So a few months ago, we (in the lab) were asked to contemplate what makes an impactful paper. The exercise was to pick a paper we felt was impactful, and then to reflect on why and how it was impactful.
I picked this paper:
- What are values?
- Whose values should be supported in the design of information systems?
- How are values supported or diminished by particular technological designs?
- How should we engage in trade-offs among competing values in the design, implementation, and use of information systems (e.g., autonomy vs. security, or anonymity vs. trust)?
- Should moral values (e.g., a right to privacy) have greater weight, or even trump, non-moral values (e.g., aesthetic preferences)?
- Value Sensitive Design is a theoretically grounded approach to the design of technology that accounts for human values in a principled and comprehensive manner throughout the design process
2. The way the paper makes its argument: Case Studies
- Conceptual Investigations
- Explicit categorisation and specification of stakeholders
- Know the values of each (eg. Privacy vs. trust)
- Empirical Investigations
- How do stakeholders prioritize competing values in design trade-offs?
- How do they prioritize individual values and usability considerations?
- Are there differences between espoused practice (what people say) compared with actual practice (what people do)?
- Technical Investigations
- focus on how existing technological properties and underlying mechanisms support or hinder human values
At this point in time, I felt as if this was a somewhat shaky way to establish authority on a subject as broad as ethical design. Then I looked at who the authors were:
- Kahn: Child moral development, moral reasoning, ethics of HRI
- Friedman: trust, autonomy, bias in computing systems
- Borning: civic engagement, deliberation, urban planning/simulation
For me, this was almost more convincing than the study list. The authors had a broad, long history in the development of systems that have ethical considerations.
Thus, this is what I learned about impact:
- Impact is not post-fact BUT
- Impact can come from a body of work, a “Dynamic Knowledge Inventory”, none of which may seem particularly unique at that point in time
- Impact can come from awareness of repeated themes within the body of work
Of course, one can prospectively plan for impact as well, but research sometimes reveals itself only post-fact.