ICT and emerging functionalities: analysis of an e-deliberation experiment

ICT and emerging functionalities: analysis of an e-deliberation experiment

Presentation held at the fifth conference of the Italian Society on Science and Technology Studies.

The Platform:

The Cesena Case study:

The relevance of participation in the design of artifacts has been widely recognized in innovation studies. In this respect, this paper proposes to consider innovation as an emerging property determined by the social interactions surrounding an artifact, rather than a designed (whether participated or not) feature of the artifact itself. According to this vision, inspired by the studies of Lane and Maxfield (2005), innovation can be considered as a complex process characterized by a high degree of uncertainty. This uncertainty could be ascribed to the fact that every agent within a community interacts with artifacts, and other agents as well, according to its attributions and values generating new functionalities and needs. Trying to predict every possible attribution, and so every potential functionality that a new artifact could have once in the hands of the final user, is impossible. This uncertainty is so pervasive and intrinsic in respect to the innovation process that it has been described as ontological, given that not just functionalities are unpredictable but even agents, artifacts and attributions that may play key roles in determining the consequences of the cascade of changes initiated during the process may emerge during the course of the process itself. As a result, regardless of the degree of participation to the design process, the set of functionalities that an artifact can come to embodies cannot be foreseen or even imagined a priori. This degree of uncertainty also applies to digital technologies; being artifacts embedded into complex spaces inhabited by agents and artifacts, ICTs are themselves interpreted by users by means of attributions. Governments, along with private companies, have been investing resources, and developing expectations, about digital technologies as a means through which to address one of the crises currently affecting our societies: lack of democratic participation. According to Participedia, a leading network for civic engagement initiatives, there are approximately 100 civic engagement tools available today, which have been tested in over 400 e-deliberation projects. But is it really reasonable to suppose that ICTs will actually provide effective a solution to the problem of lack of democratic participation? What could be perceived by someone as a platform for e-democracy, could be used by someone else by a political tool or as a simple communication channel between local governments and citizens. This paper is aimed at studying how attributions determine the functionality of a digital artifact by studying the outcomes of an e-deliberation experiment performed in Cesena, an Italian mid-sized city. During this one-month experiment, an online platform allowed citizens to contribute in writing the Mayor’s agenda for the years 2014-2019. Data gathered from on field research will show how citizens interacted with ICT, which attributions developed towards it and which functionalities eventually emerged. The final aim is to understand if a shared functionality(-es) emerged, if this functionality(-es) was different from the one imagined by designers and which role facilitators played, or could have played, in fostering attributions convergence.


Alberto Lusoli

June 13, 2014