Transforming Society by Transforming Technology:

The Science and Politics of Participatory Design*

CMS Conference Stream: Information Technology and Critical Theory

Peter M. Asaro

Beckman Institute

Departments of Philosophy and Computer Science

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

4369 Beckman Institute

405 N. Mathews

Urbana, IL 61801


TEL: (217) 352-7737

*The author wishes to thank Geof Bowker, Randi Markussen, Andy Pickering and Leigh Star for their many helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. An unpublished version of this manuscript has been mistakenly cited in numerous places as being a book of the same title published by the University of Illinois Press in 1996. While it has been interesting to trace the proliferation of this error, there is no such book.


This essay attempts to shed historical light on some of the social, political, and ethical issues that have arisen from two disparate perspectives on technology which have both come to integrate an explicit consideration of social factors into systems design. It presents several distinct historical traditions which have contributed to the current field of Participatory Design (PD) methods-Joint Application Design (JAD®), Engineering Codevelopment, British "socio-technical systems" and Scandinavian "collective resources" approaches to PD-and which in practice involved the end-users in the design process differently. It examines how their differences were based upon their differing perspectives on workers, differing professional relationships to technology, and differently stated goals. One interest in examining the independent development of methodologies within these perspectives is that, despite their many and fundamental differences, the various approaches ultimately converged on a considerably large set of shared concerns and very similar practices.

The paper also examines the relation of these approaches to transformations in the theorization of business organization and the manifold trend of corporate restructuring which helped to secure a place for variants of related user-involving methodologies in major U.S. and multinational corporations. It concludes with an examination of some broader issues addressing the relationship between technology and society and the prospects for critical technological practice. I argue that PD and its related methodologies are best understood as models of the integration of technological practice into social critique. Rather than seeing PD as merely the insertion of public dialog within technological design practice, as several observers have urged, we should see it as an exemplar of a critical practice of designing technological systems.

1. Introduction

2. North American Systems Design: early 1970s to mid 1980s

2.1 Background

2.2 IBM's Joint Application Design

3. European Systems Design: mid 1960s to mid 1980s

3.1 Background

3.2 The Scandinavian Approach: Collective Resources

3.3 The British Approach: Socio-Technical Systems

3.4 Participatory Design

4. Redesigning American Systems and Corporations: mid 1980s to mid 1990s

4.1 Background

4.2 The Re-invention of the American Corporation

4.3 Xerox's Engineering Codevelopment

4.4 Facilitating Communication Between Designers and Users

5. Reflections on Technology and Critical Practice

Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology.

-Martin Heidegger from "The Question Concerning Technology"

1. Introduction

While technological "progress" is not without many vocal and compelling critics, the fact that technology permeates our society is undeniable. The insight into the deep connection between the form of technology and the form of human life, so eloquently expressed by Heidegger in the quote above, has led to some very interesting work in the design of socio-technical systems. This essay attempts to come to terms with some of the social, political, and ethical issues that arise from this work in a single, though broad, domain of socio-technological development: information systems design. I have chosen this particular domain because of an interesting convergence which has occurred. Beginning from disparate perspectives on technology, a field of subtly different methodologies have emerged for integrating an explicit consideration of social factors in systems design. At one pole the primary concern is with technological precision and product quality while the other pole is primarily concerned with the social impact due to the implementation of new technologies. The various methodologies ranging between these perspectives I will call Participatory Design (PD), and earn this description in virtue of the fact that they each seek to involve the users of an information system in the processes by which that system is designed. PD is generally more narrowly applied only to the Scandinavian tradition and its heirs, which are here considered as a branch of a larger family tree. I will use the term a broader sense to include the methodologies which bear a family resemblance in virtue of their explicitly involving users in their design practices. I will present several distinct approaches to design which have contributed to PD and which in practice involved users in different ways consequent upon the designers' differing perspectives on workers, professional relationships to technology, and stated goals. The methodologies to be discussed include Joint Application Design®, Engineering Codevelopment, Socio-technical Systems Theory, Collective Resources, and Participatory Design proper. I will then examine the subsequent development of these methodologies and their relation to transformations in the theorization of business organization and trends in corporate restructuring which helped to secure a place for variants of their central practices in major U.S. and multinational corporations. I conclude with an examination of some broader issues in the relationship between technology and society and the prospects for a critical study of technological practice. I argue that PD is best understood as an exemplar of a critical practice of designing technological systems.

My historical presentation traces the history of the two poles of PD which have only recently converged into the rather heterogeneous field of practices. The first of these poles is the development of the user-oriented design methods which originated in large North American corporations producing office information technologies, and take IBM as my principle example. IBM's design practices began systematically involving users in a methodology first developed in 1977. Called Joint Application Design (JAD®),(1) it was derived as an extension of an existing IBM design methodology, Business Systems Planning (Carmel, Whitaker & George, 1993, p. 41). I begin the historical narrative with IBM because it represents a fairly linear extension of older design methodologies motivated by commercial goals. While not often recognized as a major contributor to PD, not only has JAD addressed the involvement of users in systems design, it also provides some insight into the corporate culture which would later adopt variants of the PD practices originating in Europe.

The other, and better recognized, pole which gave rise to the current field of PD had its roots in the post-war work of social scientists at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London, but really began its historical development in 1960 with a series of four labor organization experiments called the Norwegian Industrial Democracy Project. That project led to two different research programmes: one in Britain, the "socio-technical systems" approach; and one in Scandinavia, the "collective resources" approach. These programmes subsequently grew back together in the early 1980s but didn't find a broad influence in North America for many years.(2) In the literature, this recombined research programme is referred to as the "Scandinavian Approach," but I will refer to it as the European approach to acknowledge the contributions of British as well as Scandinavian researchers.

One interest in contrasting the independent development of methodologies from each end of such polar perspectives is that, despite their differences, they ultimately converged on a set of shared concerns and very similar practices. From a closer and more practical perspective, each approach recognized a set of problems surrounding the position of the "user" in systems design. Yet the articulation and resolution of these problems took very different turns and expressed different values. From a broader cultural and political vantage, these approaches have very different origins, and it is thus surprising that they should find as much common ground as they do. There are, of course, critical issues which arise as the two traditions grow closer together, and the details of this historical development become crucial to our critical understanding of it.

After recounting the history of PD, I will return to the transformations which occurred in American business and which further altered system design methodologies in the late 1980s. These transformations included the widespread adoption of PD-related principles and practices of user-involvement by North American corporations. This occurred first through the singular, though high-profile, work at Xerox Corporation, which was strongly influenced by the European researchers in the early 1980s, but continued to spread, and much more quickly, in the late 1980s this pattern of growth coincided with the more general movement of corporate restructuring. From among many similarly relevant projects during this later period, I examine a single project, called the "Class Project," to illustrate the impact of the changing conceptions of corporate organization on design methodology.

The methodology which emerged out of the Class Project was called Engineering Codevelopment (EC). The project, sponsored by the Commission on Preservation and Access (a private, non-profit organization), began in 1989 and was a joint venture between Xerox and the Cornell University libraries to develop proprietary digital-image technologies for the preservation of, and on-line access to, delicate rare books in the libraries' collections. Unlike the two principal traditions we will investigate, JAD and PD, it is not really a tradition so much as an exemplar of an interesting design perspective which lies somewhere in field of convergence between the North American and European approaches. Xerox's design methodologies were numerous and varied, arising out of a more academically and experimentally oriented research perspective than was typical of most American companies. Focusing in the early 1980s on cognitive ergonomics and human-computer interaction at its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and by the late 1980s on systems design organization with its newly created Work Practice and Codevelopment Group, Xerox spanned the poles between the North American and European approaches. I examine in detail only one of the methodologies in this middle area because it represents an interesting point in the convergence between these approaches-researchers at Xerox were clearly influenced by both approaches. It thus serves as a useful point of reference in understanding how involving users reshapes design practices and, because it represents many of the features sought after by management theorists in their discourse on Business Process Reengineering, it also provides an illustration of one way in which PD methods were able to align with this field of discourse. I chose to examine Xerox's Class project, despite Xerox's consideration of this project as a failure, because it provides insights into the complex social factors involved in technological design, and the ways in which these factors influenced design practice.

