söndag 31 augusti 2014

ICT4S 2014 workshops

Me and Elina Eriksson organised not just one but two workshops at the ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) conference that was recently held in Stockholm (see my previous blog post). She for the most part took responsibility for the first workshop - last Sunday before the conference - and I for the most part took responsibility for the the second, "guerrilla" workshop that was organised this past Wednesday, after the conference.

Sunday pre-conference workshop
I have mentioned the first workshop here on the blog before. It was a half-day (3-hour) workshop and the topic of the workshop was "What is the role of Sustainable HCI in the field of ICT4S?". Both me and Elina went to the first ICT4S conference in 2013 and noticed that there were few people from the HCI field represented. We have since done our best to disseminated information and have tried to get more HCI people to come to ICT4S. Organising a workshop for the Sustainable HCI crowd is yet another way to increase the value of this conference to them as this was a way to get these persons together before the conference to discuss a question of high interest us but probably of less interest to everybody else. Around a dozen people came to our workshop and I think that was a success taking into account that we "slipped the workshop into the program" at a relatively late stage.

It would be a stretch to say that we managed to actually figure out what the relationship between Sustainable HCI and ICT4S was at the workshop, but everybody agreed ICT4S was the broader area and we discussed many other issues of interest (to us); what can HCI more specifically contribute with to the field of ICT4S, what opportunities does ICT4S offer us that HCI conferences are hard pressed to provide etc. As is often the case, I think it was actually the discussions and the new or renewed contacts you made (i.e. the process) that provided the most value to workshop participants (rather than the actual results). The questions we were were supposed to discuss were more of a scaffold to get people going - and it seemed people for the most part were happy with the workshop. Also, you can't solve all the problems in the world in three hours...

Something that we think worked really fine was the round of Pecha Kucha presentations we used to present ourselves to each other. Each participant was to prepare a 9-slide, 3-minute presentation about themselves and their research interests. Once the presentation was started, the slides automatically changed every 20 seconds. Most (almost all) participants had created Pecha Kucha slide decks and it's very clear to me that a lot more, and a lot more interesting things gets said through a round of Pecha Kucha presentations than through a round of oral presentations.

Although not a goal of the workshop itself, after the presentations I started to sum up some "tensions" I felt had been touched upon in the presentations and this is what we together came up with in the end:
- Strong sustainability vs weak sustainability
- Incremental vs transformational
- Reformist vs radical
- ICT4S vs ICT4D
- Ecological vs social sustainability
- Reductionist vs systems perspective
- Make a profit vs maximize the profit
- Short-term vs long-term perspectives
- Scientific impact vs changing the world
- Individual vs collective
- Problem vs predicament
- Bottom-up vs top-down
- Prosaic vs imaginative

Wednesday post-conference workshop
If the pre-conference workshop slipped into the program, the post-conference workshop was organised in an even more relaxed and informal way outside of the program. It builds on a methodology for getting things done ("Hoffice") that a friend of mine, Christofer Gradin Franzen has developed in Stockholm during the spring. A 45-minute session of intense concentrated work is followed by a short break, by a short follow-up session (to make sure people get things done) and at times by some social activity. Rinse and repeat.

We invited the pre-conference workshop participants to our post-conference workshop and also invited them to bring people along who were interested not just in HCI but in user/usage perspectives on ICT4S. Most people who attended the pre-conference workshop came back and one new person showed up. While some left early and others showed up late, ten persons showed up at some point during the day.

Christofer's take on this is that people who have a lot of freedom in their jobs get together in each others' homes and help each other get things done. We took this idea and ran with it - in our case we invited people who had overlapping interests (ICT4S, Sustainable HCI, user/usage perspectives) and our thought was to have break-out sessions for 45 minutes before we met up again and chose new topics/tasks to work on in new break-out sessions. While we did have one silent session (I believe most people chose to answer e-mail), most of the session saw the whole or nearly the whole group gather to tackle some issue together (write something together, discuss the conference together). It was a really relaxed event and the flexible structure allowed people to come late or to leave early. I think it was an amazingly neat way to end the conference, hanging out and getting things done together with people you like to hang out with. I think we managed to squeeze out six or seven sessions and I hope others felt as productive and as social as I did!

I think others should take up the baton and organise similar post-conference informal pick-up workshops. It's definitely most easy and convenient if someone who is local takes responsibility for it.

All in all I think the conference was great and as far as we know, people were very happy about both of our workshops. 

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