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Epic 2022 day 1 conference notes

I’m very excited to once again be back among friends at EPIC (still one of the best conferences around). And this time in Amsterdam as well!

I’ll try to take live notes as I have in previous years. Here are my notes from EPIC 2021, 2018 and 2017. My day two notes for EPIC 2022 are here and [day three notes are here]((https://robinkwong.com/epic-2022-day-one/)

Keynote: Payal Arora (@3Lmantra)

Payal Arora is a digital anthropologist, a TEDx speaker, and an author of award-winning books, including ‘The Next Billion Users’ with Harvard Press. Her expertise lies in user experience in the global south, digital inequality, and inclusive design. Forbes named her the “next billion champion” and the “right kind of person to reform tech.” She is a Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, and Co-Founder of FemLab, a future of work initiative.

The next billion creatives - who are they, what they want and what this says about resilience.

Next billion: Primarily young people outside of the west. Low but rising income. Digitally native because mobile phones and data plans have become extraordinarily cheap.

Lots of companies interested in them and in setting up ‘next billion labs’ - viewpoint primarily extractive “data is the new oil” but there’s an opportunity for co-creation instead of seeing them as data points

Global south is already normative. US fewer than 1 in 15 of the world’s internet users, ‘next web’ is China + India

Not just scale - also intensity. Average kid in China spending twice the time online as the kid in the US

BUT - Rest of world still looks at this in specific (old-school) ways:

For industry and companies, the prototype user is anglo-saxon oriented. It may not be how to slice up physical territory in Africa / South Asia, but how to slice up digital infrastructure and data ownership. This sliced up approach leads to silo-ed approache approach and teams not talking to each other

For aid agencies, the approach is still utility-driven. Leads to pilotitis, a graveyard of apps

For govts, prototype user is nationalistic oriented. This is a new phenomenon in global south. basically a reaction to and doubling down against the data extraction model. instead a big focus on data localization and sovereignty. But this ignores the reality that we are in a global political economy.

The pyramid of needs (maslow’s heirarchy) has been debunked for ages but still is used to approach tech in global south.

But what we need to do is to invert the pyramid. These usere are driven by factors beyond utility. They see digital as a space for self-actualization. For so long they have been invisible and dehumanised. (instead of maslow’s heirarchy), they are driven by joy, pleasure, sociability, romance - modes that remind them to humanize and self actualise.

Another myth is ‘trickle down’ innovation. i.e. that west leads in tech and global south lags. No longer true in many fields i.e. edtech, fintech, etc

Creativity is resilience. “Jugaad” - Hacking with scarce and limited resources - concept that exists in many cultures.

Founded Femlab to investigate what is this creativity and innovation. What constitutes digital creativity? Looked at where it happens and among what groups - basically separating out six different actors in the ‘creative economy’ or ‘influencer economy’.

Then looked at process and requirements of digital creativity. For example, accessibility:

These constraints leads to, for example, India being a hub because there’s a belief that if we can design for this particulalry constrained market, we can design for the rest of global south (relfects a flattening of the GS) Also leads to e.g. designing one-stop-shop suites of apps.

Privacy also matters - but less about privacy from platform as personal privacy (i.e. i use insta but my parents don’t know)

Tiktok Indian Flippers with millions of views - this is not a need that you have or know about as a viewer. but is born out of constraint of resources but then opened up genres and markets

“Their process is their product”

It’s not about being the owner of this particular product or service. but rather it’s about co-creation because it’s the strategy twoards

The end goal is community building through the creative process, so the exact product or content or service matters less.

changing relationship with technology - use what’s easy to them. no longer mindset that they should or need to step up to learn how to use something that’s intimidating. they want to create easily and casually, on the go.

This means that templates are a big deal:

“Users want to be original but they also want to fit in.” Template allows them to be MORE creative because they can focus on the content.

“Visibility is king” - no point in creating if cannot publish and be seen because it is an extension of their self-identity and self-expression

Remixing and reviving old trends is important because you don’t always have something to say.

Niche is scalable: candle making, travel logging, etc. the mundanity of the content (flipping, getting pet to eat, etc) makes the content relatable beyond language.

On data and privacy: They are aware but are also hyper risk takers. Partly due to already living in a surveillance community off-line (family, teachers, state, etc)

What this leads to: being plagarised or being seen as having plagarised is inevitable. Plagarism seen as praise

User Framework for creativity. Typically splits into Creativity as Instrument vs Creativity as Passion. Creativity as Passion model is then split into: Access, Learning, Process, Expression, Data.