These two main methodological approaches to systems design embodied traditions of systems design practice which held very different perspectives on technology and the role of technology in the workplace. This led to very different ways of conceiving of the "problem" of integrating technologies into the workplace. Moreover, each perspective and set of problems developed in very different contexts; these arose in different kinds of organizations-academic, public, trade-union, commercial-and in situations which placed designers and users in very different relationships. There are two interesting phenomena which resulted from this and which I wish to emphasize. The first is that at some point, within each of these traditions it was decided that involving users systematically in the design of technological systems was central to achieving desirable goals. The second is that despite seeing the users' participation in the design process as an essential local objective, how each tradition conceived of the users' role in that process was shaped by their global objectives. This configuration turns out to bare a striking resemblance to the situation which confronted anthropologist when reflecting upon their role in colonialism, and Participatory Design researchers came to address many of the same critical issues. With these issues in mind, I turn now to the histories of these different approaches to user participation in systems development.

2. North American Systems Design: early 1970s to mid 1980s

2.1 Background

Systems design grew out of traditional engineering design in large organizations and sought to develop proprietary systems according to explicitly formalized "requirements." The consequence of this heritage was a highly structured and procedural approach to design.(3) If users needed to be consulted, this was done unsystematically through informal interviews, a process called "requirements gathering," from which designers derived a set of system requirements. Systems design was seen as an engineering task to design the best possible system for a given set of needs, and even in the stage of requirements gathering expert designers employed a strong technical rationality. Winograd and Flores have identified the maxims governing the rationality of this computer culture:

1. Characterize the situation in terms of identifiable objects with well-defined properties.

2. Find general rules that apply to situations in terms of those objects and properties.

3. Apply the rules logically to the situation of concern, drawing conclusions about what should be done. (Winograd & Flores, 1986, p. 15)

Thus, establishing system requirements was seen as a more or less straightforward and value-neutral step occupying designers only briefly in the earliest stages of the overall development process, where the real skill lay in designing the best system for the given set of requirements. The result of this step-wise development process, according to Winograd and Flores as well as most of the systems designers from the fields we are about to examine, was a preference objective, formal, and reductive descriptions of the system's intended user-context and did not stop to reconsider these descriptions during the later stages of design.

2.2 IBM's Joint Application Design

The development of Joint Application Design (JAD) is itself a response to the difficulties encountered by rationalistic system design methods. The conventional wisdom of systems design was embodied in Business Systems Planning, IBM's principle development methodology during the 1970s. A classic problem for any form of centralized planning is that those doing the planning are too far removed from the activities of those the plans are being made for, due to a lack of effective communication. In IBM's case, system designers were finding it difficult to formulate system requirements from their labs while users were being frustrated by systems that failed to suit the needs of their office. Informed by insights in group dynamics and social psychology, JAD was developed in 1977 by IBM employees Chuck Morris and Tony Crawford as an extension of the existing design methodology. The intended objective of the methodology was to reduce the time required for the System Development Life Cycle (SDLC) while, hopefully, simultaneously increasing quality and reducing overall costs. The impetus for this methodological change was thus only minimally theoretical and overwhelmingly practical.

To achieve these goals, the methodology sought to integrate structured meetings between designers and users into the SDLC; it is these meetings which stand as the essential defining characteristic of JAD. The meetings were arranged so as to occur several times at the early stages in the SDLC, where meetings in the earliest stages focused on high-level user concerns and objectives while meetings in the later phases of design demanded increasingly detailed and specific information from users, with the ultimate goal of creating a single Design Document. The JAD Design Document was intended to provide a basis for specific system requirements and consisted of a list of user requirements approved by everyone attending the meetings, thus constituting both an object of group consensus and a technical resource for design.

A universal feature of JAD meetings was that they were highly structured by a concern for maintaining social control in situations which might have otherwise called into question the relationships between experts, managers, and workers or digressed into an unproductive chaos:

The JAD methodology emphasizes structure and agenda. This is evident in the JAD literature that reads somewhat like cookbooks. Everything is explained in great detail: "to do" lists are included, as are masters of useful forms. There are four necessary building blocks for a well-run JAD meeting:

1. Facilitation. A designated leader (or leaders) manages the meeting. Some JAD practitioners consider the meeting leader to be key to process success, even more so than the act of gathering the users in one place, the essence of JAD.

2. Agenda setting/structure. The meeting must have a plan of action.

3. Documentation. One or more designated scribes carefully document everything in the meeting. Various lists are rigorously maintained.

4. Group Dynamics. Group dynamics techniques are used for inspiring creativity (e.g., brainstorming), resolving disagreements (e.g., airing facts, documenting them as "issues," taking notes), and handling speaking protocols (e.g., enforcing "only one conversation at a time"). (Carmel, et al., 1993, p. 41)

In addition to the facilitator and scribe, the key individuals involved in these meetings were users and designers. It is important to note that the "users" in these meetings were supposed to consist of managers and veteran workers with detailed knowledge of the work process. The implication is that "user satisfaction" consisted in not only satisfying the requirements of the work process, but in satisfying the interests of the people in charge of overseeing and managing those processes. As Carmel, et al. (1993) report,

we have observed numerous North American JAD meetings in which operational employees are overlooked as participants. This results in a meeting room filled with middle managers and supervisors unable to specify details of day-to-day operations (e.g., what 17 fields are needed to fill out form A345). This organizational failure stems in part from an unjustified lack of confidence that "front-line" workers can meaningfully contribute to the design process. (p. 46)

This raises many issues regarding the implications of information technology in organizational control and the politics of the workplace which will be addressed more carefully in the final section.

Besides limiting the voice of the worker as a "user" through the explicitly management-dominated organization of meetings, JAD also served to protect and promote the authority of technical experts. Indeed, the ostensive objectives of the designers are embodied in the structured nature of the meetings by their simultaneously performing two functions: 1) the extraction of knowledge-beliefs, impressions, desires-from users in a controlled fashion through designer-established agendas, and 2) the rationalization or "selling" of the system to users by design engineers. Function 2) was achieved in part through the use of elaborate visual aids(4) which sought to enable design experts to, among other things, describe their system to users and justify technical constraints and in part because everyone in attendance at the JAD sessions was considered to have "signed off" on the Design Document those sessions produced. The literature seeking to improve on the JAD methodology generally focused on slight alterations in the presentation aids, forms, or the overall organization of the meetings themselves. The dual-function of the JAD meeting allowed the technical experts to represent users' needs as objective information in the technical design phase by using the data contained in the JAD Design Document. Thus the technical design process could largely retain its rationalistic procedures while the users' influence on design was conveniently reduced to a well-structured functional input to the design process, a process which always remained in the control of the expert designers. It is precisely this highly structured nature of the process which was touted by how-to books on JAD (August, 1991; Crawford, 1994; Wood & Silver, 1989). So while JAD did seek to integrate users into the design process, it was unwilling to call into question or transform the fundamental technical rationality, practices, and political organization of that process.

