tisdag 9 december 2014

Critical Alternatives 2025 - call for fictional abstracts

I submitted no less than four fictional abstracts to the paper "ICT4S 2029: What will be the systems supporting sustainability in 15 years" back in February this year. All my four abstracts were included in the final paper and that paper - with 29 co-authors! - was not only accepted to the ICT4S conference but it was also one of eight papers that were nominated for the best paper award. In-between those events, I also participated in the CHI 2014 pre-conference workshop on design fiction.

The time has now come to invite others to participate in a design fiction paper that I take responsibility for writing together with my colleagues Elina, Josefin and Vincent. We plan to submit the paper to the upcoming Critical Computing conference - a conference that is only held once every 10 years! My colleague Elina came up with the basic idea six weeks ago when we ate dinner together right after having organised a Sustainable HCI workshop at the NordiCHI conference in Helsinki. We have since worked some with crafting the call below - it can be really tricky to juggle the past, present and future tense when discussing the past from a vantage point that is set in the future!

We sent out the invitation below in a variety of directions and anyone who reads this blog post is more than welcome to submit their own fictional abstract to our paper or to get in touch with me if you have any further questions!

Having seen the heroic work that Birgit Penzenstadler and some others did putting together the ICT4S 2029 paper, we thought that we would try to go one step further and try to imagine how we can make the process of actually writing our paper easier. We thus came up with a new invention in this emerging genre of writing fictional abstracts that draws on a past that hasn't yet happened since it it set in the future. Our paper will be third such paper that I'm aware of. Instead of just asking for a 150-word abstract and then having to do all the heavy lifting ourselves, we ask prospective authors to also image the context in which their future research will be set - how will the academy have had to change to be able to produce the radical research they report on in their fictional abstract? We hope that by requiring prospective authors to each write a 100-800 word note on the setting for their research, it will make our work of crafting a paper around the fictional abstracts easier. It's hard to know if that is the case though of if we are just making matters more complicated for ourselves.

We have tried to live by the motto "less is more" in our call below, but we do have to cover three different bases; climate change/sustainability challenges, design fiction/fictional abstracts and the political economy of (future) research - while still keeping the call as short, as simple and as inviting as possible. I think we managed to do that but the proof is in the pudding - we'll see if we will get a lot of e-mails asking for clarifications during the next few weeks...

DO NOTE that I have added a FAQ section below the call so please scroll to the bottom of this blog post if you are actually considering submitting a fictional abstract to the paper!


Call for fictional abstracts to Critical Computing 2015 - Contribute to the paper “Critical Alternatives 2025: The role of critical computing in sustainable development”

The upcoming fifth decennial Critical Computing conference (http://aarhus2015.org) with the theme Critical Alternatives “calls for contributions and debates focusing on, proposing, presenting, discussing and building alternatives related to information technologies from a quality of life perspective”.

We are standing on the brink of fundamental changes that promise to decrease quality of life as we know it (e.g. climate change, peak oil, decreased economic growth, uneven distribution of wealth etc.). According to Rockström et al. (2009), we have already exceeded several of the nine proposed planetary boundaries that together define a “safe operating space” for humanity. Humanity’s operating space should however not only be safe, it should also be just and Raworth (2012) has expanded the planetary boundaries model to also include eleven indicators that together form a social foundation for a “safe and just operating space” for humanity.

Besides currently failing to satisfy all of Raworth’s (2012) eleven indicators, it is now also abundantly clear that we need to drastically decrease CO2 and other GHG emissions. Some researchers argue that we have at the most 10 years to act before we risk passing one or several irrevocable tipping points that would make the planet much less habitable than it has been during the last 10 000 years (McKibben 2011). So, 10 years from now, what should have happened?

