Based on the TATA-BOX Aveyron meetings, we propose in this section an outline of an ICT platform, combining several IC tools to support the practices of a tTAES. We call a TPD community
(agroecological Transition with Participatory Design) any local group engaged in a tTAES. A TPD community is thus to be understood as a complex multirole community, including local stakeholders as well as facilitators, analysts and all the other roles necessary for the successful design of the tTAES. A TPD community, like many communities of practice or communities of action (Wenger 1998; Zacklad 2005; Warner 2006), needs to grow and develop, to describe and organise itself in terms of roles for collaborative work (Herrmann et al. 2004), and constantly to modify content shared among members. In terms of task organisation, the TATA-BOX method involves multiple roles, and an ICT platform must provide an infrastructure for a community portal that accommodates each of them. Each role is endowed with different prerogatives and possibilities of action on the contents.
The main purpose of the platform we propose is to make available to this community
the informational content that it consults, creates and modifies through its discussions during the design process
. These content-related services are intended to facilitate this provision by respecting the division of labour and confidence requirements necessary for the community design of the tTAES.
In terms of trust and security, an ICT TPD community in a given territory must protect its contents and retain complete control over them. As the technical underlying framework is constituted by Web technologies, the Community
needs to have strong fence and effective confidentiality throughout its design and discussion work on the options, verbatim records and content that it develops, annotates and evaluates through the platform. This is particularly important to promote free expression
of views internally at design meetings. Within this framework, the digital services of the platform, set out below, are essentially intended to serve the constitution, collective manipulation, and “capitalizing” of the traces of design discussions.
Proposed as a foundation for building and supporting socio-technical community systems in the particular TPD field, the platform has to be open and modular, and to avoid structuring too much of the TPD community’s activity. In fact, the TATA-BOX method aims to stay within the frameworks to which rural actors are accustomed, without upsetting them. It incorporates the possibility that, from one TPD community
to another, the conditions of the territory, as well as many human or material factors of participatory work, may influence its implementation. A digital platform
must therefore adapt to local cultures and constraints, while in each case providing the different TATA-BOX roles with the best opportunities for interaction around shared content.
Technically, the core of the targeted platform is a documentary system based on Web technologies and supported by “Web Services” technologies. In addition to the flexibility of adaptation, the most important expected functionalities considered during the TATA-BOX design process
were: supporting a large number and diversity of participants (present or distant); reducing costs and the number of staff involved in organising and running these workshops; ensuring the efficiency and semantic neutrality of the content tracking system; ensuring the simplicity of implementation; and facilitating appropriation of all the roles involved.
Based on these criteria, we recommend an open infrastructure, of the Social Semantic Web
type, capable of easily and flexibly hosting the documentary system and these services. The services are illustrated below, in order of priority, and limited to the most essential ones needed to provide a basic solution that a TPD community
can apply quickly to become socially operational.
With the exception of the MM-Record component, (discussed in priority 2 below) which was tested during the last series of TATA-BOX workshops in 2017 (cf. Fig. 2), the tools mentioned below were not tested in the project itself. However, since these tools are generic, they have already been tested in other social situations (cf. e.g. Bénel et al. 2010). These experiences with a variety of research fields have made it possible to problematise the notion of a social semantic Web
infrastructure platform (Cahier et al. 2013). This social validation work would still have to be carried out on scale one throughout the whole process of implementing the TATA-BOX method, and would require major ICT developments and arrangements.
Priority 1: A Collaborative Basis for All TATA-BOX Roles and Actors
According to criteria previously listed (cost, workforce, efficiency, etc.), it is necessary to give priority consideration to the ICT platform as it is used, not only by the “field participants” of rural areas, but also by all other roles necessary to the design methodology. We observed during the TATA-BOX workshops that basic participants’ roles are only the tip of the iceberg.
Reflection on tools must also consider the immersed part as equally important, that is, the roles inter alia of community
organisers (managing invitations and staff, meeting agendas, their own agendas, etc.), facilitators, transcribers, observers and analysts (from several scientific disciplines), managers of certain technical tools (video, sound), graphic designers and producers of “rich picture” artefacts (who play a major role in the methodology).
The platform must meet a twofold challenge: to help all these actors to work on content, according to their role in the structure, but without the structure of the roles being prescribed rigidly by software workflows. Therefore, as a matter of priority, the platform requires a foundation of basic community functions, accommodating the different possible roles and supporting their mutual trust and design interactions. This is the prerequisite for access to a first stage of basic services (cf. sections “Priority 2: using topic maps to give access to verbatim records and TPD items” and “Priority 3: making visible and affordable the diversity of the viewpoints”) offering all these roles (at least) read-only access to the traces of discussions, whatever their forms (audio, video, text). For example, this will allow everyone in the community to retrieve documents after the fact or in case of absence, and thus stay in touch with the community
, one of the great challenges in such community design that spreads over months to years (cf. chapter “Evaluation of the Operationalisation of the TATA-BOX Process”).
