inequality

Protesting for Change, #BLM

downtown chicago from perspective of driver approaching from south side
by RITA DENNY, EPIC We support the protesters. Black lives matter. Working at my desk in the past few days, a fairly constant thump of helicopters and aggressive wail of sirens has forced me to parse space in new ways. Here, in the US, the rights of protestors to claim space is contested by presidential rhetoric and ruthlessly cynical uses of force for political ends. We are feeling the reverberations wherever we are sitting—in cities or not, in the US or not—as we bear witness. As we act and speak as citizens, families, neighbors and cities, it is worth a moment to be thoughtful about how we, as ethnographers in industries and organizations, choose to participate. As ethnographers we observe life as lived on the ground, as it unfolds, embodied or ephemeral, with affect and purpose, in relation to material systems and systems of meaning. The ground is where change happens—is practiced, performed, and contested in acts small and large, messy and often with contradiction. Our practice is also framed within larger organizational...

Agency & Tech Colonialism: Extending the Conversation

“What can those of us who work in, and maybe even love, computing cultures do about computing’s colonial expansions?” Sareeta Amrute’s keynote address “Tech Colonialism Today” opened EPIC2019 in a provocative, mobilizing spirit that inspired discussions on stage, in breakout sessions, and around breakfast tables. Sareeta journeyed across time and territory to explore what characteristics make something colonial to begin with, such as extractive and hierarchical systems. As you might guess, she argued that yes, the tech industry today has core colonial attributes. But goal wasn’t just critique; Sareeta showcased counterconduct—the agency that people, communities, and companies have to build alternatives. If colonial legacies and socioeconomic systems seem a bit “out of scope” as context for standard product or user research projects, check out Sareeta’s award-winning book Encoding Race, Encoding Class. You’ll learn about Meena’s daily tea ritual, hear Bipin describe why he sometimes chooses to write bad code,...

Change Agent: Lessons on Power and Failure from Eight Years of Systems Research & Policy Design

CHELSEA MAULDIN Executive Director, Public Policy Lab PechaKucha Presentation Drawing on nearly a decade of research and design engagements with U.S. federal and municipal governments, I'll describe a gap between intended outcomes of government policies and the lived experience of people affected by those policies. I'll discuss how that gap arises from variances in the decision-making agency of policymakers and members of the public. Next, I'll discuss how human-centered researchers and designers attempt to equalize government/public agency though interventions in the policy decision-making cycle. Then I'll suggest criticisms and shortfalls of current human-centered approaches to improving policy and service-delivery systems, including researchers and designers’ tendencies to amplify complexity, to extract value from the public, and to accept status quo inequality. Finally I'll propose that, when using research and design as tools for positive policy and systems change and increased agency for marginalized peoples,...

Designing for Dynamics of Agency in NYC Homeless Shelters

NATALIA RADYWYL The Public Policy Lab; The School for Visual Arts Public sector innovation (PSI) is an emerging multidisciplinary field that is attracting practitioners from a wide range of sectors and industries, with a correspondingly broad set of skills and experience. PSI aims to significantly improve the services that a government has the responsibility to provide by taking a user-centered, partnership-based approach, from service content development through to methods of service provision (OECD 2012). Yet the work is complex and not without risk, if undertaken without appropriate foresight, thoughtfulness, and rigor. In particular, when it comes to pursuing PSI in the design of social service policy and its provision, some of the more substantial risks lie hidden in systemic power imbalances that can easily be exacerbated, despite practitioners’ best intentions. This article uses a case study about homeless service provision in New York City (NYC) to offer a candid portrayal of undertaking research and design work in...

Calibrating Agency: Human-Autonomy Teaming and the Future of Work amid Highly Automated Systems

LAURA CESAFSKY Alliance Innovation Lab – Silicon Valley ERIK STAYTON Alliance Innovation Lab – Silicon Valley, MIT MELISSA CEFKIN Alliance Innovation Lab – Silicon Valley This paper explores how the design of everyday interactions with artificial intelligence in work systems relates to broader issues of interest to social scientists and ethicists: namely human well-being and social inequality. The paper uses experience designing human interactions with highly automated systems as a lens for looking at the social implications of work design, and argues that what human and automation each do is less important than how human and automation are structured to interact. The Human-Autonomy Teaming (HAT) paradigm, explored in the paper, has been a promising alternative way to think about human interactions with automation in our laboratory's research and development work. We argue that the notion of teaming is particularly useful in that it encourages designers to consider human well-being as central to the operational success...

