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Infrastructuring and Participatory Design: Exploring Infrastructural Inversion as Analytic, Empirical and Generative


The participatory design of CSCW systems increasingly embraces activities of reconfiguring the use of existing interconnected systems in addition to developing and implementing new. In this article, we refer to such activities of changing and improving collaboration through the means of existing information infrastructures as infrastructuring. We investigate a relational perspective on infrastructuring and provide an overview and a detailed account of a local infrastructuring process by tracing the concrete relations that emerged. The elusive quality of information infrastructures as being invisible is analyzed through the notion of infrastructural inversion. Infrastructural inversion is the gestalt switch of shifting attention from the activities invisibly supported by an infrastructure to the activities that enable the infrastructure to function and meet desired needs for collaborative support. Initially, infrastructural inversion was conceived as a conceptual-analytic notion, but recent research has also positioned it as an empirical-ethnographic and generative-designerly resource. In this study, we rely on all of these stances and contribute to the generative-designerly position. We explain the notion of infrastructural inversion and describe how it is distinct from the CSCW concept of articulation work. The context of the analysis includes a participatory design project that sought to reduce patients’ fasting time prior to surgical operations by improving the interdepartmental coordination at a hospital. The project revealed the webs of relations and interdependencies in which fasting time is inscribed at the local level as well as regionally, nationally, and beyond. We pursue the relations, trace their connectedness across multiple scopes, and show how the process alternated between empirical and analytic activities of exploring relations and design-oriented activities of reaching closure. Our analysis shows that the notion of infrastructural inversion can enrich participatory design: Infrastructural inversion embraces the exploratory activities of tracing relations, while the design agenda drove the need for reaching closure. We conclude by discussing lessons learned for infrastructuring and for participatory design that engages with infrastructuring.

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The study was part of the Clinical Communication project, a research and development collaboration between Region Zealand, Roskilde University, and University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and Imatis Inc., Norway. The study was financially supported by Region Zealand and Roskilde University. Research assistant Lene Hansen provided practical support and transcribed the selected meetings. We owe thanks to all the clinicians who took part in the activities of the fasting-time project. Special thanks are due to the three hospital representatives in the project group: Dorte S. Jensen, Helle P. Dengsøe, and Monica H. Marqvorsen.

We acknowledge the Velux Visiting Professor Program of The Villum Foundation that funded Helena Karasti’s stay at Roskilde University for a year in 2015-2016 during which the analysis reported in this article was conducted.

Declarations of interest: The authors took part in the fasting-time project and, thereby, also in the project meetings analyzed in this paper. Apart from this participation we have no conflicts of interest to declare.

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Simonsen, J., Karasti, H. & Hertzum, M. Infrastructuring and Participatory Design: Exploring Infrastructural Inversion as Analytic, Empirical and Generative. Comput Supported Coop Work 29, 115–151 (2020).

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  • Information infrastructure
  • Infrastructuring
  • Infrastructural relations
  • Infrastructural inversion
  • Conceptual-analytic, empirical-ethnographic, and generative-designerly strategies
  • Participatory design
  • Effects-driven participatory design
  • Collaborative design
  • Healthcare