We hereby invite contributors to submit fictional abstracts (150-200 words each) that describe research that has been conducted and that will be presented at the 2025 sixth decennial Critical Computing conference for inclusion in our paper “Critical Alternatives 2025: The role of critical computing in sustainable development”. This paper will be written in the vein of similar design fiction (Bleecker 2009) papers that describe “current” or “recent” developments - from a future vantage point (e.g. Baumer et. al. 2014, Penzenstadler et. al. 2014). Your fictional abstract could for example assume desirable (or less desirable) future outcomes for 2025 and then use backcasting to describe and draw upon “what happened” during the period 2015-2025. For further information we strongly suggest that prospective contributors look at the Penzenstadler et. al. paper “ICT4S 2029” that is available online at: http://tinyurl.com/ict4s2029.

But, is academia itself up to the challenge? Are current structures for conducting research (organization, choice of research problems, funding, salaries, academic freedom, publishing practices, measurements, incentives, credentials, qualifications etc.) flexible and radical enough to come up with the necessary solutions? Are our current structures for going from knowledge-creation to real-world action powerful and fast enough? And, do current political and economic structures provide us with appropriate and suitable mechanisms for solving the problems that humanity faces today?

In this call, we assume that current research structures are suboptimal or even dysfunctional in relation to the challenges that humanity now faces. We propose that radical research solutions also require radically altered research settings. We thus extend a second challenge to prospective contributors: in addition to your fictional abstract, please shortly outline how research settings will change to foster the kind of radical research your fictional abstract requires. Or alternatively, how would you like research settings to change to provide you with optimal conditions to conduct the research you dream about doing?

Your accompanying “research setting” can, but does not need to be visible in your 150-200 word fictional abstract. We do however want all prospective contributors to write an accompanying note (100-800 words) where you propose how the research setting has changed (so as to make the radical research described in your fictional abstract possible). You can write from your heart - this text does not need to be backed up by academic references. We do not plan to quote from your research setting, but we will draw on and incorporate ideas from the research settings into the paper to flesh out the background and to better organise and tie various fictive abstracts together.

Each first authors of a fictional abstract that is included in the paper will also be invited to become a co-author of the full paper. All authors will be acknowledged in the paper, where the fictional abstract will be attributed to the authors.

Here is a short brief for prospective contributors. Your task is to:
• Think up a credible or at least possible (albeit not necessarily desirable) future society
• Think about some kind of ICT product/system/solution/research that is used for sustainability purposes in that society.
• Shape (sketch/model) a fictive future research paper.
• Squeeze all of the above into a 150-200 words long summary/paper abstract. Less is more!
• Radical research solutions also assume radically altered research settings. Such settings could be hinted at (in the abstract), but should be appended in the form of a 100-800 words long text (“research setting”).

The deadline for submitting fictional abstracts is Tuesday January 13, 2015. Please send your fictional abstracts to hci4sustainability@gmail.com.

Abstracts will be selected for inclusion in the full paper based on their ability to represent a diversity of guiding research visions, their potential to excite or provoke, the space allotted by the submission format, and the likelihood of engendering conversations about sustainability and critical computing. The resulting paper “Critical alternatives 2025: The role of critical computing in sustainable development” will be submitted to the regular review process of the Critical Computing conference.

Finally, don’t forget that Another world is possible!

- Elina Eriksson, Dept. of Media Technology and Interaction Design, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
- Daniel Pargman, Dept. of Media Technology and Interaction Design, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
- Josefin Wangel, Dept. of Environmental Strategies Research, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
- Vincent Lewandowski, Dept. of Media Technology and Interaction Design, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden


Baumer, E. P., Ahn, J., Bie, M., Bonsignore, E. M., Börütecene, A., Buruk, O. T., ... & Yip, J. (2014). CHI 2039: speculative research visions. In CHI'14 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 761-770). ACM.

Bleecker, J. (2009). Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. Near Future Laboratory, 29.

McKibben, B. (2011). Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet. Random House.

Penzenstadler, B., Tomlinson, B., Baumer, E., Pufal, M., Raturi, A., Richardson, D., ... & Chitchyan, R. (2014). ICT4S 2029: What will be the systems supporting sustainability in 15 years. In Second International Conference on ICT for Sustainability 2014 (ICT4S’14). Atlantis Press.

