Research project as boundary object: negotiating the conceptual design of a tool for international development

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ECSCW'09: Proceedings of the 11th European Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, 2009, 1st, pp. 21 - 42
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This paper reflects on the relationship between who one designs for and what one designs in the unstructured space of designing for political change; in particular, for supporting "International Development" with ICT. We look at an interdisciplinary research project with goals and funding, but no clearly defined beneficiary group at start, and how this amorphousness contributed to its impact. The reported project researches a bridging tool to connect producers with consumers across global contexts, showing the players in the supply chain and their circumstances. We examine the projectâs role in India, Chile and other arenas to draw out ways that it functioned as a catalyst and how absence of committed design choices acted as an unexpected strength in reaching its goals. To tell this tale, we invoke the idea of boundary objects and the value of tacking back and forth between elastic meanings of the project's artefacts and processes. We demonstrate how the toolâs function and the nature of the research became contested as work progressed.
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