How can we create a world of user experience and HCI that is truly inclusive and that engages with people, problems, and communities in meaningful ways? I gave a talk on these issues at CHI 2019; in this article, I further expand on this line of discussion. Inclusion and engagement in HCI projects are important for multiple reasons. While we see a growing interest in new technologies from social media to AI, there is also a growing interest in questions concerning participation, engagement, and equality. Of course, HCI should be about the design and evaluation of new technologies, but even more important, it should be about making life a little bit better. So how can we go about exploring such fundamentals in HCI?
In 1977 in Cartagena, Colombia, while most of the globe was recovering from years of revolution and war, a bold sociologist, Fals Borda, and other Latin Americans organized the first explicit conference on participatory action research, pushing for an emancipatory and truly democratic approach to scholarship. After nearly two decades, in 1995, in a speech to the Southern Sociological Society Meeting, Borda laid out the requirements of this work to scientists: "Do not monopolize your knowledge nor impose arrogantly your techniques, but respect and combine your skills with the knowledge of the researched or grassroots communities, taking them as full partners and co-researchers" .
Borda went on to further reprimand the scientific community: "Do not trust elitist versions of history and science which respond to dominant interests." Today we in the SIGCHI and broader human-computer interaction community must ask ourselves how it is that we are ensuring our scholarship recognizes and responds to interests beyond those with political, corporate, and economic power.
Borda closed his speech with the plea that we share the results of research "in a manner that is wholly understandable and even literary and pleasant, for science should not be necessarily a mystery nor a monopoly of experts and intellectuals." In other words, science and design should be relevant and accessible to everyone.
A requirement of engaged partnerships is that we truly consider the values, experiences, and goals of everyone impacted as early in the project as possible.
HCI has a long history of service and connection with people who are at higher risk for educational, physical, and social challenges. Interdisciplinary to our core , HCI researchers have been seen as having many—or maybe even no—disciplinary homes [3,4]. HCI also has a long history, through venues like Interactions, of attempting to share the results of research in a format that practitioners and other non-researchers might find interesting. Scholars like Michael Muller, Susanne Bødker, Alison Druin, MonaLeigh Guha, and Jason Yip have led the way in using participatory design to engage a wide variety of people in their work. This type of work has been shown repeatedly to contribute to both research and society , as well as to serve as a draw for women and other underrepresented groups in computing .
However, we increasingly see that service and connection are not enough. We must instead seek true engagement and partnership with the communities we aim to serve. Feasible solutions to real-world problems require intense, often messy, engagement with the people and problems that lie at the heart of these projects.
In practice, creating engaged partnerships first requires cross-disciplinary partnerships, a notion that human-computer interaction has long embraced [7,8]. It also requires equity for the people who are not researchers. Although there are certainly exceptions, we as a community are not great at this. The truth is we are like any other scientific community, and despite our best efforts, we struggle with inclusion, equity, and partnership.
The second requirement of engaged partnerships is that we truly consider the values, experiences, and goals of everyone impacted as early in the project as possible. These values must be a part of the funding applications and research questions, before they get set in our minds and are harder to dislodge. Many members of the CHI community are working very hard at this difficult goal, and they are doing this work in a variety of ways.
As one example, building on an existing ethos of service, in 2016 the CHI community undertook an effort to positively impact the cities we visit: Day of Service. This step is just one in a long line of efforts on the part of a responsible, committed group of scholars to leaving this world better than we found it. Liz Gerber, Dan Russel, Kathy Baxter, and others dedicated countless hours to making an impact in the community. Corporations, universities, and other groups regularly do these kinds of days of service all over the globe. They no doubt contribute to the communities they serve, but the underlying motives can be murky. The organizers and participants certainly wish to be of service. However, universities are ranked in part by the hours of volunteer work they can document. Corporations, professional societies, and celebrities profit off the press from such events. Somehow, we must reconcile the personal and organizational benefit with the quest for positive community outcomes.
The next year, 53 CHI attendees spent a Sunday to volunteer their time and skills to help nine nonprofits in Colorado at the CHI 2017 Day of Service (https://chi2017.acm.org/day-of-service.html). The volunteers offered their expertise to projects that the nonprofits greatly appreciated, from those focusing on accessibility to short interviews and rapid usability assessments. Most nonprofits cannot afford this kind of expertise, so it makes a huge difference to their operations.