3. European Systems Design: mid 1960s to mid 1980s

3.1 Background

The European approach has its roots in a very different socio-political sensibility. The Norwegian Industrial Democracy Program consisted of four experiments carried out by researchers from the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations and the Norwegian Work Research Institute between 1964 and 1967 (Emery & Thorsrud, 1976). These studies investigated how social groups organized around production technologies and sought to reform job distribution and wage systems for workers. After these four experiments, two research programmes developed along different trajectories: Scandinavian researchers focused on union empowerment through "collective resources" and British researchers focused on autonomy in work-group organization through "socio-technical systems design." Each felt that they had chosen the most promising set of objectives for what they saw as being feasible in the democratic reform of workplace technology and hence each saw the objectives of the other as tangential to the central issue. The British saw a union-centered approach as only being viable in the political environment of Scandinavia and as failing to theorize the organization of labor on a fundamental level, while the Scandinavians saw group dynamics as being ineffectual because it failed to consider the predominating power struggles of class and capital. Both approaches, however, were motivated by a shared concern for workplace democracy and the humanization of work and both contributed to the broader Quality of Working Life movement then beginning to take shape.(5)

3.2 The Scandinavian Approach: Collective Resources

The Scandinavian collective resource approach originated when the Norwegian Computer Centre (NCC) began working with the Norwegian Iron and Metal Workers Union in 1970 to educate union officials on how technology affects working conditions and might be made to serve union interests. The expressed goal was to assist unions in devising technological control activities and policies. The basic methodology was to set up union mechanisms to gather and analyze information about specific technologies and their effects on workers, with the belief that by doing so unions could offset the employers' natural advantage in technological knowledge and make it possible for them to put technological issues on the bargaining table. Research revolved around an elaborate "negotiation model" which sought to depict the bureaucratic process of introducing new technologies on the shop-floor with the expectation that such a model would allow trade unions to intervene in response to management's technological proposals (Ehn & Kyng, 1987, p. 42). The "collective" here indicated that the intention was the empowerment not of individuals in their workplace but of the trade union collective in bargaining situations, while "resources" indicated the emphasis on the information resource gathering of trade unions. The initial projects did not seek to involve the workers directly into the design process, nor did they identify the design process as a particularly significant locus of interest. In fact, worker participation (in the processes of information and requirements gathering) was seen as problematic in that 1) the workers involved might become experts and join management thereby threatening union solidarity, 2) such participation could give management undue access to "shop floor information," 3) it could prevent effective trade union participation, or 4) that it could even become a managerial strategy for worker manipulation (Ehn & Kyng, 1987, p. 40). Here the concern was not in the democratization of the technological design process, but of the bureaucratic decision-making process through which a company would seek to introduce a new technology on to the shop-floor.

By the nature of the Norwegian Work Environment Act (1977), which provided participatory rights to all (not just unionized) workers, issues of workplace democracy were seen as requiring locally specific actions and solutions, which resulted in several highly specific local projects. And even though the law provided for individuals' rights in workplace co-determination, due to the political relationship which existed between managers, workers and unions, only union-initiated activity was seen as having a viable impact on workplace organization. This was also a consequence of the theoretical framework which motivated the researchers, who saw themselves as trying to find viable alternatives to the Tayloristic rationalization of work. Inspired by Marxist critiques of the technological rationalization of work from authors like Braverman, Noble and Winner,(6) they believed that unions were the only viable point of resistance to the otherwise inevitable capitalist processes of deskilling and increasingly centralized control through the division of labor, even though they expressed some doubts:

However, there were also practical and empirical anomalies that could not be explained by these theses. Work was not deskilled in all cases. More collective forms of work organization than the Tayloristic were sometimes proposed by management. It happened that workers gained from the introduction of new technology, etc. But this does not mean that the Marxist approach to understanding changes of the labor process in a capitalist economy has to be rejected. (Ehn & Kyng, 1987, p. 36)

Yet it was precisely this insistence on the Marxist critique which had motivated their rejection of other theoretical approaches up until the continuance of their own work necessitated a new theory of the design process. And it was an explicit theorization of design processes that the Scandinavian researchers were to later discover in "socio-technical system design" and which would mend the schism between Scandinavian and British researchers after a decade of independent work.

Early collective resource studies targeted heavy manufacturing technologies, which in themselves were not particularly flexible, and areas where the unions had found it difficult to translate their interests into negotiable demands. Researchers and union officials studied and analyzed workers' feelings about existing technologies (through surveys, union meetings and other methods adapted from psychoanalysis), lobbied and bargained to require employers to disclose information about technological reorganization proposals (such as the technical specifications and organizational policies involved in introducing numerically controlled machines and computer-based planning systems into the production line), and produced textbooks and formed classes for the education of union officials and workers (Ehn & Kyng, 1987, p. 28). These methods met with limited success in achieving those goals which could be easily formulated as collective demands, such as requiring the retraining of workers displaced by a new technology, but it was difficult to make any gains on qualitative humanistic concerns regarding technology through bargaining. The approach failed to spread as a general union movement because most local unions could not spare the necessary time and financial resources required to make it work.(7)

A shift in industrial focus and the conception of design came about with the "second generation" of the Scandinavian approach marked by the Swedish-Danish UTOPIA project in 1981, the first recognizable PD development project. Conceived in response to the discouraging results of the earlier trade union projects which had found that the lack of flexibility in existing technologies limited the possibilities of workers to influence workplace organization, UTOPIA targeted technological development as a prospective site for worker involvement and influence. According to the Marxist critiques, the technological dehumanization of work through deskilling, intensified division of labor, rigid and routine practices and the shifting of control toward the top of organizations was an inevitable result of the introduction of new technologies which necessarily served the interests of management and owners. Since the existing technologies were presumably all being developed to satisfy the interests of their purchasers, the business owners, and hence to increase productivity, control, and efficiency, the only effective means of empowering workers in competitive industrial markets was seen to be the creation of alternative technologies designed around workers' interests. Thus, the researchers sought to realize the ideals of the Scandinavian Technology Agreements established in the late 1970s, which had empowered workers with control over workplace technology in writing but not in practice, by designing a technological system with workers' skills and interests in mind (Greenbaum & Kyng, 1991, p. 11).

In cooperation with the Nordic Graphic Workers Union, the UTOPIA (both an acronym and an ideal) project studied a group of newspaper typographers working without computer support in order to develop a state-of-the-art graphics software product for skilled graphics workers. The objective was to create a commercial product which the unions could then demand as an alternative to other deskilling technologies. The commercial product was ultimately unsuccessful due to a small market and the shortcomings of the company which owned and marketed the software. The completion of this project in 1985 coincided with a renewed acceptance of the socio-technical systems design research being conducted in Britain.

3.3 The British Approach: Socio-Technical Systems

The British researchers were interested in the phenomena of group dynamics that had been observed in the early Tavistock inquiries into "leaderless groups," originally motivated by founding member Eric Trist's personal fascination with the efficiency of German panzer tank divisions (Mumford, 1987, p. 61) and Britain's War Office Selection Boards' interest in choosing and training military officers in order to utilize the phenomena of emergent group dynamics (Trist, 1993, p. 42).(8) The actual experiments involved observing coal-miners and how they organized their labor practices around technological systems. Miners working in large shafts were organized around assembly-line type machinery and showed little variation in their repetitive tasks while miners working in small shafts or exposed faces, where the machinery could not be installed, developed novel dynamic and efficient work practices. Amenable to psychological and biological theory,(9) the researchers developed their "organic" theoretical approach from systems theory, and focused particularly on the notion of "open systems," which itself drew heavily on a bio-organic metaphor (Mumford, 1987, p. 65). Thus work organization was theorized as an organic relationship between workers and technology-the socio-technical system-which ought to be analyzed according to criteria of "health" instead of the raw productive output measures of rationalized and mechanistic analyses.

From their studies of miners working under Tayloristic management, they concluded that the observed inefficiencies resulted from optimizing the mechanical aspects of the system at the expense of the human aspects. The optimization of the socio-technical system as a whole would thus require a joint optimization of both aspects with an eye towards the social and psychological impact of technology on workers (Mumford, 1987, p. 63). Research focused on the concept of the "autonomous work group" in which workers were allowed to spontaneously develop their own work routines, make decisions, and change tasks with little or no supervision.(10) It was this theoretical conception of the production process that would motivate much of the later development of PD.

