Tying Knots: Participatory Infrastructuring at Work

  • Susanne Bødker
  • Christian Dindler
  • Ole Sejer Iversen


Today, most design projects are infrastructuring projects, because they build on technologies, competencies and practices that already exist. While infrastructuring was originally seen as being full of conflicts and contradictions with what is already present, we find that many contemporary reports seem to mainly address participatory infrastructuring as horizontal co-design and local, mutual learning processes in which people attempt to make the most out of available technology. In this paper we expand our view of design activities in three dimensions: First, how participatory processes play out vertically in different political and practical arenas; second, on the back stage of design, the messy activities that occur before, between and after the participatory workshops. And third, on their reach; how they tie into existing networks across organizations, and how agency and initiatives become dispersed within these networks. To illustrate and discuss the process of participatory infrastructuring we use a case study from an educational context. This particular project contains a diverse set of design activities at many organizational levels revolving around technology, decision-making, competence-building, commitment and policy-making. The project highlights these complexities, and our discussions lead to a vocabulary for participatory infrastructuring that focuses on knotworking, rather than structure, and on both horizontal and vertical reach and sustainability. This vocabulary is grounded in the meeting of the literature on infrastructuring, participatory design, and activity theory, and leads to a revised understanding of, for example, learning and conflicts in participatory infrastructuring.


Infrastructuring Knotworks Networks Participatory design Participatory infrastructuring 



This research study was supported by The Danish Industry Foundation as part of the project, and by the AU interdisciplinary center PIT. The empirical studies were conducted in collaboration with our colleagues Rachel Charlotte Smith, Kasper Skov Christensen and Mikkel Hjorth. We also acknowledge the work of participants from Silkeborg, Vejle and Aarhus municipalities in the project leading to the insights presented in the paper. Claus Bossen provided great comments on a previous version of the paper.


  1. Ananiadou, Katarina; and Magdalena Claro (2009). 21st century skills and competences for new millennium learners in OECD countries. EDU working paper no. 41, Directorate for Education, OECD.Google Scholar
  2. Binder, Thomas; Giorgio De Michelis; Pelle Ehn; Gulio Jacucci; Per Linde; Ina Wagner (2011): Design things. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Björgvinsson Erling; Pelle Ehn; and Per-Anders Hillgren (2010). Participatory design and ‘democratizing innovation’. Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Participatory Design Conference (PDC '10). New York: ACM Press, pp. 41–50.Google Scholar
  4. Bødker, Keld; Finn Kensing; and Jesper Simonsen (2004). Participatory IT design: Designing for business and workplace realities. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bødker, Susanne (1996). Creating conditions for participation: Conflicts and resources in systems development. Human-Computer Interaction, vol.11, pp. 215–236.Google Scholar
  6. Bødker, Susanne (1999). Computer applications as mediators of design and use. DAIMI Report Series 28. Aarhus: Aarhus University.Google Scholar
  7. Bødker, Susanne (2015a). Using IT to ‘do good’ in communities? The Journal of Community Informatics, vol. 11 no. 2.Google Scholar
  8. Bødker, Susanne (2015b). Third-wave HCI, 10 years later-participation and sharing. ACM Interactions vol. 22, no. 5, pp. 24–31.Google Scholar
  9. Bødker, Susanne; and Ellen Christiansen (1997). Scenarios as springboards in design. In Bowker, G., Gasser, L., Star, S. L. & Turner, W. (eds): Social science research, technical systems and cooperative work. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 217–234.Google Scholar
  10. Bødker, Susanne; and Kaj Grønbæk (1991). Design in Action: From Prototyping by Demonstration to Cooperative Prototyping. In Greenbaum, J. & Kyng, M. (eds): Design at Work: Cooperative Design of Computer Systems. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 197–218.Google Scholar
  11. Bossavit, Benoit; and Sarah Parsons (2016). Designing an educational game for and with teenagers with high functioning autism. Proceedings of the 14th Participatory Design Conference (PDC '16), Vol. 1. New York: ACM Press, pp. 11–20.Google Scholar