In the TATA-BOX method, the many roles give rise to varied interactions. Since TPD requires a complex collaborative design, the interactions between these roles and the objects and arguments under discussion are also complex. They are considered here in semiotic terms as digitisable traces. The challenge for the platform is to assist the creative or manipulative interactions of these contents by the various roles. On one hand they are interactions between actors sharing the same role. Of particular interest, for example, are the “cross-reading” scenarios between participants, in which each participant, rereads a transcribed discussion, highlights critical items, annotates and tags passages in the margins, and interacts with their peers through chained annotations
. On the other hand, there are interactions between actors of different roles. For example (cf. Fig. 2) the “secretary” actor responsible for the audio recording of a discussion lasting several hours, annotates (on-the-fly or off-line) the audio stream with tags. These markers will be used: (i) by the transcriber to find his/her place quickly when he/she listens again; (ii) to construct useful markers for the group; and (iii) to indicate to the transcriber which fragments he/she has to process (this will save time and money in the overall process), etc.
From an IT point of view, this means that the platform must propose an infrastructure of participation architecture facilitating a coherent registration of actors into well-defined roles (Zaher et al. 2007; Merle et al. 2012; Tosi and Bénel 2017). Its basic services must enable the TPD Community
on its own to finely regulate functions such as directory and member sponsorship,Footnote 2 role endorsement, role access rights to various possible actions on documents (as in the examples provided above), and so on. Each of the actors thus benefits from prerogatives associated with their role. For example, for everyone there would be commentary rights; for some (managers, experts, etc.), the right to create tags; for other roles, more specific rights of creation or modification of contents (such as the transcribers’ right to deposit texts), and so on. This type of basic infrastructure, allowing such fine tuning of access and roles, is not currently available on the shelf.Footnote 3
The analysis of the TATA-BOX method as a socio-technical device needs to be deepened in order to fully explain the roles, their interactions, and the critical passages in the documents. The objective is not that this modelling automatically be translated into numeric terms, but rather that it help to apply the TATA-BOX method by allowing on the platform certain actions and interactions typical of roles, especially the countless TPD items that actors are constantly releasing and re-injecting into the discussion.
Priority 2: Using Topic Maps to Give Access to Verbatim Records and TPD Items
During the whole process, the TPD
actors are faced with an intensive flow of changing knowledge and with many difficulties to memorize it, and seek to share numerous documents. The more important ones are the oral and transcribed verbatim recordings of meetings (more than 100 h of audio and video material were recorded in the TATA-BOX workshops). It is also necessary to share, index and retrieve secondary documents such as analyses, annotations by actors, and so on. ICT can be helpful in giving participants and other roles the best semantic affordances to their practices, especially at the critical stages of the TPD process.
We propose to use a method derived from the “Document and Item-based Modelling” method (Cahier and Ma 2010; Cahier et al. 2010) allowing items of the discussion to be described easily and organised in a NoSQL Web repository. TPD items are items of interest (actual facts, ideas, actors, fictional facts in prospective scenarios, opportunities, etc.) appearing in the collective inquiry on the complex rural situation, when solutions, governance plans, and so on are being devised. These items emerge from discussions and documents and are continuously (re-)interpreted, (re-)evaluated and (re-)used in participant’s discussions and plans. The proposed ICT Social Semantic Web
services on the platform allow items to be described by topics and by valuated attributes (e.g. for the geographical situation of a TPD item), in order to reflect each one’s identity, categories
and possible associated Web resources. With this method, actors can safely and confidently characterize, name, memorise and share thousands of TPD items.
To facilitate the retrieval of information, we suggest topic cloud and topic map artefacts. They can be constructed collaboratively by using the entire sequence of meetings’ verbatim records (audio and video recordings, re-listening, transcription, reading, re-reading, annotation, etc.). With tools proposed to support the “Document and Item-based Modelling” method, actors can easily refer to the documents on their discussions and the annotations made during and after TPD meetings (on maps, on post-it notes, etc.). They can refer to all TPD items, geo-localised or not, as they identify and discuss them continuously (“on the fly”) during the TPD process.