Raworth, K. (2012). A safe and just space for humanity: can we live within the doughnut. Oxfam Policy and Practice: Climate Change and Resilience 8(1): 1-26.

Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å. Persson, F. S. Chapin, E. F. Lambin, T. M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, C. Folke and H. J. Schellnhuber (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461(7263): 472-475.


Q. Why do I need to write something more than the fictional abstract itself?
A. I saw Birgit's epic struggles to get the "ICT4S 2029" paper together and she did a great job. We however imagine that asking for these accompanying documents ("research settings") would make it easier for us to get a more coherent paper together rather than producing something more akin to a "collage".

Q. How do you intend to use the "research setting" document? Will they be used as part of the process of reviewing and/or selecting the accepted fictional abstracts?
A. No, the accompanying document ("research setting") will not be part of the process of selecting fictional abstracts. We will use parts of the ”research settings” in the paper and these parts will probably either be rewritten or we will just ”borrow” ideas from them. It’s hard to specify in advance exactly how we will use the ”research settings” before we see them. I assume it will be impossible merge multiple ”research settings” documents into one coherent vision of how academia will work in the future. A more realistic alternative is to present a number of ”trends” that in some cases might be mutually reinforcing and in other cases mutually conflicting.

Q. Ten years is not a lot of time, I'm not sure just how imaginative/speculative you expect abstract submitters to be.
A. While 10 years is not a lot of time, we chose that time span because the next Critical Computing conference will be organised in 2025 AND because of the possibly closing 10-year widow of opportunity to radically decrease CO2/GHG emissions and change the direction humanity is heading in. While the inertia is huge, see this call as an opportunity and as a challenge;  what momentous events will happen and what research must be conducted in the next 10 years? Or, you can instead choose to write about a dystopian future and about the effects of not doing anything or not doing enough… Still, you can do a lot with one sentence - this is how I propelled one of my ICT4S 2029 fictional abstracts 15 years into the future: "With unemployment numbers exploding after the Potemkin-Aramco scandal of 2018, the 2020 Hindsight (great oil reserves) Writedown and the global flash-crash of 2023, the emergence of a “lost generation” has profoundly shaken all Western countries".

Q. What does the timeline look like between the deadline for submitting fictive abstracts (Jan 13) and the deadline for submitting full papers to the Critical Computing conference (Feb 10)?
A. We have exactly four weeks to get the full paper together after the Jan 13 deadline. We plan to review all submissions and send out notifications of acceptance on Fri Jan 16 at the latest. We plan to circulate at least one draft to (first) authors of accepted fictional abstracts but expect the four "main authors" to take responsibility for much of the process of getting the paper together and submitting it to the Critical Computing conference. We could pretend to know what the timeline looks like, but it's hard to say much more at the moment since papers that are based on fictional abstracts are a new genre (and since we are extending and developing the format of that genre with this call). We have made sure to clear plenty of time in our calendars during the second half of January.

Q. What are your qualifications?
A. Elina has worked only a little with design fiction, but the paper is originally her idea. I have worked with design fiction for more than a decade, but discovered the term only recently (and attended the design fiction workshop at CHI 2014 - by all means read my workshop position paper). Vincent is a ph.d. student working on "Exploration, Critique, and Design Fictions for the Internet of Things”. Josefin has a solid background in futures studies. Both me and Elina submitted fictional abstracts to the ICT4S 2029 fictional abstracts paper.

Q. I will probably submit an abstract, is there something special I should think about?
A. Please start by reading the ICT4S 2029 paper. My personal suggestion is to write an abstract (or several abstracts) together with at least one co-author. That’s a great (fun!) way of getting to know someone better without investing a huge amount of time. Based on my own ICT4S 2029 experiences I personally realised that a call like this could be used strategically to get in touch with persons you’d like to cooperate with but for some reason haven’t yet.

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