  12. Bossen, Claus; Christian Dindler; and Ole Sejer Iversen (2010). User gains and PD aims: assessment from a participatory design project. Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Participatory Design Conference (PDC '10). New York: ACM Press, pp. 141–150.Google Scholar
  13. Bowers, John (1994). The work to make a network work: studying CSCW in action. Proceedings of the 1994 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work (CSCW '94). New York: ACM Press, pp. 287–298.Google Scholar
  14. Brandt, Eva (2006). Designing exploratory design games: a framework for participation in participatory design? Proceedings of the ninth conference on Participatory design: Expanding boundaries in design - Volume 1 (PDC '06), vol. 1. New York: ACM Press, pp. 57–66.Google Scholar
  15. Bratteteig, Tone; Keld Bødker; Yvonne Dittrich; Preben Mogensen; and Jesper Simonsen (2013): Methods: Organizing principles and general guidelines for Participatory Design projects. In Simonsen, J. and Robertson T. (2013).Google Scholar
  16. Bratteteig, Tone; and Ina Wagner (2012). Spaces for participatory creativity. CoDesign vol. 8, nos. 2–3, pp. 105–126.Google Scholar
  17. Büscher, Monika; Michael Christensen; Klaus Marius Hansen; Preben Mogensen; and Dan Shapiro (2009). Bottom-up, Top-down? Connecting Software Architecture Design with Use. In Voss, A. Hartswood, M., Procter, R., Rouncefield, M., Slack, R & Bücher, M. (eds) (2009). Configuring User-Designer Relations, London: Springer, pp. 157–192.Google Scholar
  18. Capaccioli, Andrea; Giacomo Poderi; Mela Bettega; and Vincenzo D’Andrea (2016). Participatory infrastructuring of community energy. Proceedings of the 14th Participatory Design Conference (PDC '16), Vol. 1. New York: ACM Press, pp. 9–12.Google Scholar
  19. Carroll, John M.; and Mary Beth Rosson (2007). Participatory Design in Community Informatics, Design Studies, Vol. 28, pp. 243–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Carroll, John M.; George Chin; Mary Beth Rosson; and Dennis C. Neale (2000). The development of cooperation: five years of participatory design in the virtual school. In Boyarski, D. and Kellogg, W.A. (eds): DIS 2000: Proceedings of the 3rd conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques. New York: ACM Press, pp. 239–251.Google Scholar
  21. Clement, Andrew; Brenda McPhail; Karen L. Smith; and Joseph Ferenbok (2012). Probing, Mocking and Prototyping: Participatory approaches to identity infrastructuring. Proceedings of the 12th Participatory Design Conference: Research Papers - Volume 1 (PDC '14), Vol. 1, New York: ACM Press, pp. 21–30.Google Scholar
  22. Dindler, Christian; Iversen, Olesejer (2014). Relational expertise in participatory design. Proceedings of the 13th Participatory Design Conference: Research Papers - Volume 1 (PDC '14), Vol. 1, New York: ACM Press, pp. 41–50.Google Scholar
  23. DiSalvo, Carl; Andrew Clement; Volkmar Pipek (2013). Communities: Participatory Design for, with and by communities. In Simonsen and Robertson (2013), pp. 182–207.Google Scholar
  24. Edwards, Anne (2012). Being an Expert Professional Practitioner – The Relational Turn in Expertise, London: Springer.Google Scholar
  25. Edwards, W. Keith; and Rebecca E. Grinter (2001). At Home with Ubiquitous Computing: Seven Challenges. In Abowd, G., Brumitt, B., and Shafer, S. A. N. (eds) Ubicomp 2001, LNCS 2201, Berlin: Springer-Verlag,, pp. 256–272.Google Scholar
  26. Ehn, Pelle (1990). Work-Oriented Design of Computer Artifacts. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  27. Ehn, Pelle (2008). Participation in design things. In PDC’08: Proceedings of the tenth conference on participatory design, Bloomington, 30 September–4 October 2008. New York: ACM Press, pp. 92–101.Google Scholar
  28. Engeström, Yrjö (2006). From Well-Bounded Ethnographies to Intervening in Mycorrhizae Activities. In Organization Studies, vol. 27, no12 pp. 1783–1793.Google Scholar
  29. Engeström, Yrjö (2007). From communities of practice to mycorrhizae. In J. Hughes, N. Jewson & L. Unwin (eds): Communities of practice: Critical perspectives. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Engeström, Yrjö; Ritva Engeström; & Tarja Vähäaho (1999). When the center does not hold: the importance of knotworking. In S. Chaiklin, M. Hedegaard & U-J. Jensen (eds): Activity theory and social practice: Cultural-historical approaches, Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, pp. 345–374.Google Scholar
  31. Engeström, Yrjö (1987). Learning by expansion. Helsinki: Orienta Konsultit.Google Scholar