The volunteers also reported liking the event. Their reasons varied, including networking opportunities, making new friends, working on "real-world" problems, and learning new skills. These results mirror a vast literature on service learning and volunteerism that finds that nonprofits and NGOs tend to be happy to receive the help of volunteers and service learners. The people giving their time also tend to be happy with the experience. But this work is not without its challenges. Randy Stoecker and Elizabeth Tryon conducted interviews and focus groups with nonprofits in Madison, Wisconsin, and documented their experiences with service learners . Their work shows that nonprofits are often exhausted by short-term volunteers, spending enormous amounts of time training and supporting them.
In 1995, Keith Morton declared that the charity model reinforces stereotypes . The next year, Joseph Kahne and Joel Westheimer made similar findings , and a wide variety of other scholars since have followed up with evidence that supports this claim. One explanation for the disconnect between the intentions of service learning and engaged research and the damage sometimes done is differences in how community organizers and faculty see themselves. Nora Bacon noted that community organizers tend to see themselves as learners. They link learning to action. They see learning as a collective activity. Faculty, on the other hand, tend to see themselves as experts—keepers of knowledge they will generously impart to both students and agencies .
Given that backdrop, perhaps it is no surprise that there tends to be a lack of research on community outcomes, even within research on service learning and engaged scholarship. We need more research—and a lot of it—to know the true impact of the work we are lauding as having positive social impact.
However, we have major structural issues that must be addressed to ensure that the communities we study are not exploited like natural resources for the harvesting. Community outcomes must be measured. They must be reported. And the reporting must matter to us, to our colleagues, and to our universities and companies.
A good step toward having community outcomes matter is having more members of more communities in our workplaces, classrooms, and labs. Stacy Branham recently wrote a compelling piece on making her home wheelchair accessible . Having no wheelchair users in her own home, she notes that her primary motivation was enabling people with disabilities to be able to visit her home. Sadly, despite having worked with multiple wheelchair users over the years, I had never had this same thought. More striking than my own ignorance, however, was how many people she described as asking her why she would do this, why she even cares. Branham concludes: "I don't know how to explain to you that you should care about other people." Beyond simply considering others, we must also recognize that efforts to recruit wheelchair users and other people with disabilities as our TAs, collaborators, and friends will fail without thinking ahead to this type of inclusion.
I have striven over my career to incorporate community members into my scholarly work as full partners. That commitment was tested last year with a relatively new collaborator, R.J. De Rhama, the leader of the Makapo Aquatics Project and a collaborator on Mark Baldwin's thesis work. R.J. co-authored a workshop paper with us. He then traveled from California to Glasgow, Scotland, to participate in a workshop on blind navigation at CHI 2019, to which we were able to invite a community partner. He was able to take time away from his work to participate in something that is not within his normal value chain. The workshop benefited from his participation, as did he from being there. However, this kind of engagement requires the hard work of budgeting into grants for this very expensive conference and associated travel, or in our case the luck of my winning the SIGCHI Social Impact Award that paid for my travel, freeing up other budget for R.J. In this case, we were also asking him to navigate international travel and a CHI venue that was less than ideal for a blind traveler. These interactions must become easier to be truly inclusive.
Accessibility has received a lot of attention at CHI in recent years, for good reason, but it is not the only challenge we as a community have in terms of inclusion. The CHI community is deeply connected to the broader world of high tech and Silicon Valley. And the technology professional is experiencing a deep level of toxicity right now, supercharged by global information access and social media. Without critically examining the history of the culture within computing and innovation in Silicon Valley, we cannot begin to repair the world it has created .
Critical reflection on ourselves as a community is not easy. The CHI community, in my experience, truly wants to be inclusive and wants technology to be "for good." Even so, it is hard to acknowledge systems of oppression that are largely invisible and beneficial for a subset of us. It is also hard to keep feeling like a "good person" once one is aware of these systems from which one continues to benefit . It is easier to ignore those systems and pretend we are all equal. But when we do that, there is a great potential to become offended, saddened, or defensive in the face of critique. And so those who are oppressed are forced to do the labor of comforting us and reassuring us that we are not racist or mysogynist, or an oppressor.
