Design For Good – on why we need to consider what we actually mean with ‘good’

I’ve been invited to present some of my work at the HCID Open Day 2019. This is a day organised by the Human Computer Interaction and Design research group at City University, London and this year’s theme is ‘Design For Good’. The programme looks amazing, and I’m very honoured to have been invited to share my thoughts on the topic alongside so many people I really admire.

In an attempt to share my work a little more widely, and to try to be a little more accessible with my presentation, you can have download my slides by clicking here: HCID2019-strohmayer

In my talk, I will go through some of my learning around ‘design for good’ from designing with and for charities over the last 5 years. I also take into account my experiences of volunteering with charities for years before then, and then go into detail of what ‘design for good’ means when we are designing in socially and legally complex spaces – where not everyone agrees what ‘good’ is. I use the framework of ‘Justice-Oriented Ecologies’ which I developed as part of my PhD (you can read more about it in a book chapter I wrote), to bring some theoretical framing to my discussion. At the end of the presentation, I provide some questions that I hope will help people reflect about what and whom the ‘good’ they are designing for represents.

Here’s the abstract I wrote for the organisers of the day, when they asked me to provide one. I hope my talk covers everything I promised, and I’d love to chat with you if you have thoughts on my slides or the abstract! The abstract:

“In this talk I discuss the work I have carried out with Third Sector Organisations to design, develop, or appropriate digital technologies into their service delivery. Together, we reflected on their current use of digital technologies as well as the development of novel approaches to integrating exploratory and mundane technologies into existing service delivery. Learning from my collaborators and the communities they support, I will address issues related to justice, particularly when working with stigmatised or criminalised communities. I will discuss some of the lessons I have learned about justice-oriented technologies along the way to provide insights and considerations for researchers and designers wanting to ‘design for good’ with Third Sector Organisations.”

You can find out more about the day, and have a look at the awesome lineup of speakers, here: https://hcidopenday.co.uk/

Supporting Support Services: The Digital Revolution?

This was the (slightly cheeky) title of my talk at the ProsPol conference Displacing Sex For Sale that took place at Aarhus University, Copenhagen Campus on the 29th – 31st of March 2017. Here’s the abstract to my paper, which in all honesty was based on my CHI2017 paper, titled: Supporting Support Services: The Digital Revolution?

Many sex workers use technologies in innovative ways in various aspects of their working lives. Support services however rarely make use of digital technologies to support them in their everyday practice. In this paper, I will outline a case study of one charity’s novel use of technology to illustrate the role the digital plays in their successful direct service delivery as well as underlying social and criminal justice agendas.

I will do this by first introducing the discipline called Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and outlining their move towards feminist and social justice oriented approaches, topics of sex, sexualities, and activism, and reflexive methodologies. As part of this there has also been a shift towards Digital Civics (Olivier & Wright 2015), and as such relational models of service provision, citizen activism, and participatory methods, giving it a unique potential to support sex workers, sex worker rights organisations, and sex worker support services.

Taking these disciplinary and methodological potentials into account, I will discuss an interdisciplinary, mixed methods, and collaborative case study of National Ugly Mugs: a politically active UK sex work support charity that allows sex workers to report crimes committed against them, creates alerts out of these for other sex workers, and trains police and services on good practice for service delivery. By evaluating their services, I provide an outline of how they utilise technologies in their day-to-day activities, focusing on how this affects their reporting, alerting, and mobilisation practices. At the end of the presentation I will discuss how technologies can aid in institutional and fractured service delivery by showing how it has influenced the re-designing of the NUM website, and pose questions that should be considered by interdisciplinary sex work researchers addressing the digital, and other sex work support services wishing to integrate more technologies into their services.

Olivier, P. & Wright, P., 2015. Digital civics. interactions, 22(4), pp.61–63. Available at: http://dl.acm.org/ft_gateway.cfm?id=2776885&type=html [Accessed July 10, 2015].

The talk however was slightly different, and went on a slightly more meta-level than would be expected from this abstract, ending with some questions on service design and digital technologies such as:

  • what does it mean to deliver services in a certain way that provides different outcomes, but also uses different actors, technologies, and services?
  • What kind of world does the service create? And how do the technologies we design interact with this world to provide us a different way of exploring this space to move towards a more socially just one?