  32. Fischer, Gerhard (2001). Communities of Interest: Learning through the Interaction of Multiple Knowledge Systems, 24th Annual Information Systems Research Seminar In Scandinavia (IRIS'24) (Ulvik, Norway), Department of Information Science, Bergen, Norway, pp. 1–14.Google Scholar
  33. Gärtner, Johannes; and Ina Wagner (1996). Mapping Actors and Agendas: Political Frameworks of Systems Design and Participation. Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 11, pp. 187–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Goffman, Erwin (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  35. Greenbaum, Joan; and Morten Kyng (1991). Design at work: Cooperative design of computer systems. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  36. Grønbæk, Kaj; Morten Kyng; and Preben Mogensen (1997). Toward a cooperative experimental system development approach. In Computers and design in context, Cambridge, MA: MIT press pp. 201–238.Google Scholar
  37. Hanseth, Ole; Erik Monteiro; and Morten Hatling (1996). Developing information infrastructures: The tension between standardization and flexibility. Science, Technology and Human Values, vol. 21, pp. 407–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Heiskanen, Eva; Sampsa Hyysalo; Tanja Kotro; and Petteri Repo (2010). Constructing innovative users and user-inclusive innovation communities. Technology Analysis and Strategic Management, vol. 22 no. 4, pp. 495–511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Iversen, Ole Sejer, and Christian Dindler (2014). Sustaining participatory design initiatives, Journal of CoDesign, vol. 10 nos. 3–4, pp. 153–170.Google Scholar
  40. Iversen, Ole Sejer; and Jacob Buur (2002). Design is a Game: Developing Design Competence in a Game Setting. Proceedings of the 7th Participatory Design Conference: Research Papers - Volume 1 (PDC '14), Vol. 1. New York: ACM Press, pp. 22–28.Google Scholar
  41. Kanstrup, Anne Marie; Pernille Bertelsen; and Jacob Østergaard Madsen (2014). Design with the feet: walking methods and participatory design. Proceedings of the 13th Participatory Design Conference: Research Papers - Volume 1 (PDC '14), Vol. 1. New York: ACM Press, pp. 51–60.Google Scholar
  42. Kaptelinin, Victor; and Liam J. Bannon (2012). Interaction design beyond the product: Creating technology-enhanced activity spaces, Human–Computer Interaction, vol. 27 no. 3, pp. 277–309.Google Scholar
  43. Karasti, Helena (2014): Infrastructuring in Participatory Design. Proceedings of the 13th Participatory Design Conference: Research Papers - Volume 1 (PDC '14), Vol. 1, New York: ACM Press, pp. 141–150.Google Scholar
  44. Karasti, Helena; Karen S. Baker; and Florence Millerand (2010). Infrastructure Time: Long-Term Matters in Collaborative Development. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 19, nos. 3–4, pp. 377–415.Google Scholar
  45. Kensing, Finn; and Jeanette Blomberg (1998). Participatory design: Issues and concerns. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 7, pp. 167–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kensing, Finn; and Joan Greenbaum (2013). Heritage: Having a say. In Simonsen and Robertson (2013).Google Scholar
  47. Kensing, Finn; Jesper Simonsen; and Keld Bødker (1998). MUST: A method for participatory design, Human-Computer Interaction, vol. 13 no. 2, pp. 167–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kyng, Morten (1995). Making representations work. Communications of the ACM, vol. 9, pp 46–55.Google Scholar
  49. Kyng, Morten (2015). On Creating and Sustaining Alternatives: The case of Danish Telehealth. Proceedings of Critical Alternatives. Proceedings of the 5th decennial Aarhus Conference, Aarhus Series on Human Centered Computing, vol. 1, no 1.Google Scholar
  50. Le Dantec, Chris; and Carl DiSalvo (2013). Infrastructuring and the formation of publics in participatory design. Social Studies of Science, vol. 42, no. 2, pp. 241–264.Google Scholar
  51. Leong, Tuck W; and Toni Robertson (2016). Voicing values: laying foundations for ageing people to participate in design. Proceedings of the 14th Participatory Design Conference: Full papers - Volume 1 (PDC '16), Vol. 1. New York: ACM Press, pp. 31–40.Google Scholar
  52. Light, Ann; and Yoko Akama (2014). Structuring future social relations: the politics of care in participatory practice. Proceedings of the 13th Participatory Design Conference: Research Papers - Volume 1 (PDC '14), Vol. 1. New York: ACM Press, pp. 151–160.Google Scholar
  53. Light, Ann; and Yoko Akama (2012): The human touch: participatory practice and the role of facilitation in designing with communities. Proceedings of PDC. New York: ACM Press, pp. 61–70.Google Scholar