During the time that the Scandinavian researchers were concerned with empowering unions, the British researchers had been developing "socio-technical design principles" and management philosophies.(11) It was just these projects which were at the time being highly criticized by Marxist theorists in Scandinavia for promoting values that were fundamentally capitalist-increasing productivity and decreasing worker resistance. While these criticisms carried some force with respect to how the principles were often applied within the workplace, they still depended on a conception of the labor process as a mechanism driven by capitalist interests pushing against humanist concerns under great pressures which left no real space for compromise, and always threatened to be just about to burst.

It was against this same background of concerns that a general international social movement, called the Quality of Working Life movement, began demanding more humane work environments and transforming the general conception of a worker's relation to their work away from a purely economically motivated conception to one which included an emotional investment in, and personal attachment to, work. This was in part achieved through a reconception of the identity of the worker as an enterprising agent seeking personal fulfillment through job satisfaction. Miller & Rose (1995) have argued that by conceiving of the labor process as an organic process in which the most productive system was the healthiest and happiest system, socio-technical systems research made a significant contribution to this movement by offering a space for the negotiation of humanistic and economic concerns. They go on to argue that it is not as important to note the success or failure of the movement as to recognize the alignment of ethical, political, economic and technological elements through which it was possible for the Quality of Working Life movement to establish a new identity for the worker and to restore the legitimacy of the corporation in industrial democracies.

The alignment of heterogeneous conceptions of work in the Quality of Working Life movement also opened a novel space for theorizing technology in which it could hence be seen as serving multiple interests and values. So while it had been observed by Marxist critics like Noble and Braverman that technology could exploit and subjugate workers, it was now seen as also being able to promote workers' interests by making work more interesting, reintroducing skill, and by making practically feasible the "autonomous work group." The key to this lay in granting the worker direct control over the nature of the technology encountered in their day-to-day job. This also allowed the Scandinavian researchers to explain why the trade union approaches had failed-because the available technologies were not being designed in step with the new conception of workplace autonomy, union-supported technology had been just as mechanistic as management-supported technology. By 1985 the British and Scandinavian traditions had rejoined under a common banner of democratizing technological systems design. The consequence was to be an increased emphasis on the involvement of the worker in technological design, which had already begun in the UTOPIA project. This was to be the essential feature of the tradition from that point on.

3.4 Participatory Design

PD researchers encountered two main barriers to the successful participation of users/workers in the design process. The first of these was a lack of appreciation by workers for their own knowledge of what they do-as one researcher reported,

It is a widespread opinion among workers that they themselves know nothing about technology, and that the necessary information must be obtained from management. This paralyzes the workers as far as actions are concerned. . . .[It] is at least as important to collect and prepare the knowledge of the workers, a knowledge they have obtained through their jobs. (Kensing quoted in Clement & Van den Besselaar, 1993, p. 29)

There was also a reluctance among technical experts to give project control to users, as this threatened their technical authority and traditional work practices. As a worker in one project remarked to the researchers, "But you don't always listen to us-you do what you think is right for us and the project. And, you are the expert; so who are we to dispute your decisions?" (Nurminen & Wier, 1991, p. 297). These two barriers together constituted the socio-political resistance to the democratization of the design process. Both users/workers and design experts found it difficult to leave their traditional socio-political roles in order to participate as intelligent and capable equals in a shared project. The common response to this problem was to send the experts "into the field." Rather than trying to rely exclusively upon special interviews or meetings to learn about users' work practices (as the union projects had done), researchers utilized "action research" methods whereby they spent a great deal of time observing and interacting with workers in their workplace. The reported consequences of this were an enhanced appreciation on the part of both workers and experts for workers' knowledge, and an increased understanding by workers of technology and its influence on their work practices.

Because the second generation PD projects sought to establish democratic participation among the workers influenced by a given technology, they saw their initial objective as breaking down traditional concepts of work and expertise among the design group (of both workers and experts). A second key concern for practitioners of PD was the enlisting of external support for their projects and methods. Almost all projects reported resistance within or friction between the different organizations involved in the projects. Also, due to the nature of the legal, political and economic conditions in which the European projects were situated, they sought to realize their objectives at a highly local contextual level, resulting in few immediately generalizable design principles. The confluence of these factors had led to a very nebulous concept of just what was entailed in utilizing a PD methodology-it started to become an ideological approach rather than a prescriptive set of techniques. As a consequence of this, North American systems designers were very skeptical of PD and worried that it was only viable in a context such as that which existed in Scandinavia. This is to say that as a design philosophy, during most of the 1980s PD was unable to "sell itself" to a North American market still committed to its own tradition of software engineering practices and ideals. Skeptical system designers asked what methods it prescribed and what techniques it utilized, while PD's proponents insisted that the key factors were the promotion of democratic ideals and an enormous creative effort on the part of designers.

4. Redesigning American Systems and Corporations: mid 1980s to mid 1990s

4.1 Background

Several changes in the late 1980s and early 1990s were to alter the way in which Participatory Design and other user-involving techniques were perceived and which would both transform it and carry it across the Atlantic. Early Scandinavian PD focused purely on democratic participation and on overcoming various difficulties in achieving this, moreover it was primarily conceived and pursued by an academic community that held little concern for business interests and only limited responsibility for producing actual systems. This was in turn a very different set of problems from those which gave rise to JAD and similar methodologies in North American corporations, where the problems addressed by system design professionals focused on promoting business goals by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of technical design. The interesting exception to this was Xerox PARC which was an early supporter of PD in North America, though it stood in relative isolation in this regard. The consequence was that for more than a decade both JAD and PD developed in isolation with almost no interaction between developers working in the two traditions. JAD grew up in the halls of North American industry(12) and received very little academic attention, while PD was conceived by academics and grew up in the progressive social democracies of Europe.

In recent years, the two traditions have grown close enough together to find themselves publishing in the same professional journals and exchanging techniques and tools. This convergence was not the result of deep theoretical insights stemming from either side, but of separate movements by each toward filling a space opened by a newly emerging organizational regime. This new regime, described by Agre (1995) as the "empowerment and measurement regime,"(13) was constituted by elements taken from management theories concerned with product quality and business process efficiency, accountancy methods seeking more precise cost and expenditure measurements, and nationalist political rhetoric over the global competitiveness and security of American industry and its workers. This regime not only transformed the discourse of management theory, when combined with global information networks, this new regime made possible global factories and very large distributed control systems through modularized organization, out-sourcing, and the electronic transmission of office communications, design requirements, software products, and even programming labor. Co-evolving with and informed by these changing conceptions of workers and business organization, the current heterogeneous field of PD claims the twin goals of increasing efficiency (of both technical experts and users) and increasing democracy (primarily for users).

4.2 The Re-invention of the American Corporation

In the mid 1980's, North American business experienced a trend toward maximizing the efficiency and flexibility of its organization.(14) This movement toward "reinventing the corporation"(15) led to a series of hot topics in professional management literature, the most significant to PD being Total Quality Management (TQM) and Business Process Reengineering (BPR). While these management theories each claim principled distinctions between them, their historical development reflects their joint participation in a larger trend and they have been combined along with other elements under the rubric of corporate restructuring and down-sizing. More importantly, they each constitute a field of discourse which has given shape to the empowerment and measurement regime (Agre, 1995) and the impact of each can be seen distinctly on the face of PD literature.

