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Stakeholder Engagement: A Pillar of Responsible Innovation

In previous posts, we've explored the impact of design frameworks like Value Based Engineering (VBE), emphasizing the crucial role of stakeholder engagement early in the design process. This post will focus on Participatory Design, examining its significance in creating ethical and responsible technology. We'll investigate how this approach not only meets technical specifications but also integrates diverse perspectives to foster more inclusive and sustainable solutions.


Stakeholders meeting

About Participatory Design

The definition of Participatory design on Science Direct is that it is “a democratic process for design (social and technological) of systems involving human work, based on the argument that users should be involved in designs they will be using, and that all stakeholders, including and especially users, have equal inputs into interaction design.”

This methodology ensures that the products and solutions developed truly meet the needs of those they're intended to serve. By engaging users from the outset, participatory design fosters a sense of ownership and satisfaction among all parties, encourages feedback, and leads to more sustainable, inclusive, and effective outcomes. Ultimately, the collaborative nature of this approach not only improves the functionality and usability of designs but also enhances the creative process by incorporating diverse perspectives and expertise. But is it also linked to ethical and responsible design?

Participatory Design in Responsible Innovation

In the wider discourse of responsible innovation, engaging with stakeholders has has emerged as a key focus. For example, a foundational paper titled “A Framework of Responsible Innovation” sets deliberation as one of the dimensions necessary to design responsibly. This dimension entails inclusive dialogue and engagement with diverse stakeholders to shape the trajectory of innovation ethically and democratically. Inviting and listening to wider perspectives from publics and diverse stakeholders allows for a broad range of perspectives to reframe issues and identify potential areas of contestation. Effective deliberation must be institutionally embedded, influencing the direction, pace, and nature of innovation through a continuous, adaptive learning process that is responsive to societal needs and concerns.

The Potential Impact of User Participation in Ethical Design

So, how could current AI innovations be more ethical with the engagement of stakeholders, specifically users? In a previous post, we talked about the Google Gemini’s controversy where the image generation model was supposed to be more inclusive, but ended up producing historically false images. Google ended up apologizing and temporarily shutting down the model. This incident underscores the critical need for participatory design and active user engagement in aligning technology development with user expectations and needs. Such approaches ensure that design choices in AI models, or any technology, are made with direct input from those it aims to serve. For instance, if it was known that users intended to use image generation models to produce historical images, appropriate design adjustments could have been implemented to meet these specific requirements.

Another case to think about is social media. Social media platforms offer significant benefits, such as enhancing connectivity and providing instant access to information and social networks. However, these advantages are often overshadowed by considerable drawbacks, including decreasing attention spans, worsening mental health issues, serious privacy breaches, and potential threats to democratic processes. These drawbacks are directly linked to design choices that prioritize corporate interests over individual and societal well-being.

If social media companies like Meta and TikTok are committed to ethically redesigning their platforms, they must prioritize user engagement and participation. These companies should actively seek input from their users to understand what they hope to gain from using the platforms. Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology, suggests a reimagined approach where social media platforms assist users in achieving personal goals, such as improving cooking skills. Success would then be measured not by traditional metrics like engagement time, but by how effectively the platform helps users achieve these goals, for example, by facilitating the organization of cooking nights. This shift could align the platforms' objectives with the genuine interests and aspirations of their users.

As we consider the future of technology design, the role of emerging design approaches such as Value Based Engineering (VBE) in shaping ethical and responsible technology cannot be overstated. This integration of user perspectives in design choices is critical in navigating the complexities of modern technology development, where the potential for ethical missteps lurks in decisions that prioritize efficiency over human-centered values. By embedding VBE principles in the design process, companies can proactively address these challenges, crafting solutions that are not only effective but also equitable and inclusive.

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