ProsPol Conference

It’s nice to be back in the lab, sitting on the grey sofa in the Design Space to reflect on the last week. I’ve been away: one week, four countries; but that’s for another post. Today I want to write to you about the ProsPol conference. Well, actually it was the second conference organised by ProsPol, which is an Action funded by COST. The conference was called Displacing Sex For Sale and marked the end of the four-year project that was ProsPol titled Comparing European Prostitution Policies: Understanding Scales and Cultures of GovernanceContinue reading “ProsPol Conference”

Researching Our Futures

Yesterday was the culmination of a lot of work on a little side project I’ve been a part of for the last few months: along with six other Humanities Arts and Social Science (HASS) PhD students and some members of staff from the HASS office and careers service, we organised a conference called Researching Our Futures. It was a day of listening to speakers from a really diverse set of workplaces about how they got where they are, why they did (or are working towards) a PhD and how it helps them in their current job. After a keynote speech from Prof. Pauline Dixon, we had two sets of parallel sessions in the morning covering loads of different fields. In each of these we had three or four people who recently obtained their PhDs or are working towards their PhDs while working in these sectors tell us about their stories; about how they got to where they are now and how they use their PhD in their everyday life.

Aren’t these conference bags pretty?!

The first set of parallel sessions:

  • Working in Non Academic Research & Consultancy
  • Working in Public and Voluntary sectors
  • Working in the Cultural & Heritage Sector
  • Creative Practice & the Freelancer

The second set of parallel sessions:

  • Working in Academia and Education – research and teaching roles
  • Working in Academia – professional support roles
  • Working with Words – Creative Writing, Translation, Writing for the Media
  • Working in Education sector

After lunch, we had two more speakers: Charlotte Mathieson talked about the importance of the digital, and Chris Humphrey tried to help us write cover letters for non-academic jobs.

It was a nice mix of things, and the verbal feedback I got from attendants just before they were leaving was usually positive. Perhaps one of the nicest things I heard (a few times, actually) was that the conference was what they were expecting – it was what we advertised, and they’re really glad that it was what they were expecting. So that’s good!

Working in the Public and Voluntary Sector Panel with Natalie Day, Alex Feis-Bryce, and Nikki Spalding

In the morning, I attended the Working in Public and Voluntary sectors panel, which was really interesting! It was amazing to hear such personal accounts of people; to hear a very different side to the story you usually hear at conferences. After his talk, I had a brief chat with Alex from National Ugly Mugs (who, I am working with as one of my PhD case studies) about a project we are currently planning, but I also told him how nice it was that he was there. I had known bits and pieces of his story from having talked to him about his PhD and work previously, but it was nice to see it shared in one piece, in front of an audience that seemed to be genuinely interested.

Similarly, I thought it was really nice to see Pauline as the Keynote. I was her student during my MA, and have been in contact with her every now and again since then in relation to teaching on some modules, as well as trying to organise some events as part of the International Development Society. So I’ve known her for some years and have read and heard about a lot of her work; I’ve heard her talk at the International Development Conference, have been in her classes, and have seen her TEDx talk. Again, I’d heard bits and pieces of her story from her and her colleagues through my continued engagement with the EG West Centre (pretty much only for teaching), but I never heard the story from start to finish.

Another thing that was great about the conference was the audience involvement. There were questions after every session. And the questions were interesting. They were thoughtful, thought provoking, and reflexive. Being in a room with this many PhD students was a strangely comforting experience. Throughout the day, we had a whiteboard and sticky-notes for delegates to answer three questions (at different points in the day): (1) I came here today, because… (2) Today, I have learned… and (3) What action will I take after today’s conference?

Whiteboard with sticky-note responses

I really like some of these responses, and see if you can spot my own (hint: I really like free coffee at conferences, which is why every event I organise has free tea and coffee. It’s a necessity), but one that stuck with me is the one in the image below. It reads: Do what you want to be. Do it among other doers. Present it to multiple audiences in multiple languages. I’m not sure which panel session or speaker this advice came from for the person who wrote the note, but I feel like this is a nice way of summing up the practical advice we got throughout the day! Yes, we talked a lot about skilllike resilience, project planning, or people management that we learn while doing our PhD, but I really like the simplicity of this advice. I like how true it rings to what I’m doing, and how I’ve started doing this kind of thing with my feminism.