Next Billion sees creativity as instrumental, which has very different implication for those categories.

For resilience, we need to build intrinsically global products and services. Don’t fall into US thinking of “rest of world” - i.e. rest of world doesn’t matter - or European fortress mindset - says the right thing but fundamentally tries to protect own ‘fortress’ (which ignores their global supply chain dependencies)

Talking Resilience: The Transformative Power of Shared Narratives (Concertzaal)

Curators: Letizia Nardi, InProcess and Gigi Taylor, Indeed

The contributions in this session highlight the power of collaborative, dialectic narratives in unpacking resilience. Through humor, storytelling, visualization and linguistic craft, these contributions offer insight into various lenses that we can use to examine the work we do and the footprint it leaves on others and ourselves.

Cultivating Resiliency for All: The Necessity of Trauma-Informed Research Practices (Paper)

Matthew Bernius, Code for America and Rachael Dietkus, Social Workers Who Design

Trauma-informed research

What exactly are people talking about when they talk about trauma?

Trauma is something that breaks the Cartesian separation of mind and body

Trauma is cultural and personal. two peopel can experience the same event and one person leaves traumatized and the other doesn’t

Trauma is also both past and present. It can be re-experienced physically and, in some cases re-embedded/reinforced (i.e. re-traumatized)

Sometimes trauma is sometimes categorized by its origins:

Sometimes people separate big T trauma (caused by a big event) vs small T trauma like microagressions. This is not helpful.

“Practicing without a license” - Tad Hirsch 2020

Research IS therapy. Research often creates the environment and context for trauma to be re-surfaced. There are no ‘safe’ topics - i.e. people have trauma from the workplace for example.

This impacts not just subjects but also the researchers. Can create vicarious trauma in the researcher.

Researchers are participants in the research process. It’s like the airline safety card - we need to care for our own trauma as reseaerchers before we can care for our participants’ trauma.

How to approach this? Paper uses Samhsa’s 6 trauma informed principles:

Many researchers already do this, or aspects of this. But a few things to keep in mind. 1) These are interconnected - it’s hard to do one without others. 2) It’s multi-directional: i.e. right to not participate has to be for researcher as well as participant. 3) These principles need to be implemented with, not at the research participants. and 4) Fractal - principles are reflected in the small as well as large.

Ultimately, this work is about transforming the organisation. Otherwise, as with a lot of talk about resiliency, the responsibility ends up being placed on the individual.

A model for trauma responsive development: 1. aware 2. sensitive 3. informed 4. responsive.

Mapping the Messy: Storytelling-as-Resilience, Reframing, Academia-as-Fieldsite (PechaKucha)

Lisa Koeman, Elsevier

“I study people who study”

Publishing involves several steps, which are often depicted is a straight line with discrete steps

These discrete steps depicted as staccato notes - Italian for detached

This doens’t reflect the lived experience of publishing, which is more about rewrites and iterations

The concept of rejection informs these iteration

As authors develop in their career, they develop strategies to get around these rejection: spreadsheets, ordered preference lists for journals etc.

This means their process and their experience is messy, conflicting, evokes different feelings.

How to visualise this and how to convince product owners + stakeholders to design with this reality in mind? Set out to overwhelm them.

“Whatever you do, don’t simplify. Honour the mess”

Laughing All the Way to EPIC (PechaKucha)

Evan Hanover, Conifer Research

Humour shaped how I understand the world.

Humour is one of our great tools of resilience. The practice of humour is disruptive.

Aruthur Koestler: Humour is not just the form of creativity the act of creation itself. Unexpected pattern recognition

Unpacking the chicken crossing the road joke:

George Carlin was not just a comedian but also an ethnographer: i.e. his stuff routine.

Don’t have to have a great sense of humour to be a good ethnographer, but humour should be seen as a muscle and a way for us to build creative resilience.

Ethnography Leading Social Change across Public and Private Sectors (Zuilenzaal)

Curators: Oskar Korkman, Alice Labs and Anni Ojajarvi, Swanlake

More and more corporations are taking responsibility for societal change and the mark they leave within the world, demonstrated by how they focus on diversity in advertising or inclusive design practices. Public organizations, by definition, are rooted in a society-based purpose, but are believed to be slow-moving in implementing decisions. Yet, we’re also seeing a shift in governments recognizing the need to accelerate digital transformation and innovation. In this session, we learn from four case studies across the public and private sectors that demonstrate ethnography leading the way: creating resilient organizations and resilient futures for the public good. Participate in this session if you are curious about designing better social systems, large-scale implementation of ethnographic methods in public organizations, diversity representation in advertising, and technology inclusion for people with hearing impairment.

