In this essay several virtues are discussed that are needed in people who work in participatory design (PD). The term PD is used here to refer specifically to an approach in designing information systems with its roots in Scandinavia in the 1970s and 1980s. Through the lens of virtue ethics and based on key texts in PD, the virtues of cooperation, curiosity, creativity, empowerment and reflexivity are discussed. Cooperation helps people in PD projects to engage in cooperative curiosity and cooperative creativity. Curiosity helps them to empathize with others and their experiences, and to engage in joint learning. Creativity helps them to envision, try out and materialize ideas, and to jointly create new products and services. Empowerment helps them to share power and to enable other people to flourish. Moreover, reflexivity helps them to perceive and to modify their own thoughts, feelings and actions. In the spirit of virtue ethics—which focuses on specific people in concrete situations—several examples from one PD project are provided. Virtue ethics is likely to appeal to people in PD projects because it is practice-oriented, provides room for exploration and experimentation, and promotes professional and personal development. In closing, some ideas for practical application, for education and for further research are discussed.
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The word ‘users’ is between quotes in order to acknowledge that I am referring to people in a more general understanding than only their role of users of a product or service. ‘Users’ thus refers to people in their many possible roles, including the role of (potential) user of a product or service.
A discussion of politics and ethics is beyond the scope of this essay. However, I would like to remark that I understand politics as referring to structure and agency in the context of collective action, and ethics as referring to freedom and responsibility in the context of individual people’s actions.
The need to find this ‘middle’ in virtue ethics can be associated with the need to find a ‘middle’ in participatory design, e.g., when balancing and navigating between different or conflicting interests, for example, between users and designers, or between people and technology (Steen 2011b).
The term ‘cooperative curiosity’ is used to refer to a type of curiosity that is related to and directed to other people—in order to distinguish it from other types of curiosity, in which, for example, one is curious about nature.
The term ‘cooperative creativity’ is used to refer to a type of creativity that is related to and directed to other people—in order to distinguish it from other types of creativity, in which, for example, one’s creativity is directed to objects.
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This paper was written within the WeCare project, which was part of the European Ambient Assisted Living Programme (AAL-2009-2-026) and which received funding from ZonMW (The Netherlands), ISCIII (Spain), TEKES (Finland) and Enterprise Ireland (Ireland). I would like to thank Sharon for encouraging me to write this paper, and Jannie, Stefan, Erik and the other WeCare project-team members for the pleasant cooperation and their kind permission to portray them. I would also like to thank Paul van Tongeren for his supportive and helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
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Steen, M. Virtues in Participatory Design: Cooperation, Curiosity, Creativity, Empowerment and Reflexivity. Sci Eng Ethics 19, 945–962 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11948-012-9380-9
- Virtue ethics
- Participatory design
- Social networking