Value Sensitive Design in practice

This entire week has been a pressure cooker for knowledge and ideas. For me one of the most valuable moments already took place on the first evening at De Verzamelpost. We were joined by a group of Texelaars and pitched our ideas for the island. The group consisted of people from different layers of society. There were high school students looking for inspiration for their high school thesis, entrepreneurs, both from the new and the older generation, people who were generally interested, etc. I was not one of the presenters, so I had the opportunity to examine the reaction we got from the locals. What I noticed during the presentation was that the real tangible ideas got a lot more response from the locals than the more vague ideas. This made me realize that when the goal of your presentation is to receive input from the audience, presenting (maybe somewhat controversial) plans will generate the most feedback. We have learned in this course that in value sensitive design it is really important to incorporate the interests and concerns of the actors involved. Locals did express their concerns and I think this was a really valuable lesson for our research as well as the entire course. This week provides us with a hands on experience of the theory.

However, we were also confronted with the difficulties of using value sensitive design. In the reactions we received two fractions were clearly visible. Both are really proud of the island, but the difference is that both fractions have a different vision on how to express this proudness. The first fraction is willing to improve the island in whatever way to make it even more attracting for tourists and overkanters (people from the mainland). On the other side are people who are really happy with the island as it is and are concerned that change will not necessarily lead to an improvement. Our challenge is that the result of our research should be able to build a bridge between these two fractions, but is this even possible? At the moment of writing this column (Wednesday evening) we’re still working on tweaking the final design. The symposium on Friday will give us an indication to what extend we have succeeded. We chose to first pitch the more controversial ideas, and later communicate the ideas that, we think, will be less provoking.

To sum up, I think I have learned that value sensitive design is very important to gain support for a design. At the same time it is a lot more easy to write that all values and interests should be taken into account, than to actually to do so. The challenge is bigger than I had anticipated, but it is a challenge that I find very interesting.

Stefan Olsthoorn