Sticky-note response to ‘what did you learn today’

Yesterday was a fun day. It was tiring, but it was more fun, informative, and interesting than I thought it would be (and I helped organise the thing!) So, here’s to us for organising such a lovely event. Go team, and keep pushing the door, even if it’s just a little.

Part of the organising committee of Researching Our Futures

And an extra special thank you to Michael for designing the awesome t-shirt and bag design, as well as the overall branding for the conference (I also really like this picture of myself, which is rare, so here’s for some body positivity!)

We’ve done a good job, time for wine!

SWRH PGR Conference

On the 20th of January Teela Sanders hosted the 5th annual sex work research hub postgraduate conference at Leicester University. After hearing only fantastic things about the previous conferences, I took it upon myself to travel the three hours to Leicester on the train to see for myself whether it really was as safe, comfortable, and supportive a space as I was told it would be.

Arriving a few minutes late, sadly I missed Teela’s welcome to the whole day, but I was able to slip in half way through the first presentation. I snuck into the back of the room, quietly dropped my bags, sat down and listened. I was immediately taken by Anastasia’s analysis of home and belonging among Russian-speaking women engaged in commercial sex in Finland.

As the day continued, and the first round of questions came around after the first three papers, I began to understand why everyone who’s been to this event before spoke so fondly of it! As the day went on and more and more questions were asked and answered, the sense of support and camaraderie in the room almost became tangible. Both PGR students and seasoned academics not only looked interested in what was being presented, but asked intriguing questions and shared their supportive and informative comments and remarks.

I’ve gone to my fair share of conferences, PGR, academic, non-academic, and I’ve never felt so safe; I’ve never felt so welcomed; and I’ve never experienced such interest about not only my research, but all the research that was being presented throughout the day.

Something that really struck out at me about the conference besides the support and mentorship, was the diversity in the room. It was great to see such an international delegation of attendants providing questions from so many different schools of thought, disciplines, and nationalities. Presenters attended not only from many corners of the UK, but also from University of Helsinki and the University of Milan (I’m not even going to try to count how many nationalities were in the room!).

The different paper sessions also ranged in topics: covering relationships and sex work; power, marginalisation and stigma; labour, rights and regulation; diversity in sex work; and the arts and sex work. We were also lucky to have a surprise treat from Alex from the Sex Worker Opera!

I didn’t really know what to expect from the day, and was very pleasantly surprised! It was great to hear so many people address technologies as part of their research; to hear that even when not directly asked about technologies that participants share stories of their use of apps, websites, and other technologies. It made me feel like my work fits in with the wider context. It gave me some confidence in what I am doing, and pushed me to continue doing the work that I do.

At the end of the day, I learnt so much about sex work research and finally met some people I had heard so much about before going. It was a fantastic opportunity to get to know some other PhD students doing sex work research, and to hear about their work. At the same time, it was great to have the support from all those present at the event, and to be able to share thoughts and ideas.

Anyway, enough of my raving about the conference! Here’s what I talked about:

Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives

Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is a field dedicated to the study of digital technologies and the ways in which humans interact with them. Recently, HCI has started to move towards methodologies inspired by feminisms, participatory design, and social justice-oriented interaction design and have taken steps towards developing technologies in, with, and for social justice movements. Since sex workers’ rights are human rights, and as such are an issue inherently based in social, criminal, and political justice debates, I argue that HCI has a unique opportunity in this space to design methodologies and digital technologies.

As HCI continues to move towards feminist and social justice oriented research and design approaches, I explore how technology can and does mediate social justice outcomes for sex workers. I address this challenge directly by providing an empirical account of a charity whose work is built on the underlying move towards social and criminal justice for sex workers in the UK: National Ugly Mugs (NUM). Through ethnographic fieldwork, meetings, interviews, surveys, and creative workshops we describe the different points of view associated with NUM from a variety of stakeholders. We discuss their service provision and the ways in which HCI is uniquely positioned to be able respond to support NUM and other sex work support services.