Figure 1 shows how items refer to discussed reality and how they rely on the topic map. The right side of the figure, on the cold slope, corresponds to the documents and to the more reified or consensual items shared by the community
. The left side, on the warm slope, corresponds to the more emerging items and their more subjective and interpretable aspects, brought up during the TPD collective inquiry. So the “item” concept creates a bridge between the two sides. At a given point in a discussion, a participant may mention
a TPD item he/she observed in the rural situation and that made sense to him/her. Even if it has not been stabilized, this item can be created in the repository (path “3” in Fig. 1). But items can also be detected in a document (path “2” in Fig. 1). All items can then be constructed in more detail (paths “5”, “6”, “7”) by identifying its proper name and adding attributes (e.g. localisation), topics and resources. If other actors recognise an item as a relevant element of the shared situations, they can qualify it with complementary (or concurrent) attributes and topics, thereby allowing the community
to maintain the co-building of the item and the topic map linked to it.
By using TPD items as mediation, the indexing of documents can be facilitated by the actors themselves. Participants can name and characterize well-known items because they are familiar in their all-day skills or in their documents
(Fig. 1, path 2). This folksonomy facilitates the use of the verbatim records, reduces actor’s puzzlement within verbatims and all the TPD documents, despite the fact that they are numerous, changing, added by multiple contributors … and frequently controversial (cf. section “Priority 3: making visible and affordable the diversity of the viewpoints”).
This approach can be illustrated and implemented by existing prototype tools, such as Argos and Steatite based on REST Web Services, supplemented by the MM-Record tool (Matta and Ducellier 2013) for indexing recorded audio streams from a tablet. These tools will make it possible to implement the proposed method and build up a document base of TPD items easily accessible on the Web from a topic map.
MM-Record (Fig. 2) completes the audio recording of meetings by allowing participants to index the audio content with coloured marks and tags for time, speakers’ names, and categories, and to design rationale topics. In the abundant records
of the 2017 TATA-BOX meetings (lasting many hours), it helped actors to retrieve oral fragments and tag them. The oral material related by participants was shared and socially annotated. In particular, some tags put onto the recorded audio flow were used to select the more relevant fragments to be transcribed, thus reducing the transcription cost.
Priority 3: Making Visible and Affordable the Diversity of the Viewpoints
One of the key challenges for the platform is to allow the multiple actors to benefit from a multi-viewpoint approach in terms of content categorisation and how to find fragments more easily through a repository that gives meaning to these fragments. This also applies to the primary contents of the design (e.g. traces of the discussions) or derived contents (e.g. annotations, tagging and threads of discussions outside the verbatim records).
Given the specificities of the AET in a given territory, it is important to make visible and integrate the different points of view. To technically implement a multi-viewpoints anchorage structure into the content, we propose that the topic maps
artefacts mentioned previously (cf. section “priority 2: using topic maps to give access to verbatim records and TPD items”), using the Hypertopic model (Zhou et al. 2006) as a background. The structure of hypertopic actors and viewpoints can be organised to help actors to make traceable and visible the interpretations from their own perspectives (cf. the upper part of Fig. 1: paths 3-4-8-7 and 1-2-4-7-8 for example). Thus, actors can elicit the TPD items and qualify them, not only at a “reference” level (recording consensus when it exists) but also at the heuristic and inter-subjective levels (Bénel et al. 2010), considering that items always stay, to a greater or lesser degree, in design and in debate.
In this way, in order to carry out the necessary tests, we recommend that existing multipoint tools based on the Hypertopic model, such as Argos, Agorae, Porphyry (cf. http://hypertopic.org) that can be used on the Web, be industrialised and extended according to the specific context of TPDs. These tools allow one to build and compare views on the items of the domain. Cassandre and Lasuli, also tools of the Hypertopic suite, can be used by multiple analysts to carry out qualitative analyses of the same corpus, and to compare their categories (Bénel et al. 2011; Lejeune 2011).
Actors may use various views on items in the TPD cooperative work
and debate about them. Multi-viewpoint social tagging can be applied with ease by end-users without any knowledge in Information Sciences. It is designed specifically to be used in communities whose members are faced with an intensive flow of changing knowledge and with many difficulties to represent it visually on a topic map
, as well as many conflicts between actors, especially conflicts of interpretation.
Note that this approach does not require a set of predefined viewpoints or categories. On the contrary, it offers freedom in the choice of perspectives from which to interpret and organise information. Depending on the way in which a TPD community
decides to use these tools, in particular according to the phases of collaborative design, the points of view can be those of the stakeholders (corresponding to their field of competence, their opinion, etc.). Stakeholders may also participate in games of analysis, the dimensions of which are decided by mutual agreement, such as the game of the three major “structural” dimensions advocated by the TATA-BOX method. Thanks to its underlying Hypertopic model, the proposed platform remains agnostic in semantics and does not influence the daily languages of the actors, whether they are experts or not. This flexibility is important for TPD communities, which can thus, for example, balance the expression of minority actors with that of more powerful stakeholders.