How to have impact: Reflections on an impactful paper

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:

Friedman, B., Kahn Jr, P. H., Borning, A., & Huldtgren, A. (2013). Value sensitive design and information systems. In Early engagement and new technologies: Opening up the laboratory (pp. 55-95). Springer Netherlands.
My Analysis:
1. Paper Summary:
  • 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.


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