TQM is a management approach conceived largely as a response to the perceived shortcomings of American productivity in relation to Japanese industry in the 1980s, and is constituted by an enormous and heterogeneous body of literature. A recent book(16) on TQM lists eleven management theories which have made significant contributions to TQM: Scientific Management, Group Dynamics, Training and Development, Achievement Motivation Theory, Employee Involvement, Linking-Pin Organizations, Socio-technical Systems, Organizational Development, Corporate Culture, New Leadership Theory, and Strategic Planning (Schmidt & Finnigan, 1992, pp. 13-23). This broad field, containing several theories already discussed in our history of PD, is brought together in TQM as a business and management philosophy that promotes the conception of a "customer-centered" business organization which is subjected to intense scrutiny and measurement. The objectives are to instill a conception of customers and their needs at every organizational level and production process in the company. This includes disseminating information about customer needs and the company's market position and objectives to workers at every level of the company, as well as benchmarking individual processes and products against those of like competitors. It is the provision of benchmarking performance and quality reports to teams and individuals which is supposed to give them a tangible sense of their participation in the company's objectives, i.e. the satisfaction of the customer, and to allow them to set their own performance standards and reach their greatest productive potentials. TQM thus epitomizes Agre's (1995) conception of the empowerment and measurement regime by giving workers a sense of accomplishment in their work while subjecting them to increasing degrees of scrutiny and productivity demands.

BPR seeks a radical reorganization of offices, departments, and entire companies around specific "business processes." One method employed is task-analysis, which seeks to establish the "process flow" of business functions, analyze out the distinct tasks and their functional relations, and logically reintegrate these into a more nimble and efficient business machine (Sachs, 1995, pp. 38-39). The reengineered processes are argued to provide workers with a more direct and enterprising relationship with their work and a stronger identification with their corporate culture. Much like TQM, BPR seeks to reorganize processes around the customer by creating entrepreneurial teams which are treated as autonomous and accountable entities within the company; the principle difference between the two is that BPR calls for a radical organizational transformation and the subsequent elimination of jobs that this justifies (Willmott & Wray-Bliss, 1996).

The applications of TQM and BPR in American companies have met with mixed success generally, but seem to have been particularly successful in establishing customer-centered product development processes in office and information technology industries. While the reengineering process has been realized in different ways in different companies, the experience of a Digital Electronic Corporation design-leader is not unusual:

In the summer of 1993, the central engineering organization in Digital began the implementation of a re-engineering effort under the name of Achieving Engineering Excellence (AEE). This in turn was an integral element of Digital's overall re-engineering effort, inspired by a desire to streamline all our dealings with customers. A major goal of this effort was the reduction by 50% in new product development cycles. Internal data collected within Digital showed that the most significant contributor to excessive development cycles was a phenomena known as "requirements churn."

The AEE data, gleaned from a survey of hundreds of Digital's staff and an analysis of the corporate planning database, found that on average, 40% of the requirements specified in the Feasibility and Requirements Phase of the Lifecycle were redefined in the subsequent four Lifecycle Phases. The cost of requirements churn, using an industry-wide regression model, found that on average Digital spent 50% more than budgeted. (Hutchings & Knox, 1995, pp. 72-73)

This led to the development of a Requirements Management reengineering team which sought to eliminate the "churn" by forming cross-functional design groups (with members from marketing, service, management, and customer representatives in addition to engineers), restructuring the requirements-gathering process into an iterative "listen-define-validate" model that relies on continual feedback instead of an initial exhaustive establishment of requirements (Hutchings & Knox, 1995, p. 74). Though not all companies approached this new problem in the same way, this is essentially the basic process by which many North American companies began using more participative design methodologies.(17) Through a demand for the representation of the user/customer in the design process, BPR and TQM transformed both the problematic of designing new work organizations and the standards of value for judging the design process and its products.

4.3 Xerox's Engineering Codevelopment

In many ways, Xerox's Engineering Codevelopment (EC) exemplifies the impact of socio-technical system design and customer-centeredness on North American systems design. Various other projects could serve this purpose as well-see, e.g., Holtzblatt & Beyer (1995)-but EC does a good job of bringing together many of the themes and issues with which this paper is concerned. EC was more daring than most design methodologies in that it recognized that the successful integration of the user/customer in that process will necessarily transform the work practices of engineers. It approached the methodological problems of design with essentially the same general objectives sought by reengineering-reducing development time, improving product quality and customer satisfaction-but with a slightly different set of values. Besides improving the product through the integration of users in design, EC sought to improve the practices and skills of engineers by engaging them in novel situations where traditional practices and routines could not be readily applied:

Working directly with users and supporting their day-to-day work requires engineers to be committed to helping users in a personal way. Hierarchical dependency relationships between engineers and managers do not work in a codevelopment effort that bridges two different enterprises. In addition to independence, team members are encouraged to develop a diverse set of technical, interpersonal, and often interdisciplinary skills. Finally, individuals develop their own direct and informal contacts within their own and the users' organizations. (Anderson & Crocca, 1993, p. 49)

This "radicalization" of engineers' work was not, actually, an objective at the beginning of the experimental project, and was in fact one of the causes of the project's failure. Thus it was neither arbitrary nor purely philanthropic, but reflected researcher's committed objective to experiment with and develop improved engineering methodologies-they were willing to try it in order to "see what would happen." Xerox's desire to participate in the Class project with Cornell librarians was primarily motivated by a theoretical rather than a purely practical concern, but one which still sought to achieve business objectives valued by an office technologies company seeking to improve its technological advantage through organizational change. It should also be noted that the Class Project was undertaken by Xerox researchers outside of PARC, though PARC researchers did consult on the project.

The EC methodology was characterized by two essential features. The first of these was a customer-centered prototyping methodology. The system being designed was a scanning and retrieval system for some 1,000 brittle books in Cornell's libraries. The project consisted not just in designing an information archiving system, but in the development of the physical digital scanning and printing devices necessary for its effective use. Hence, the methodology placed a great deal of emphasis on obtaining customer reactions to working prototypes placed in the customers' workplace. The objective was thus to "tune" the artifact to the work environment in which it was to serve. In addition, EC was characterized by its willingness to let engineering practices develop open-endedly around the requirements of prototype development. This was reflected in the enormous amount of autonomy granted to the design team by their own corporate management. Where traditional engineering methods are organized according to a hierarchical and functional structure, the division of design labor tends to be rigidly controlled by management, who maintain authority in key decision-making situations. The semi-autonomous EC group dissolved its internal organizational hierarchy and also obtained some degree of executive autonomy from their corporate supervisors (Anderson & Crocca, 1993, p. 54). This limited autonomy resulted in a profound transformation of engineering practices in the design process, it also contributed to the political tensions which ultimately led to the project's poor reception within the company.

Traditional design methods at Xerox placed market research and development groups in charge of producing detailed system specifications, often through survey research. These specifications were in turn transmitted to design groups and subgroups via the established management hierarchy and functional sub-divisions in the engineering organization. EC by contrast sought to develop a system for a customer with needs that could not be formalized by market research methods. The design team was thus charged with the novel task of evoking and verifying the system requirements through personal interactions with users. The idea was to establish the needs of users and codevelop the prototype in real-time by letting users judge the adequacy of the prototype's features (rather than engineers as was traditional).

One consequence of this new demand on the designers in such a situation, at least in the Class project, was a radical transformation of engineering practices. Whereas design traditionally began with the division of tasks and responsibilities among designers, the EC group members "floated" among tasks and leadership roles through the course of the project based on personal initiative and experience. This had five advantages as reported by group members: 1) decisions were made by those most involved with a problem rather than by a manager with no antecedent knowledge of the matter, 2) because designers were not locked inside functional "black-boxes" they were each aware of the overall situation at hand and how their activities were situated within it, resulting in a better overall design, 3) designers were able to participate in diverse tasks which broadened their skills and knowledge while enriching their work experience, 4) all members were fully employed and did not spend large amounts of time waiting for others to complete their tasks, and 5) group members were chosen and valued for their particular and unique skills rather than their conformity to a homogenizing structure (Anderson & Crocca, 1993, p. 54).

In contrast to JAD-like methodologies which sought to alter the hierarchical and functional design process by merely adding a new functional component to that process, Xerox's EC was willing to forego the organizational structure of its design process in the hope that the flexibility provided would produce a working system where its traditional market research methods could not reach. While Xerox's explicit objectives were to design a highly-customized system for their customer, they were also interested in studying the novel methods and group dynamics that would evolve in a design team organized around a customer-centered design process and granted a great deal of autonomy. The experiment not only resulted in a product which satisfied the customer but also in a reconstitution of the engineers' work organization, which led to the promotion of some empowering humanistic values-job satisfaction, diversity of experience, skill appreciation, personal autonomy, and educational development.