3 Narratives that Stymie Social Change and What We Can Do about It

by NAT KENDALL-TAYLOR, FrameWorks Institute Social change requires culture change and social science can help. “Context matters.” “It’s a systemic issue.” “It’s…complicated.” As ethnographers and researchers these are our mantras—but how can we communicate about social issues in ways that really make a difference? Evidence shows that how we frame our messages can have dramatic effects on all kinds of outcomes that count. Real social change requires shifts in deeply ingrained cultural models: what people feel about society and social groups; how we understand problems and their solutions; and the degree to which we feel motivated and willing to engage in the social problems of our day. I have studied nearly 40 different social issues, the cultural models people use to understand them, and messaging that can shifts those understandings. Across these diverse social issues, I have found three cultural models that stymie social change—and three research-based messaging strategies that can help shift them. Three...

Automation Otherwise: A Review of “Automating Inequality”

by DANYA GLABAU, Implosion Labs What if we thought differently about how to integrate human and machine agencies?  Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the PoorVirginia Eubanks2018, 272 pp, St. Martin's Press As I sat down in to write this review of Virginia Eubanks’ latest book, Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, I couldn’t help but consider it in light of the growing restiveness among tech workers in response to their companies’ perceived ethical lapses. Rank and file employees have begun to speak out against the use of big data-driven software systems and infrastructure for ethically questionable ends like warfare, policing, and family separation at the United States-Mexico border. To date, these protests have mired several public-private contracts between government agencies and some of the world’s biggest tech companies in controversy, including Google’s Project Maven, a collaboration with the Pentagon...

How Is Evidence Created, Used & Abused? EPIC2018 Opening Remarks

by DAWN NAFUS (Intel), EPIC2018 Co-chair We chose Evidence as the EPIC2018 theme in part to explore this question of why some things constitute evidence and not others. There are lots of factors we could point to, but since I’m standing next to a data scientist the first one I’ll talk about is digitization. Digitization changes how people live, and it creates forms of evidence about people’s lives that we need to reckon with methodologically. Many of us are in the thick of organizations that handle some complicated datasets, traces of people and their environments, and so on. We’ve got to figure out how to engage with them, and I think that means we need new approaches if we are going to meaningfully intervene. The toolbox of user experience is only going to get us so far. So we’re going to need some friends, particularly those data scientists who are, like us, committed to the idea that datasets ought to be moored in some kind of social reality, and that they can’t just be built based on what’s expedient at the time. While...

Automating Inequality

VIRGINIA EUBANKS University of Albany, SUNY EPIC2018 Keynote Virginia Eubanks is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University at Albany, SUNY. Her most recent book is Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor, which dana boyd calls “the first [book] that I’ve read that really pulls you into the world of algorithmic decision-making and inequality, like a good ethnography should,” and Ethan Zuckerman calls “one of the most important recent books for understanding the social implications of information technology for marginalized populations in the US.” Eubanks is also the author of Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age; and co-editor, with Alethia Jones, of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith. Her writing about technology and social justice has appeared in The American Prospect, The Nation, Harper’s and Wired. For two decades, Eubanks has worked in community technology and...

The Root Cause is Capitalism… and Patriarchy

LINDSEY WALLACE, PHD Adobe Design Research & Strategy Team JENNA MELNYK Adobe Design Research & Strategy Team Case Study—The authors used anthropology and other design research methods to develop a new kind of study to capture the world of professional creatives and the people they work with. To uncover core collaboration challenges for professional creatives the authors asked asked them to walk through past projects, who they interacted with at different points, and discuss their affective experiences. Critical collaborative problems for participants in this study stemmed from two factors: ever-increasing corporate demands to do more with less, and concurrent attempts to automate feminized administrative coordination tasks. To communicate actionable findings, the authors balanced systems-level thinking with the identification of the kinds of problems Adobe could and would solve. While large scale social change was outside the scope of actionable recommendations for a product design team, the implications of social structures...

