Archive | March, 2012

A sociologist’s guide to trust and design

Coye Cheshire at a recent seminar at UC Berkeley’s BID Lab entitled "Trust, Trustworthiness, or Assurance? Considerations for Online Interaction and Technology-Mediated Communication" Pic by Heather Ford licensed under a CC BY SA 3.0 license.

Trust. The word gets bandied about a lot when talking about the Web today. We want people to trust our systems. Companies are supposedly building “trusted computing” and “designing for trust”.

But, as sociologist Coye Cheshire, Professor at the School of Information at UC Berkeley will tell you, trust is a thing that happens between people not things. When we talk about trust in systems, we’re actually often talking about the related concepts of reliability or credibility.

Designing for trustworthiness

Take trustworthiness, for example. Trustworthiness is a characteristic that we infer based on other characteristics. It’s an assessment of a person’s future behaviour and it’s theoretically linked to concepts like perceived competence and motivations. When we think about whom to ask to watch our bags at the airport, for example, we look around and base our decision to trust someone on perceived competence (do they look like they could apprehend someone if someone tried to steal something?) and/or motivation (do they look like they need my bag or the things inside it?)

Although we can’t really design for trust we can design symbols to signal competence or motivation by using things like trust badges or seals that signal what Cheshire calls “trust-warranting” characteristics. We can also expose through design the “symptoms” of trust – by-products of actions that are associated with trust such as high customer satisfaction. But again, by designing trust seals or exposing customer reviews, we’re not actually designing trust into a system. We’re just helping people make decisions about who might behave in their interest in the future.Read More… A sociologist’s guide to trust and design

Interviewing for Introverts

(Old School) Sony Voice Recorder ~ CC BY-SA Stilfehler

Interviews are one of my favorite things in the qualitative toolkit. They weren’t always.

Working at a research institute I’ve gotten to hear a lot of interviews, and they have pretty much always been fascinating — but I was  uncomfortable with conducting them myself.  I’m not exactly a social butterfly, and the thought of being an official interviewer asking official questions of research participants was a bit unnerving. You have to sort of lead (really more like guide) a conversation, and you may have to recruit strangers to participate, sometimes without being able to compensate them for their time. It seems like a job for an extrovert who loves talking to people. I’ve known qualitative researchers who were geniuses at talking to people (among other things), and have always envied them. But barring the right (or wrong?) combination of alcohol and setting, that’s not my skill set.

What I figured out eventually though is that interviewing is not so much about talking to people as it is about listening to them.  Not to say that talking doesn’t play a role in getting to the listening  — the Talking Geniuses (still jealous) do great work with their combined talking and listening skills.  But being an introverted type can also be made into an advantage.

Below are some interviewing concepts that I’ve found useful to keep in mind when doing interviews, along with some practical suggestions that might work especially for those of us who aren’t gifted talkers [1].

1. Don’t put words in people’s mouths. In fact, talk as little as possible. A pause that’s a bit longer than a pause would be comfortable in everyday conversation can work wonders in provoking further insights from a respondent. It signals that you’re waiting for them to say more, and gives them time and space to think more deeply. (See? Awkward pauses aren’t a reflection on your social skills. It’s a research technique.)

Read More… Interviewing for Introverts

On Opting-Out at the Airport

airport security playmobile set

pic by ShoZu CC BY-SA 2.0

When I teach qualitative research methods the first assignment involves a participant-observation exercise in public spaces and I encourage students to disrupt those settings, at the very least by asking questions, but even better by participating in ways that provoke a response in others. For the very brave these may become what Garfinkel calls “breaching experiments” where behavior is strategically designed to go beyond the realm of acceptable or predictable. The idea is that one can reveal some of the inner-workings of social interaction in the way those subject to such behavior try to resolve and make sense of what is, essentially, senseless. I like to show this flash mob – Frozen in Grand Central – in my class to illustrate the point.

For a couple of years students chose to do participant-observation in a local DMV office (Department of Motor Vehicles) and we started to talk about what sort of site this was and how it differed from the bus stops, farmer’s markets, and public parks other students had selected. The DMV offered a space where citizens encounter their government, its rules and regulations, its efficiency (or lack thereof) and from their field notes this seemed to often generate a lot of talk between strangers about government.

I recently became intrigued by the idea of pursuing this thinking on my own, looking at where we as citizens encounter government most directly and apparently, but at the federal level. One way to do this was to reflect on experiences of airport security. I offer this here in this blog (with our particular thematic focus) as a way of thinking about how a research mindset might inform and enrich our own personal experiences and our conversations with one another. This is method meant not simply for scholarly write ups, or for applied spaces of design, policy, etc. but to sharpen our awareness in the way we go about daily life and reflect upon our own experiences. In this case it offered an opportunity to think about certain government regulations (relating to security and the war on terror) and our position as citizens pulled into this security apparatus.Read More… On Opting-Out at the Airport

Core 77 Spotlights Service Design Ethnographer, Panthea Lee


Image courtesy of Panthea Lee

Ethnography Matters hopes to interview Panthea Lee of reBoot with our own list of questions, but in the meantime, Dave Seliger of Core 77 tracked Panthea down A Better World By Design conference. For those of you who are not familiar with Panthea’s work, Tricia Wang wrote about Panthea’s Design Research essay a few months ago on Ethnography Matters.

We liked Panthea’s explanation of NGO’s perception of their own value in a community:

With a lot of these NGO’s, people assume they’re doing a lot of good work and then they design a program poorly or design a bad service and they put it out there and beneficiaries have to use it because they don’t have any other options. There’s no accountability.

Panthea then cuts through the hype of designing for “social change”:

Design for social change is a very “sexy” topic and you see a lot of design firms now going to the public sector and to NGO’s saying, ‘We’re designers, we’re here to help you!’ And they’re like, ‘What are you talking about? You don’t speak our language, you don’t know development theory, you don’t know our approach.’ It helps to know why things are the way they are today because so much of the time you see people jumping in and saying, ‘We’re going to design for change and things are going to be better.’

But what’s the context around why we have these problems to begin with? What has already been tried? I think design firms—well-intended, very talented—don’t always understand that and so I think governments look at them a little weirdly. With most of the people from Reboot, we come from those kinds of organizations and we know what we don’t know. I think that is an advantage for us.

Read the rest of the interview with Panthea on Core 77, A Better World By Design Spotlight on Panthea Lee of Reboot.  And if you didn’t get to go the conference, Dave Seliver provides a roundup of each day of the conference a the end of the post!