It is important to note that the project's leader, Bill Anderson, began his career at Tavistock, and it is not merely coincidental that the account of engineering practice presented as an outcome of this project echoes the virtues of the "semi-autonomous workgroup." Moreover, the promotion of these humanistic values was limited to the engineers of the technological system, and did not extend to the users. While interactions with the users stimulated this organizational transformation, the users' organizational situation was not profoundly changed. The introduction of a new technological system in the librarians' workplace certainly transformed their work practices in various ways, but from a design perspective there was an established objective to maintain a value-neutral approach to these transformations: "Even though engineers are changing the customer's work practice, they need to avoid interfering with the social and political dynamics that characterize that workplace." (Anderson & Crocca, 1993, p. 55). The result of pursuing such a methodology was an engineering work practice very much like the ideal "semi-autonomous workgroup" originally sought by the socio-technical systems researchers at Tavistock, yet here it has again shifted its focus towarc the design process and away from the consequences of technological change on the organization of workers' practices. And, like the Scandinavian PD researchers, EC recognized the difficulties of communicating design concepts between engineers and librarians.

4.4 Facilitating Communication Between Designers and Users

Scandinavian PD had always been concerned with how technology alters work practices. At its inception, however, it did not consider the technological design process itself to be a key point of interest. Once projects like UTOPIA had begun to problematize technological design, they saw their challenge as being to overcome the traditional roles, power relations and preconceptions of designers and workers. Very quickly they added to this the problem of "communication." What researchers found most difficult, once socio-political barriers had been bridged, was that designers and workers tended to talk past one another. Researchers also encountered, though were not surprised by, problems in uncovering knowledge of tacit skills or embodied routines and realized a necessity for respecting the fact that workplaces have a rich local vocabulary that takes time to master and is not always easily translated to individuals outside the workplace.(18) It was expected that bringing the workers into the design process would also bring their tacit knowledge into the technological product-this, however, would ultimately be realized by bringing the designers into the workplace.

What researchers found to be most difficult was effectively communicating a technical system's design to workers who lacked technical knowledge. While users were not participants in the actual technical execution of the design, they found it difficult to understand the various system designs which the engineers proposed. The initial response to this in the UTOPIA project was to develop exemplary "screen shots" of what the potential design would look like. This helped, but users found it impossible to judge whether such a design would satisfy their needs since they could not conceive of how it would actually operate. In response to this problem, the researchers developed many innovative means for communicating the practical functionality of various designs and design elements to potential users. The PD literature has since produced numerous articles on "prototyping," "visualization," "mock-ups," "storyboarding," "metaphorical design," and "future workshops" which all have the expressed purpose of offering suggestions of how to develop and use videos, transparencies, functional prototypes, and even cardboard boxes and plywood to give users a sense of how a proposed system will work.(19)

The nature of the problem of communicating designs and its solution revolve around the different practical requirements for a design. A formalized design made by and for engineers will amount to instructions and requirements for the necessary components and their functional interactions with one another. An engineer's design specification will rarely describe features in terms of a user's actions-these are supposed to be given or implied by a "good" design. To a user, the internal functional specification is almost meaningless, as their concern is with the practical activities it supports and the ways in which their own practices are altered. The various prototyping and visualization methods developed by PD researchers attempt to build a bridge from the engineers' design to the users needs by creating an intermediate representation which is technically feasible and which affords practical interpretation.

Recently, researchers have begun articulating models of communication to explain the difficulties encountered in various situations. Kensing & Munk-Madsen (1993), in seeking to go beyond functional point-to-point models, draw on recent work in communications theory and offer a model of user-developer communication divided along two axes-domains of discourse and levels of knowledge:

Table 1. Six areas of knowledge in user-developer communication

User's present work New System Technological options
Abstract knowledge Relevant structures on users' present work Visions and design proposals Overview of technological options
Concrete experience Concrete experience with users' present work Concrete experience with the new system Concrete experience with technological options

(Kensing & Munk-Madsen, 1993, p. 80, Table 1)

What is interesting about this model is that without ever mentioning "anthropology" or "culture," they have effectively presented an ethnographic model of inter-cultural discourse. Moreover, they do not see the problem of communication as getting information from one domain to another, but as one of bridge-building-synthesizing a new field of knowledge through the confluence of two different fields of discourse and sets of practices. The objective is to align the concepts and representations of both workers and engineers around a common discourse and set of practices through which the desired technological artifact can evolve and find use.

This particular formulation of the problem of specifying system requirements bares a striking resemblance to the situation recognized by post-colonial ethnography. Clifford (1986) has insightfully articulated the anxieties faced by cultural anthropologists reflecting on their role in the era of colonialism. His analysis focuses on the role of the ethnographer in documenting other cultures through interactions, photographs and writings in particular. The parallel to PD which strikes me in Clifford's account is that he conceives of the text as a consequence of a series of interactions-broadly construed as being between two distinct cultures, and narrowly construed as specific interactions between an individual anthropologist and a cultural informant. Under either construal, the text is a synthesis of different perspectives, a novel object which attempts to reconcile or exoticize differences according to the purposes motivating authorship.

The notion of a technology being like a text at the point of intersection between two cultures has been well articulated in Star's (1989) concept of a "boundary object." But while information technologies do support the inscriptions and articulations of incongruent or even incommensurable perspectives and interests, Clifford's notion of the ethnographic text can add something more subtle to our understanding of Participatory Design. What he presents is a way to understand ethnography as a performance:

Cultures are not scientific "objects" (assuming such things exist, even in the natural sciences). Culture, and our views of "it," are produced historically, and are actively contested. There is no whole picture that can be "filled in," since the perception and filling of a gap leads to the awareness of other gaps. . . . If "culture" is not an object to be described, neither is it a unified corpus of symbols and meanings that can be definitively interpreted. Culture is contested, temporal, and emergent. Representation and explanation-both by insiders and outsiders-is implicated in this emergence. (Clifford, 1986, pp. 18-19)

Understood as a temporally emergent performance, ethnography becomes a way of interacting with the world centered around the production of a textual record of those interactions, but also has consequences as a result of those interactions which stand quite apart from the text, e.g. the political and economic consequences of colonialism. Much the same, I believe, can be said regarding the processes of design which provide for interactions between users and engineers. The "design" is a text which shapes the development of a technological artifact, and that artifact (through further social and material processes) in turn imposes changes in the work practices of those who engage that artifact in their work.

We have thus seen how two different perspectives on socio-technological systems, one approaching from the side of the technological efficiency and one from the side of human empowerment, have converged upon the same set of problems. By arriving at the point of contact between the human and the technological as the source of resistance in the development of socio-technical systems, both perspectives converge upon the problems of understanding and incorporating the practices of the worker in the process of developing new technologies. The consequence is that social progress and technological progress both come to socio-technological progress, and arrive at a shared set of problems as a result. This historical outcome raises various ethical, social, political and cultural issues. Several researchers in PD have already begun voicing their concerns and I wish to spend the remainder of this paper addressing some of those issues.