This talk was based on some of the work I’ve done with National Ugly Mugs over the last year of my PhD.

If you want to know more about the things I’ve talked about, I’ve got a paper coming out in May, published and open access in the ACM’s digital library (dl.acm.org).

 

(parts of this will be published in the next Sex Work Research Hub newsletter)

So, are Human Rights really universal?

A couple of weeks ago, I went to British HCI, a conference on Human Computer Interaction in Lincoln, UK. As part of the event, I attended the hack where we worked on ‘Hacking the Magna Carta’.

What does the Magna Carta mean to us? For me personally, it’s all about human rights, and knowing what rights you have as well as holding governments, companies, and people accountable for them.

As a group of ten people or so, we came up with a number of ideas of what we could do to ‘hack the magna carta’. At around half way through the first day, we had two semi-solid ideas: (1) letting people know about their rights, and (2) making a game to help people engage with and understand the Magna Carta.

Taking my personal stance on the topic into consideration, it made sense for me to join the team developing the rights idea. Marshall, Connie, Seb, and I talked at length about what we could do, and decided that people need to know what their rights are.

We decided to read the UN Declaration of Human Rights and realised that while it is a really important document, it isn’t perfect and actually has a few (fundamental) flaws.

Interesting sidebar: all meeting notes and drafts of the Declaration are actually online!

It started out as just seeing ‘he’ being used a lot, rather then the universal ‘they’ and continued throughout the document…making us think that women, or really anyone that’s not cis-male, wasn’t included in the declaration. This got even worse when looking at the marriage article, which declared marriage was an act between a man and a woman. So we decided we needed to do something about that; inform people of what rights they REALLY have when taking the Declaration of Human Rights word for word.

The afternoon and the next day was spent figuring out how we were going to do this and then actually doing it.

Here’s what we came up with in the end: Whose rights are they anyway?

This is a website that lists all 30 Articles of the Declaration of Human Rights. First, we simplified them to say what we thought most people would take away from the long Article. Then we put the entire existing Article on the site. We also updated the existing declaration to what we thought would be a better way of wording the declaration.

On the right side, you can see little symbols that fade away when the wording of the article does not allow for that group of people to have that specific right. We’ve simplified these down to be cis-men, cis-women, and those identifying in any other way; as well as heterosexual and non-heterosexual identities. We wanted to incorporate as many different identities as possible but decided to keep it in this simplified form, because making a long list of identities would still exclude some people.


The website was an outcome of a hack event that lasted two days, so it’s still very much a work in progress; particularly the technology behind it. We’re not claiming that our version is ideal, or that the website is perfect! We hope this would stimulate some thought and discussion around the Declaration of Human Rights. Is it outdated? Should we update it? Does it really include everyone as it claims to do?

We’re thinking of maybe working on it a little more to add options to directly compare draft versions of the rights and to make it more interactive; allowing for comments and things. If you’re interested, here’s the GitHub code and stuff. Feel free to branch, push, and pull!

The first peer reviews

I wrote previously about entering academia, and how I had turned my MA dissertation into a paper.

I turned my 80 page dissertation into a 10 page paper for a major conference. It’s quite a long shot, but

Aim for the moon, because if you miss you’ll still end up among the stars.

Amirite?!

I still don’t really want to talk about the title or the conference as the reviewing process is still ongoing, but I’ll keep you updated.

BUT

Today the first rounds of reviews finished! I was so proud of even writing a paper that was in the right format and that an actual academic thought was worthy sending off to be reviewed, but now I’m even more proud.

The feedback I got was phenomenal! I did some things really well, but of course There were also a LOT points for improvement. Overall the various reviewers agreed that the topic was interesting and someone called my approach unique, and someone else even wonderful!

Having said that, there were also lots of little, and a couple of bigger, things that need to be changed before the paper will be considered to be published…

I just wanted to keep you updated on my progress into academia…and that I should probably stop differentiating between myself and the ‘real’ academics, as I am basically one of them now…although I still don’t quite understand how or when that happened.