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Involving users in the wild - participatory product development in and with online communities

: Hess, J.; Randall, D.; Pipek, V.; Wulf, V.


International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 71 (2013), Nr.5, S.570-589
ISSN: 1071-5819
Fraunhofer FIT ()

In its traditional stance, participatory design (PD) is centred on certain work/application settings and is concerned with the involvement of representative users from these contexts. Nevertheless, current web technologies enable new forms of distributed participation which might allow PD processes to be implemented in a broader and flexible way, but may at the same time raise new issues in relation to participation. In this paper, we report on a Participatory Product Development project, using social technologies, where new issues were raised—a large population of heterogeneous and globally distributed users; a range of personal and institutional purposes, and the use of these technologies in a largely untested environment. We will reflect on insights that we gathered by through observation of and participation in a software development process driven and influenced by members of an existing online community. By means of participatory observation, analysis of the use of online tools and through semi- structured interviews we identified issues around different notions of timeliness and of process structures that are related to different roles, responsibilities and levels of experience. Our results indicate that the involvement of heterogeneous users in such a context needs to be handled carefully, for the reasons we set out. The role of user representatives acting for a broader online community can become crucial when managing heterogeneity, formulating acceptable compromises and- perhaps most crucially- dealing with different professional and ‘hobbyist’ worldviews. Additionally, we found that the use of standard web technologies only partly support online participation processes. PD ‘in the wild’ needs to be better embedded in use situations and environments (e.g., by linking discussion and design space, using feedback tools, continuous reflection of the current state of development) rather than refining participatory design as a meta-process separate from use.