  54. Makhaeva, Julia; Christopher Frauenberger; and Katharina Spiel (2016). Creating creative spaces for co-designing with autistic children: the concept of a “Handlungsspielraum”. Proceedings of the 14th Participatory Design Conference: Full papers - Volume 1 (PDC '16), Vol. 1. New York: ACM Press, pp. 51–60.Google Scholar
  55. Mathiassen, Lars (1981). Systemudvikling og systemudviklingsmetode, DAIMI PB-10, Aarhus: Aarhus University.Google Scholar
  56. Merkel, Cecilia B.; Mike Clitherow; Umer Farooq; and Li Xiao (2005). Sustaining Computer Use and Learning in Community Computing Contexts: Making Technology Part of “Who They are and What They Do”. Community Informatics, vol. 1 no. 2, pp. 158–174.Google Scholar
  57. Monteiro, Erik; Neil Pollock; Ole Hanseth; and Robin Williams (2013). From Artefacts to Infrastructures. Computer Supported Coop Work, vol. 22, pp. 575.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Muller, Michael J. (2007). Participatory design: The third space in HCI. In Sears, A. & Jacko, J. (eds): The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies and Emerging Applications, 2nd Edition. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 1061–1082.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Obendorf, Hartmut; Monique Janneck; and Matthias Finck (2009): Intercontextual distributed participatory design. Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, vol. 21 no.1, pp. 51–76.Google Scholar
  60. Pape, Tom C.; and Kari Thoresen (1987). Development of Common Systems by Prototyping. In Bjerknes, G., Ehn, P., and, Kyng, M. (eds): Computers and Democracy - A Scandinavian Challenge. Aldershot: Avebury.Google Scholar
  61. Pipek, Volkmar; and Helge Kahler (2006). Supporting Collaborative Tailoring. In H. Lieberman, F. Paterno, and V. Wulf (eds): End-User Development, Berlin: Springer, pp. 315–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Pipek, Volkmar; and Volker Wulf (2009). Infrastructuring: Towards an Integrated Perspective on the Design and Use of Information Technology. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, vol. 10, no. 5, pp. 447–473.Google Scholar
  63. Pollock Neil; and Robin Williams (2010). E-Infrastructures: How Do We Know and Understand Them? Strategic Ethnography and the Biography of Artefacts. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol.19, pp. 521–556.Google Scholar
  64. Simonsen, Jesper; and Toni Robertson (2013). Routledge International Handbook of Participatory Design. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  65. Smith, Rachel C.; Ole Sejer Iversen; & Mikkel Hjorth (2015). Design thinking for digital fabrication in education. International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction, vol. 5, pp. 20–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Smith, Rachel C.; Ole Sejer Iversen; and Rune Veerasawmy (2016). Impediments to Digital Fabrication in Education: A study of teachers’ role in digital fabrication. International Journal of Digital Literacy and digital competence, IGI Global publishing.Google Scholar
  67. Star, Susan Leigh; and Geof C. Bowker (2002). How to infrastructure. In Lievrouw L.A. and Livingstone S. (eds): The Handbook of New Media. London: SAGE, pp. 151–162.Google Scholar
  68. Star, Susan Leigh (1997). Working together: symbolic interactionism, activity theory, and information systems. In Engeström, Y. & Middleton D. (eds): Cognition and Communication at Work, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 296–318.Google Scholar
  69. Star, Susan Leigh (2002): Infrastructure and ethnographic practice. Working on the fringes. Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 107–122.MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  70. Star, Susan Leigh (1999): The ethnography of infrastructure. American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 43, no. 3, pp. 377–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Star, Susan Leigh; and Karen Ruhleder (1996). Steps toward an Ecology of Infrastructure: Borderlands of Design and Access for Large Information Spaces. Information Systems Research, vol. 7, no. 11, pp. 111–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Suchman, Lucy (2002). Located accountabilities in technology production. Scandinavian Journal of Information Systems, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 91–105.Google Scholar
  73. Voss, Alex; Mark Hartswood; Rob Procter; Mark Rouncefield; Roger S. Slack; and Monika Bücher (2009). Configuring User-Designer Relations, London: Springer.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Participatory ITAarhus UniversityAarhus NDenmark

Personalised recommendations