5. Reflections on Technology and Critical Practice

Participatory Design began as a critical project which sought to rectify political imbalances caused by technologies in the workplace, and to protect workers from the impact of technological change on work. We have just recounted the historical development of that critical project and noted the moments at which its purpose and practices shifted to accommodate new concerns and to abandon futile efforts. In the end, PD went beyond the initial suggestions of written criticism to become an agent of technological change in the workplace. Many similar practices emerged in other user-involving design methodologies including JAD, the Quality of Working Life movement, and ultimately the corporate restructuring of the late 1980s. How are we to understand the social and technological transformations which occurred in that historical narrative and what can be learned from them? We could note the weakening of the critique itself-and we might try to explain this by appealing to the "realities" of business and technology as having confronted and overtaken political "ideals." Or we could interpret the participatory and ethnographic approaches to systems design as enabling the new regimes of empowerment and measurement and new forms of technological colonialism. Or we could instead note the success of enlightened design practice as one of the factors contributing to technological advance, economic success and job satisfaction for many American corporations and their employees. The development of PD and user-involvement is complicated by the twists and turns of history, and the diversity of projects which carry its banner, but it is hoped that careful attention to these complications provides an appreciation for the tensions we find in the current practice of PD. It is also hoped that the study of this particular historical strand of technological criticism can provide some lessons for technological criticism in general. What might this history tell us about the role for critical practice in the current technological era of information systems?

Beginning with Das Capital's original critiques of capitalism, Marxist criticism has become increasingly aware of the significance of the specific features of technological media in political struggle. Classical Marxist critiques have described political struggles as ultimately resting on material resources and the forces of labor, or more precisely the means of acquiring and controlling these. And at the center of Marx's own critique stood the material form of technology-the factory itself as the means of production. That his critical efforts focused on the nexus of technologies intersecting in the factory should not be surprising insofar as Marx witnessed the industrial revolution in full swing: factories were being built and filled with machines and workers at a frenzied pace, and he recognized that the economy of capitalism followed from a particular alignment of international trade with the productive power of steam-driven machinery combined with human skilled labor. But his critique of industrial capitalism did not share in the technology of industrialism, it remained in the realm of the literary.

Instead of building a steam engine or a socialist factory, Marx wrote about the condition of the workers who were subjected to the machines, their alienation from their own labor, how an economy was built upon that labor which was making nations and factory owners very wealthy, and ultimately he called for the workers to unite and build a new and more just society. He thus cemented a paradigm for political criticism which sought to elucidate and theorize the politico-economic system in which various forms of injustice were manifest, but which left open the question of what specific forms a better society's techno-industrial organization should take. Of course, throughout history there have been many social movements and activist traditions which did try to build socialist factories, communities and nations, but the practices of criticism and of activism have stood apart from one another, exchanging ideas and rhetoric at a distance, but not practices. Hence, more often than not criticism has attempted to theorize global problems and recognize the general principles underlying these, while activism has attempted to act according to those principles in specific local contexts. Or when theory has produced specific proposals for social policy, the results of untested proposals have produced disastrous consequences, like Mao's "Great Leap Forward," and came to be generically labeled as dogmatism.

The major step in the transitions from the material and intellectual economies of the 19th century, based in steam and paper, to those of the 20th century, based in electronics and information, have been noted along the way by countless critics. One lesson to be learned from the history of Participatory Design comes from the researchers' own observation of the inappropriateness of the traditional paradigm of critique and its suggestions for new technological forms in the information age. The PD researchers had followed influential critics such as Braverman (1974), Noble (1977, 1979) and Winner (1977) and attempted to utilize insights from these criticisms in working towards new workplace formations for computerized factories and office technologies. But unlike the rigid steam-driven machinery and factory organizations of the previous century, the new technologies were becoming increasingly more plastic and the roles and responsibilities of workers were changing with greater fluidity as a result. This allowed the organization of work to take on an increasing range of forms, which in turn led to the creation of an increasing number of novel power structures and work regimes which did not conform easily to the Marxist model of industrial capitalism. Recalling the words of two PD researchers,

[T]here were also practical and empirical anomalies that could not be explained by these [Marxist] theses. Work was not deskilled in all cases. More collective forms of work organization than the Tayloristic were sometimes proposed by management. It happened that workers gained from the introduction of new technology, etc. But this does not mean that the Marxist approach to understanding changes of the labor process in a capitalist economy has to be rejected. (Ehn & Kyng, 1987, p. 36, my emphasis)

Of course, the pursuit of PD led further into territories where strict Marxist theory offered no or conflicting insights, and ultimately the PD researchers were able to carry on without its assistance and develop novel theoretical constructs such as "socio-technical systems." In the steam-driven factory, it had been relatively easy to distinguish workers and management (and workers and machines for that matter) by observing who operated the machinery and who gave the orders, in the information-driven factory it is not so easy to make this distinction-when "services" are treated indifferently regardless of whether they have been rendered by people or machines, employees begin to have light-blue collars. The PD researchers came to learn a valuable lesson from this: the power structures of computerized factories and offices are more subtle and complex, and demand a more careful and localized analysis than the analytics from a different technological era could provide.

Like most activist movements, PD sought to realize its objectives in highly localized projects. This local focus continues even today, and nearly all of the research in this area expresses a keen awareness of the factors which shape the political context in which such projects operate. This brings us to considering explicitly the gulf which exists between criticism and activism: how can local observations and knowledges be extended to global problems, and what kinds of global theories and principles are useful for local problem solving? We could accept the common response to this disparity between the local and the global-that criticism offers a high-level theory and analysis which hopes to inspire localized activism-while activism hopes to provide theory with the raw data for further analysis, and leave it at that. But this ties the hands of criticism at the level of practice, and leaves activists waiting for thoughtful insights until after projects are completed. The lessons learned from PD offer a more interesting response: critical theory and critical practice might be drawn closer together, to get a better grasp on technology issues.

This convolution of theory and practice is possible in part due to the nature of information technologies themselves. In addition to having the properties of flexibility and plasticity, information technology differs from steam technology in its ease of replication. Once designed and implemented, software programs and databases can be reproduced and distributed with the ease of a text, and yet retain their functionality. Determining the kinds of social and political problems which might prove susceptible to such information tools is a subject which is only rarely considered in its own right. The field of Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) attempts to study this problem in some respects through creating systems for collaborative work within organizations. PD itself is, in this regard, perhaps too localized insofar as it seeks to develop proprietary systems. The instructive element for its generalizability lies in its methodology for defining systems, rather than in the systems themselves. PD thus spans theory and practice, and contributes to global knowledge while it supports local practices.

The suggested shift is thus from a reflective critique of new technology and technological choices to the active development of alternative technologies, and with this shift comes a new set of problems concerning the development of objectives, strategies and methods for critical design practice. Feenberg's (1991) critical theory of technology identifies essentially the same positive ideals that the Scandinavian researchers gleaned from Braverman's negative points: recontextualizing design, respect for the promotion and preservation of skill, the reintegration of aesthetic and educational value in work, and anti-hierarchical and peer-oriented interaction. These ideals are certainly democratic, but in their abstract form it is not clear how are they to be effectively realized in actual technological systems. The design process is enormously complex and highly variable, and in any actual design process there will be, inevitably, other values of feasibility, utility and efficiency in play and competing with democratic ideals. Apart from promoting abstract democratic ideals in general, it should be the role of critical practice to identify the common problems faced in such contexts as well as effective and legitimate practices for the resolution of those problems. It is not enough to say that these issues can only be sorted out locally, what is needed are pragmatic bridges between the problems and conflicts of local contexts and a global discourse of ideals, principles and methods which can be utilized in a variety of local contexts.

In fact, it is precisely the issue of what counts as "efficient" and "useful" in a technology that problematizes design processes like requirements-gathering. It is this very recognition and the effective negotiation of competing and overlapping values in determining technological alternatives which the methods of Participatory Design's action research address. And PD does this by offering a variety of methods for addressing what are general problems facing communicative practice-a toolbox, if you will, for working out political negotiations in the information society. Every design process is permeated with issues of value and how these will be decided is contextually dependent on work and process organization, power-relations among individuals which implicate expertise, information access, authority, and rhetorical skill, restrictions on time and financial resources, a myriad of incidental factors, and above all the real capabilities of available technologies. Even where global ideals can be identified, they must be given different local articulations. Critical Social Theory, Cultural and Communications Studies have contributed greatly to our understanding of how such conflicting values and interests interact in specific socially contested processes. Unfortunately, even when these studies examine the processes surrounding technology they stand too far removed, either in terms of time or responsibility, from those processes and the unfolding technologies to offer effective insights or desirable alternatives.