How a Government Organization Evolved to Embrace Ethnographic Methods for Service (and Team) Resilience (Case)

Colin MacArthur, Bocconi University and Mithula Naik, Canadian Digital Service

Mithula and Colin both worked at the Canadian Digital Service. Talk is about how they grew the design research team there and some of the tensions and challenges they neeeded to overcome.

Tension could be useful in how we build research into organizations.

Started with a team of one. Mission was to shift from a top-down, govt-centric approach to a bottoms-up, ethnographic and citizen-centric approach.

Phase 2 was around promotion and spreading the practice among different depts.

Phase 3 was growth - actually working with different teams + leaders

Phase 4 was maturity - moved away from family style to matrix style. now have best practices, etc

Phase 5 Integration - moved to a divisional setup where researchers were embedded into teams and research skills were also being diffused throughout the org.

This was not without its challenges: for example how will researchers tell a shared story, and how to have a concerted impact (or is it good enough to spread)

Tension 1: Why can’t we jsut call this person what he is - a user?

Design team encouraged using descriptive language - ie.. someone who reports an issue is a reporter. But software teams wanted to use terms they from their discipline/context. This is a conflict between the emic and etic perspectives

Lesson learned: rolling out ‘enthographic culture’ should be prepared for a culture clash and not just a methodology clash.

Tension: What’s the truth?

“Yes I hear what you’re saying about user’s stories, etc, but what are the facts?””

Developers were positivists - with the right analytics, right tools, right software, can find the perfect solution for Canadians.

Lesson 2: Be prepared for deeper conversations about how we know what we know. (i.e. Epistomological conversations)

Engaging on this philosphical question helped us move forward.

Lesson 3: You might have down-adjusted expectations. Even if you grasp all the problems, you might only be able to address one or two of them.

You can change the government to serve people better, but you can’t change all of government to serve all people better in all ways all the time.

Designing and Envisioning a More Resilient Social System (Case)

Sofia Carvalho, With Company

Case study of a project working with govt service for social services in Portugal. Initially did user journey mapping, discovered the frustrations and pain points of customers. Naively sought to figure out how to resolve those problems by mapping out processes and org structure but soon realised that things are way more complicated, and so did field study.

Found out: What happens in the field stays in the field. that’s there is a big divide both between field offices and headquarters and also that the reality on the field is very different from formal process requirements. i.e. process says two people need to sign but in some small towns there is only one staff, so they either can’t do it or

Field work led to realisation that front office workers cannot be the main/first point of contact, but needed the entire organzation to be involved.

Found that previous ‘solutions / fixes’ enacted with good intentions acutally caused more problems - 50% of cases were created internally.

Also re-conceptualised the vision of the service - there might be flaws but system is resilient and helps people be resilient. Focused on specific life moments. Ended up really shortening the time needed to resolve cases, which led to the pilot districts recommending the spread of their programme and recommendations.

Being an external agency allowed them to look at problems with fresh eyes, and also to be more frank in pointing out, e.g. 50% of cases are created internally

Had to deal a lot with morale and a need for quick wins. Found that people sometimes already found soutions and so they set up an intake system and dsitributed it to the organization. On the bureaucracy side, there were things that they couldn’t change because for example it was a different department. Led instead to focusing on what they could change and influence.

Designing and Conducting Inclusive Research: How a Big Tech Company and an Online Research Platform Partnered to Explore the Technology Experiences of Users who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing (Case)

Dana Gierdowski, Lenovo; Karen Eisenhauer, dscout; Peggy He, Lenovo

Many organisations have looked at accessibility as compliance. This is a case study about move away from that, into more holistic inclusive design - specifically work with the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Research objective:

Used remote technology for the research - this helped with access to research participants and their space. Participants also already often used mobile as an assistive technology in their daily lives. They also had the flexibility to submit data when it suited them.

Also found limitations: automatic speech transcription technology is not really built with hard of hearing speech patterns in mind. Some videos were flagged as having audio issues when participants were using sign language to communicate.

Research is informing both new features and product development at Lenovo and also exposed gaps in Dscout’s capabilities, which are being fixed/worked on.