You do not have to be racist to benefit from racism. You do not have to be a mysognist to benefit from misogyny. Recognizing how we have benefited is a painful experience for us all, as danah boyd so eloquently explained recently while calling for a "Great Reckoning" in the tech industry . There are structural forces that keep us and our scholarship reinforcing the status quo. Those of us who are women or nonbinary, who are people of color, and who have disabilities and chronic illnesses have largely gotten where we are because we have learned to play the game, to benefit from the generosity of those in power.
Before we can change things, we must acknowledge the privilege we each have. And we do each have privilege. If we don't acknowledge our own privilege and the roles we must play in making changes, we are doing a kind of violence to those groups who we wish to include—whether they be underrepresented scholars or community partners.
I struggle with this all the time, but I especially struggle with efforts to recruit young girls into computing. I feel uncomfortable telling a new generation of girls that things will be better when I have not seen much change since I was that one woman in my CS classes in college. By focusing on recruiting a diverse community, we bring people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ scholars, and more into inherently unsafe spaces. We then expect them to do the work of improving those spaces by serving as mentors, putting in extra hours of volunteer work to ensure representation on committees, and educating and consoling the dominant cultures. This service often gets done by junior people and people from marginalized groups and then maligned as less important than program chair, journal editor, or other intellectual work.
Donna Harraway warned us all that "technology is not neutral. We're inside of what we make, and it's inside of us. We're living in a world of connections—and it matters which ones get made and unmade" . Batya Friedman has long described the values embedded in our design decisions, sitting at the forefront of a world in which we can design with a moral imperative, a series of arguments and years of work persuasively laid out in her book with David Hendry . Ramesh Srinivasan reminds us that "Technology is...not about efficiency, it's about people's values and their knowledge" . The scientists on the Manhattan Project brought us nuclear power, and they also brought us destruction never before known. It is not an overstatement that we are now living in a world of nuclear-powered levels of information dissemination, simultaneously creating the democratization of knowledge and the atomic bomb of disinformation. We must as a community make intentional choices to deal with the world we have created. We must prioritize, protect, and promote community-driven innovation. By this I mean: make community outcomes central and essential, not an add-on section of your paper or grant. Prioritize community expertise and community challenges. Prioritize inclusion.
And once you have recruited your diverse team and conducted research in an ethical way that addresses real-world problems, the community owes it to you to protect your findings, not to force you into a pattern of research-first outcomes just to get published. The work of community engagement, diversity, and inclusion must be promoted as valuable and on par with other types of contributions. The CHI community can lead the way.
In many ways, we are leading the way. Ben Schneiderman, more than 15 years ago, was forward thinking and brave enough to fight to establish the SICHI Social Impact Award. And many scholars who have not yet been recognized with this award are still blazing a trail with their work. For example, in Critical Fabulations, Daniela Rosner, reminds us that design is "investigative and activist, personal and culturally situated, responsive and responsible" . Chris LeDantec, on the forefront of digital civics, is empowering grassroots organizers to take control of their digital, political, and social lives, laid out in his book Designing Publics .
Community-driven scholarship looks different for every person and every community. To illustrate how it can work, however, I will use an example from my own work. Ten years ago, I began the Technology in the Workplace program in cooperation with K–12 teachers, administrators, and parents. In this program, which was initiated by the state and county schools in Southern California and co-developed with my team over many years, UCI Students and assistive tech specialists work together using hands-on instruction (Figure 1).
From this work came a realization that students with barriers to employment need interview-preparation support. All of the available tools were either clearly developed for children, and infantilizing—or incredibly expensive and inappropriate for our population. This common tension in assistive technology led us to the collective realization that we needed to build our own tool to support our joint efforts.
