Lost in translation? The dilemma of alignment within participatory technology developments

Poiesis and Praxis 9 (1-2):125-143 (2012)
Abstract
As an instrument for participatory technology development, Scenario-Based Design offers significant potential for an early inclusion of future users. Over the course of a 3-year research project, this method was examined as a procedure for participatory technology development. Methods and instruments aimed at achieving a potential user’s participation, and the resulting cooperation of heterogeneous social groups can be seen as translation tools. Their purpose is to act as translators between different social fields and the specific knowledge associated with them. These translation capabilities and participatory methods should result in the best possible convergence of different orientations and purposes. In this paper, attempting to achieve the best possible convergence is described as a dilemma of alignment. Several approaches will be used to describe the dynamic of the alignment dilemma within the above-mentioned project. The reconstruction follows one question that is proposed as a heuristic pattern to meet the requirements of an accurate analysis of holistic participatory methods: Who or what has to adjust to whom or what, why, when, and in which way? The main conclusions include the finding that the alignment dilemma is not equally balanced, that the agency of epistemic objects within the process has to be captured, and that it is easy for translation—provided primarily by core instruments of the participatory method used—to begin to overwrite the needs and purposes of one social group with the interests and orientations of another
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