Gaming Evidence: Power, Storytelling and the “Colonial Moment” in a Chicago Systems Change Project

NATHAN HEINTZ Systems Change Consultant Case Study—In 2016 The Chicago Community Trust (“The Trust”), a local Chicago foundation, partnered with Roller Strategies (“Roller”), an international professional services firm, to deploy an innovative mixed-methods approach to community-driven social change on the South Side of Chicago. This partnership convened a diverse group of stakeholders representing a microcosm of the social system, and launched a project with the aim of developing resilient livelihoods for youth aged 18-26 in three specific South Side neighborhoods. Roller designed and facilitated a process through which the stakeholder group scoped, launched, piloted and prototyped community-driven initiatives. While innovative and successful by some metrics, the project had its challenges. The convening institutions and their staff were often perceived as “outsiders” and “experts” without intimate local knowledge of the social challenges they were attempting to address. This dynamic played out in complex power...

Cooperation without Submission: Some Insights on Knowing, Not-Knowing and Their Relations from Hopi-US Engagements

JUSTIN B. RICHLAND Associate Professor of Anthropology, UC Irvine; Faculty Fellow, American Bar Foundation; Associate Justice, The Hopi Appellate Court EPIC2018 Keynote Address...

Can Cheaters Prosper In Cambodia?

LAUREN MARKOFSKY Ultimate Software PechaKucha Presentation This PechaKucha explores the ways in which the author navigated cheating culture, community norms, and her own biases to think through sustainable education solutions in Cambodia. Students in Cambodia's countryside are structurally disadvantaged and attempt to redress wealth and knowledge imbalances through cheating. However, cheating causes skills gaps that hinder students as they look for jobs, particularly since they are competing with applicants from other ASEAN countries. The presenter discusses how she, and her Cambodian co-teacher, sifted through their competing biases about the merits and pitfalls of cheating in their classroom, settling on ethnographic practice as a way forward. They observed student cheating behaviors, noting the tools, networks, and systems of exchange through which information passed. Instead of penalizing students for cheating, the presenter and her counterpart attempted to transform these deceptive methods into something more productive. Lauren...

Ghostly Spectres: On Ethnography and Identity

ES BRAZIEL Greenberg Strategy PechaKucha Presentation Taking Avery F. Gordon's definition of a ghost as a social figure making the unknown apparent as a departure point, the piece dives into the “ghosts” silently present in an ethnography on how parents view gender in media. Through utilizing the image of an ethnographer as a “ghost hunter,” I track what traces of the social spectral remain invisible to everyday life. Occupying the subject position of “ghost hunter” and “ghost” – the subject of research, and subject being denied research – I assert why business ethnography cannot afford to remain objective when personal and political struggles are on the line. Es Braziel is a researcher and designer working at the intersection of emerging technologies and markets. They currently explore questions around how notions of connectivity, belonging, identity formation, and community are changing in the digital age as a Strategist for Greenberg Strategy and Co-founder of Other Futures Design. hello@esbraziel.co 2017...

Doing Good is Hard: Ethics, Activism, and Social Impact Design as Seen from the Grassroots Perspective

JEFFREY GREGER San Jose State University This paper shares the experiences of two teams of design professionals working on parallel grassroots social impact design projects to address poverty and financial precarity in Silicon Valley and London. This paper explores challenges facing these teams as they channel a sense of moral outrage into the research and development of alternitives to high-risk financial services like payday loans. It charts the open, inclusive design process of these teams as they engage community partners and recognize the financial expertise of people getting by on tight incomes. The paper concludes with a discussion of how working slowly and openly through transdisciplinary communities of practice—like the two groups described here, or EPIC itself—can help keep alive conversations around power and activism in the practice of design and ethnographic research. These conversations are essential if social impact design is to reach its transformative potential while avoiding many of the pitfalls that have...