While its problems are not well defined, the role for a critical practice of technological innovation seems obvious. PD can, in some sense, also stand as a model of how critical practices might approach information technology. I say "in some sense" because other authors, such as Winner (1995), have proposed that PD might bring us one step closer to realizing an ideal of Enlightenment democracy-a world in which people are universally empowered to determine the rules which govern their social practices-by providing a format for bringing technological choice to the people. While I believe this techno-populism is a worthy objective, if only because it brings together people of diverse perspective and purpose to engage in the application of technologies, the promotion of highly abstract ideals often contributes little more than rhetoric and motive to actual design projects. Moreover, it stresses a form of representative participation in technological choice as the principle lesson to be learned from PD. A universal problem facing democratic participation in policy choice is a lack of available policy alternatives, insofar as only a small number of alternatives are developed to the point of being viable (this was one of the main frustrations of the Scandinavian unions facing technological policies). A critical technological practice must engage itself in the systematic production of new techniques and technological applications to situations in which policy choices are commonly faced. It also needs to study the ways in which specific technologies can function in the processes of political dialog and conflict resolution. PD researchers themselves stress the virtue of participation, but I believe much of the value of their contribution lies in the recognizing the consequences of participation-their confrontation of the implications of their own critical practice and the general need for the methods of "action research" which they developed to facilitate that critical engagement.

Should not critical theorists become more visionary-imagining alternative applications and suggesting projects of discovery? My hope is that the remarks just made are sufficient to demonstrate that the old paradigms of critical theory and practice are no longer sufficient for addressing the critical issues in the technologies of the information society. I contend that critical practice ought to confront technology actively and directly, as it does in PD, through a process of creating new technologies. And that critical theory ought to be trying to work out new ways of thinking about commonly encountered problems in the political struggles surrounding technological applications so as to facilitate the processes of this critical practice. As more aspects of society are brought into the domain of information technologies, they become subject to the policies encoded in those systems. To maintain the traditional dichotomy between critical theory and practice is to risk being overrun by the accelerating installation of uncritical technological policies. But we can turn this ongoing socio-technical revolution to the advantage of democracy through the activity of offering alternative technological configurations. Rather than seeing PD as merely the insertion of public dialog within technological design practices, we should see it as a model for a critical practice of developing technological designs.

Participatory Design is an intriguing critical project which has successfully crossed multiple disciplinary, organizational, political and cultural boundaries. It traces the leading edges of technological application, business management, and social science and for this reason alone should be looked at carefully for its broader historical ramifications. But above all, PD has demonstrated that the critical engagement of technology requires not only a great deal of thoughtful reflection in the confrontation of political and ethical demands, but also that critical practice must fill the difficult role of articulating viable technological alternatives which are actually capable of satisfying those demands.

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1. Joint Application Design and JAD are registered trademarks of IBM Corporation. I use JAD herein to refer not only to the IBM doctrine which is considered in detail, but also to its many variations and imitators where considered as a style or trend in design.

2. As we will see later, the networks of interaction between these methodologies and their objectives is made even more complex by their relationship to the broader Quality of Working Life movement, which also grew out of the Norwegian project and which influenced North American system design indirectly via its impact on enlightened Human Resource Management and later on Total Quality Management and eventually on Business Process Reengineering.

3. For an interesting history of the imposition of the division of labor on computer programming see Greenbaum (1979) In the Name of Efficiency: Management Theory and Shopfloor Practice in Data-Processing Work.

4. These visualization aids themselves became a hot commercial product. One JAD consulting firm offered a $400 briefcase filled with magnetic color-coded presentation symbols, meanwhile an entirely new programming application domain developed to suit this purpose called CASE tools (Computer-Aided Software Engineering) (Carmel et al., 1993, p. 42). There are, of course other important uses for CASE tools including rapid proto-typing and developing elegant and efficient interface designs.

5. For an enlightening genealogy of the Quality of Working Life movement and its spread out of Norway see Miller & Rose (1995) "Production, Identity, and Democracy."

6. See Braverman (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capital, Winner (1977) Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought, Noble (1977) America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism and Noble (1979) "Social Choice in Machine Design."

7. Randi Markussen, one of the original Danish research participants, tells me that where these projects were successful, the trade-unions would also provide funds for workers and their families to attend weekend "retreats" where the classes and seminars would be conducted.

8. See also Bion (1946) "The Leaderless Group Project."

9. The researchers included several medical and psychiatric professionals.

10. The features they noted as indicative of the "autonomous work group" are essentially the same as the "humanistic values" we will see more vividly later (sec. 4.3 below) being touted as the advantages of Xerox's Engineering Codevelopment. This is no coincidence as the leader of that project, Bill Anderson, was involved in the socio-technical systems work done at Tavistock we are now considering..

11. See Cherns (1976) "The principles of socio-technical design." and Hill (1971) Towards a New Philosophy of Management for these general theoretical perspectives, or see Mumford & Henshall (1979) A Participative Approach to Computer Systems Design for the earliest applications to computer systems design.

12. Shortly after its official adoption by IBM Canada in 1980, the methodology spread widely among small and large North American companies and has been used in the design of tens of thousands of implemented systems. There are many similar competing and derived methodologies, each slightly different but all seeking the same basic objectives. I take JAD as being exemplary of these various methodologies.

13. Agre (1995) sees PD as only one element among many in the symbolic convergence of the empowerment and measurement regime, which I would agree with. It is important to recognize, however, the ways in which the other elements of this regime were reflected back into PD and altered it. It is also important to note the essential contribution of PD to this regime insofar as it has been able to bring material technologies into alignment with theoretical conceptions of business organization and governance.

14. For some connections between this trend and the Quality of Working Life movement, see Miller & Rose (1994) "Accounting, 'Economic Citizenship' and the Spatial Reordering of Manufacture."

15. An often cited early work of this movement is Naisbitt & Aburdene (1985) Re-inventing the Corporation: Transforming Your Job and Your Company for the New Information Society.

16. It is interesting to note that this book is co-authored by a human resource manager at Xerox who was involved in that corporation's TQM restructuring during the 1980s. The book, The Race Without a Finish Line (Schmidt & Finnigan, 1992), takes its title from former Xerox CEO David Kearns' own conception of TQM (p. xii). Kearns was credited with restoring Xerox's viability against its Japanese competitors before leaving the corporation to become the U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education.

17. The JAD literature also makes frequent references to the loss of productivity through poor methods of requirements gathering:

Gary Rush states that "error removal constitutes up to 40% of the cost of a system. Between 45% and 65% of these errors are made in system design" [9, p. 11]. Likewise, James Martin cites one corporation which found that 64 percent of its bugs were in analysis and design even though users had formally signed off on the documentation. He also notes that 95 percent of the cost of correcting bugs for a large bank project was for requirements and design errors [8]. Citing a Government Accounting Office study of nine software development projects, Charles Martin concludes that "less than 5 percent of the money put into the nine software developments resulted in software that could be used as delivered or with minor changes. . . . The report suggests that these system were not properly described in the first place" [6]. (August, 1991, p. 4)

18. Systems designers in Hitachi's Software Factory spend an extended apprenticeship in their application's workplace before they begin programming the software and thus experience their application as a user before entering the engineering environment. InContext Enterprises Inc. is an example of a consulting firm which specializes in establishing workplace apprenticeships for designers in a method they call Contextual Inquiry (Beyer & Holtzblatt, 1995, p. 46).

19. It is interesting to note the similarity of many of the visualization techniques and the function of the future workshops to the techniques and meetings developed by JAD practitioners over a decade earlier, though there appears to have been no direct influence from the older JAD tradition on the Scandinavian researchers. Xerox's EC takes technological imagination one step further by introducing the working prototypes into the user environment.