Stanford University Stanford Computer Science Department
Abstract    |    Introduction    |    Contacts    |   

   What is PD?
   Political Push
   The Developer

Philosophical Perspective
   Design Philosophy


   Expert Systems Design
   Usability Engeering
   Value Senstive Design

The Political Push For Worker Power

It seems quite fitting that the first significant participatory approaches have their origin within Scandinavia since most residents of that region in the 1960s agreed that industry should support the democratic principles in that society. When a system does not extend the knowledge and skill base of the end-user, that end-user's productivity and effectiveness declines as they try to relearn how to work with the new system. Participatory Design requires that designers understand the organization in which a system must operate. Systems designers must "view a system as more than a collection of software encased in hardware boxes." (CPSR) Before designing the hardware and/or software, designers must understand that systems are also "networks of people, practices, and technology embedded in particular organizational contexts." (CPSR) The main objective for most supporters of the rudimentary beginning of Participatory Design was to get individuals involved with the decisions and processes of the organization so as to promote individual productivity and efficiency.

The Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions (LO) collaborated with The Norwegian Employers' Federation (NAF) specifically to increase the amount of power a worker has to influence what work is performed and how that work is performed. The LO-NAF effort was initiated for the good of employers and the employees. The initiative had strictly political objectives that resulted in legislative change (i.e. the Worker Protection and Working Environment Act) to empower workers, to essentially move the control and responsibility for work performance to the worker. By virtue of being a possible end-user of a system, an employee qualifies as a member of a Participatory Design team. Furthermore, the employee's knowledge of computing systems should not determine his or her right to participate. If willing to participate, an employee should have the opportunity to give input and be heard. Having a voice may greatly motivate that employee as well as have a positive affect on the morale of other employees.

From the more formalized movement of the LO-NAF projects to empower workers, several key projects launched to strengthen trade unions (which were already established to advocate the collective workersâ voice in the existing power structure in society) were initialized. The first three trade union projects involved The Norwegian Iron and Metal Workersâ Union (NJMF), the Swedish DEMOS (DEMOkratiske Styringssystemer), and the Danish DUE (Demokrati, Udvikling og Edb).

First, the NJMF project (1971 to 1973) sought to interject the workersâ perspective on the development and introduction of new technology. This project generated many training opportunities for workers and technology agreements. In the latter part of the 1970s, the DEMOS project emphasized the notion that the worker "has the right and duty to participate in decisions concerning" what systems are developed and how those systems are designed. Since the power of the worker is less than that of management, the DEMOS project produced a model for negotiations between management and unions, which represented the collective workers' voice. Third, the DUE project worked to increase the influence of the union by adding resources and supporting the creation of a professional curriculum.

The clear political objectives of the trade union projects did increase the influence of the workers' voice, but the lack of technological options (because of vendor monopolies) made it difficult for workers to influence what systems were employed and impossible to participate in how those systems were designed. More change was needed to create a true setting for Participatory Design.

Product Development
   Vendor Adoption
   Product Design

In the US
   New Context
   Current Use

   Applied PD

Abstract    |    Introduction    |    Contacts