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Constructing design knowledge for postdigital science and education
This presentation is concerned with forms of knowledge that are useful to teams of people who are collaboratively learning how to improve ongoing programs of scientific and/or educational activity in which they have a stake. In other words, it has a primary pragmatic focus on situated actionable knowledge and secondarily on the methods used to construct such knowledge. In particular, we foreground design knowledge, understood broadly as knowledge tuned to the requirements of real-world design work. As with other presentations at CUC, we aim to explore some of the main ontological and epistemological issues that arise in conducting postdigital research. In our case, the distinctive issues flow from our interest in design knowledge. To illustrate the arguments, our account is grounded in two sites we have been researching in a large-scale empirical study of interdisciplinary scientific and educational activity. One case is a Nanoscience laboratory; the other a Centre for Public Health. In both settings, digital tools and technologies play substantial, diverse roles. They are woven into scientific and educational practices. Sometimes they are very much taken-for-granted, but occasionally they are the centre of collective attention. The practices we have been observing also draw on and hold together a variety of material technologies, social relations, divisions of labour and epistemic challenges. Our fundamental questions are concerned with (a) the capabilities needed to participate successfully in interdisciplinary work and (b) methods for helping people strengthen such capabilities. We pursue these questions by linking three layers of observation and analysis: organisation, team and individual. How do research and innovation communities create interdisciplinary knowledge? How do interdisciplinary teams learn to function effectively? What constitutes the personal resourcefulness that enables individuals to participate in interdisciplinary work? We use the Activity-Centred Analysis and Design framework (ACAD) to map out social, material and epistemic aspects of selected practices in the sites observed. We separate representations of emergent activities from representations of what might (next) be designed. We aim to show how a framework created for analysis and design in educational situations (ACAD) can also be used to construct design knowledge for improving scientific research settings – e.g. in supporting teams’ conversations about the redesign of their lab spaces, tools, roles, goals and methods. We favour forms of postdigital research that equip groups of people to understand, discuss and make decisions about the circumstances in which they work. Collectively designing for better ways of working can be complex and troubling. So our presentation offers a reusable approach to constructing locally-useful design knowledge.