Being and Bearing Witness

The key question within the Participatory Systems Initiative is ‘how to design systems so human beings can participate and accept responsibility for their actions’. More and more people live in ‘communities of systems and people’ in which material infrastructures (for commodities such as water, electricity, telephony and connectivity) and immaterial infrastructures (law, education and media) are altering social structures significantly.

However, the building of material and immaterial infrastructures has not been contextualized with regard to the effect they have on social structures, larger organizational and business structures and even democracy and its constituencies. The question how systems have to be designed so human beings can participate specifically includes the possibility to take responsibility for one’s own actions in such a systems environment.

The assumption of the Participatory Systems Initiative is that because human beings can take responsibility for their own actions (and can be held accountable), social structures will synchronize with requirements of sustainability. Without the possibility to accept responsibility, human beings should not accept systems because they may be detrimental for those involved and cannot function under the rule of democratic law. Focusing on the possibility for taking responsibility in complex distributed systems environments, The Participatory Systems Initiative focuses on being and bearing witness, as a way to identify how human presence in relation to one another should be designed to include responsibility in order to safeguard that establishing trust and truth remains to be foundational for future social structures human beings inhabit.