"Participation" in participatory design research

Segalowitz, Miriam (2012) "Participation" in participatory design research. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis is about defining participation in the context of fostering research cohesion in the field of Participatory Design. The systematic and incremental building of new knowledge is the process by which science and research is advanced. This process requires a certain type of cohesion in the way research is undertaken for new knowledge to be built from the knowledge provided by previous projects and research. To support this process and to foster research cohesion three conditions are necessary. These conditions are: common ground between practitioners, problem-space positioning, and adherence to clear research criteria. The challenge of fostering research cohesion in Participatory Design is apparent in at least four themes raised in the literature: the role of politics within Participatory Design epistemology, the role of participation, design with users, and the ability to translate theory into practice. These four thematic challenges frame the context which the research gap is situated. These themes are also further investigated and the research gap – a general lack of research cohesion – along with one avenue for addressing this gap – a clear and operationalizable definition for participation – are identified. The intended contribution of this thesis is to develop a framework and visual tool to address this research gap. In particular, an initial approximation for a clear and operationalizable definition for participation will be proposed such that it can be used within the field of Participatory Design to run projects and foster research cohesion. In pursuit of this contribution, a critical lens is developed and used to analyse some of the principles and practices of Participatory Design that are regarded as foundational. This lens addresses how to define participation in a way that adheres to basic principles of scientific rigour – namely, ensuring that the elements of a theory are operationalizable, falsifiable, generalizable, and useful, and it also treats participation as a construct rather than treating the notion of participation as a variable. A systematic analysis is performed using this lens on the principles and practices that are considered foundational within the field. From this analysis, three components of the participation construct – impact, influence, and agency – are identified. These components are then broken down into two constituent variables each (six in all) and represented visually. Impact is described as the relationship between the quality and use of information. Influence is described as the relationship between the amount and scope of decision making. Agency is described as the relationship between the motivation of the participant and the solidarity of the group. Thus, as a construct, participation is described as the relationship between a participant’s impact, influence, and agency. In the concluding section, the value of this participation construct is explored for its utility in enhancing project work and fostering research cohesion. Three items of potential value that emerge are: the creation of a visual tool through the representation of these six constituent variables in one image; the elaboration of a common language for researchers based on the six constituent variables identified; and the ability to systematically identify and remedy participation gaps throughout the life of the project. While future research exploring the applicability of the participation construct in real world projects is necessary, it is intended that this initial approximation of a participation construct in the form of the visual tool will serve as the basis for a cohesive and rigorous discussion about participation in Participatory Design.

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ID Code: 50639
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Baker, Douglas, Adkins, Barbara, & Chamorro-Koc, Marianella
Keywords: agency, collective resources, decision making, design, framework, impact, influence, participation, participatory design, visual tool
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 28 May 2012 05:56
Last Modified: 10 Sep 2015 02:26

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