In response, an innovative group of undergraduates co-developed the VidCoach app (Figure 2) with our community partners and made it available for free in the App Store.
|Figure 2. Screens from the VidCoach app showing a sample employer, employee responses, and quiz related to teaching interview concepts.|
However, we quickly realized that we still had not fully addressed the issues that the students themselves and their teachers and career coaches were seeing. Only after having the VidCoach tool available could we see that while practice and therapy are great, real-time intervention was what our co-designers and community partners really wanted and needed. And so LouAnne Boyd's dissertation showed us the power of augmented reality, co-designed with teams of teachers, students with autism, and other community groups . The ability of the teachers, staff, and students themselves to critique and contribute was essential to the success of this program in practice as well as to the quality of our scholarship .
Although this example is hopefully helpful and illustrative, the specific projects and methods are not important here. Rather, the imperative is that we support, conduct, and promote this kind of scholarship. Such commitment requires structural changes.
Structural changes can start anywhere. Each of us can make a difference simply by asking how we might assess community-driven work in hiring, tenure, and promotion materials. We can change the entire trajectory of careers by considering adding awards categories for CHI papers that recognize and promote community outcomes, rather than waiting for a large body of work for a major award like the CHI Social Impact Award. With every paper, we can change publications themselves to better align with our values by being reflexive about who we are working with and what we are producing, disclosing all funding that could have influenced the work, and including our community partners as co-authors, rather than just people we acknowledge. These are all small structural changes we could make this year; each one of us can make their own more locally. While we work for bigger, long-lasting change, it is essential that we begin to take these steps.
We must also stand between the oppressor and the oppressed. We as a community must use our platforms to critique, and when someone gives us critique, we must respect their lived experiences and hear it. However, we must also be careful. Criticism is easy. As President Obama recently said, "This idea of purity and you're never compromised...You should get over that quickly...The world is messy; there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws...I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media, there is this sense sometimes of: 'The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people, and that's enough'...That's not activism. That's not bringing about change. If all you're doing is casting stones, you are probably not going to get that far" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ioz96L5xASk).
So, let's work together to hear one another, to read things generously, and to collectively determine our future. We control our destiny. But we have to do the work. We must commit to collective self-determination, to a world in which we together decide what is important. We must commit to a SIGCHI that enables us to live our values and go beyond the simple idea that our research can have social impacts to a view that engagement should be intentional and committed and woven into the very fabric of our community's core.
1. Borda, O.F. Research for social justice: Some North-South convergences. Plenary Address at the Southern Sociological Society Meeting. Apr. 8, 1995; http://comm-org.wisc.edu/si/falsborda.htm
13. Branham, S. Why I spent $10K to make my house wheelchair-accessible. LinkedIn. Sept 10, 2018; https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-i-spent-10k-make-my-house-wheelchair-accessible-stacy-branham/
16. boyd, d. Facing the Great Reckoning head-on. OneZero. Sept. 13, 2019; https://onezero.medium.com/facing-the-great-reckoning-head-on-8fe434e10630
22. Hayes, G.R., Custodio, V.E., Haimson, O.L., Nguyen, K., Ringland, K.E., Ulgado, R.R., Waterhouse, A., and Weiner, R. Mobile video modeling for employment interviews for individuals with autism. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation 43, 3 (2015), 275–287.
23. Ulgado, R.R., Nguyen, K., Custodio, V E., Waterhouse, A., Weiner, R., and Hayes, G. VidCoach: A mobile video modeling system for youth with special needs. Proc. of the 12th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children. ACM, New York, 2013, 581–584.
24. Boyd, L.E., Gupta, S., Vikmani, S.B., Gutierrez, C.M., Yang, J., Linstead, E., and Hayes, G.R. vrSocial: Toward immersive therapeutic VR systems for children with autism. Proc. of CHI 2018. ACM, New York, 2018.
25. Boyd, L.E., Rector, K., Profita, H., Stangl, A.J., Zolyomi, A., Kane, S.K., and Hayes, G.R. Understanding the role fluidity of stakeholders during assistive technology research "in the wild." Proc. of CHI 2017. ACM, New York, 2017.
Gillian R. Hayes is the vice provost for graduate education, dean of the graduate division, and Kleist Professor of Informatics in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, School of Education, and School of Medicine at UC Irvine. Her research interests are in HCI, ubiquitous computing, assistive technologies, and health informatics. email@example.com
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