., & Bannon, L. J. (2014). The turn to practice in HCI: Towards a research agenda. In Proceedings of the 32nd annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 3543–3552). Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2557111