Participatory Design in an Age of Mistrust
Patrick Feng Faculty, OCAD U + University of Calgary
Design and foresight often employ participatory approaches that presume interaction with users is a good thing. Certainly, these approaches have done much to broaden more traditional expert-driven research methods. Yet, there are many examples where attempts to involve users becomes problematic and even counter-productive. For instance, inviting public input on how to “best design" an oil pipeline is bound to be contentious, especially when some people are staunchly opposed to any pipeline construction. Thus, even as participatory approaches gain favour with designers, policymakers, and others, there remains the thorny question of whether and how to engage various publics – particularly when some segments of the public are skeptical or downright hostile to the design objective.
This talk will explore when participatory methods work and when they are likely to fail. Drawing on insights from participatory design, science and technology studies, and related fields, I argue the effectiveness of participatory approaches is contingent on groups sharing a set of political and epistemological commitments – commitments that have been destabilized as mistrust of public institutions has grown. As a result, participatory research methods may backfire when used in certain contexts (e.g., controversies with low trust and high stakes). I will explore those contexts and consider how participatory approaches might be adapted in the face of untrusting publics.
Patrick Feng has been working in the field of science, technology, and society for over 15 years. His research examines the social, legal, and ethical dimensions of emerging technologies, with a focus on policy, governance, and public engagement. A two-time Fulbright award recipient, Patrick has led projects in number of areas including health, energy, and digital technologies. His areas of expertise include science and technology studies, innovation policy, foresight, and science communications.
Patrick’s current SSHRC-funded project examines how notions of “sustainability” are being defined, measured, and communicated to the public. He is active in initiatives that promote public engagement with science and is especially interested in how citizens can participate and be better represented in decision-making on science and technology-related issues. He currently teaches in the SFI Program and is adjunct professor at the University of Calgary.