Centre for Applied Research of the Faculty of Digital Media & Creative Industries

Civic Interaction Design

Civic Interaction Design is an interdisciplinary research group at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. Together with students, designers, technology developers, policymakers, (local) governments, academic researchers, and citizens, we explore how design & technology can contribute to civic life: the numerous and varied interactions through which people in a society come together to strive towards collective well-being.

How is it, we ask, that the development of creative methods or the social application of new technologies such as immersive environments, interactive experiences and digital platforms can enable people to live together in mutual relations of care?

Finding such new and transformative ways for living together, we find, is more urgent today than ever, in the face of the growing social fractures and ecological crises, and the rapid development of new technologies re-shaping our lives on multiple levels.

To address this, we favour a research-through-design approach, in which we try to understand, discuss, and shape the world around us through designing, making, iterating, and reflection. We do this in close cooperation with students and external research partners, always with the involvement of practitioners from the professional field.

We take inspiration from a diverse range of design approaches, including, for example, critical and speculative design, human-computer interaction, participatory design, and value-sensitive design.

Over the past year this has resulted in a programme, addressing four broad, inter-related, and non-exclusive thematic areas:

Research spaces @ AUAS

Interactive Public Spaces

Living together requires a civic infrastructure of public spaces that provide opportunities for people, despite their many differences, to interact, make sense of a common world, build trust, and form alliances. Various developments in both urbanism and digital technologies have challenged these opportunities, leading to distinct dynamics of privatization, social fragmentation, and polarization. In our projects, we approach these developments critically, but at the same time we hopefully explore how the use of digital and hybrid technologies could be designed to reinvigorate our public spaces.

Design for collective action

This research line explores new modes of collaboration towards collective well-being, for instance through urban commons or exploring new collaborations between humans and other species. How can design further extend a civic infrastructure with opportunities for people (and other species) to engage with and mobilise action around issues of public and collective concern? Could new media practices, for instance around digital platforms, contribute to managing and governing collective resources in inclusive and equitable ways?

Technological citizenship

From digital platforms and social media, AI, to the hybrid interfaces we use to experience public spaces, the ways in which we are living together are increasingly enabled or restricted by new technologies. We need to understand and question these changing techno-social conditions and create ways to ensure citizens can live with emerging technologies in inclusive and just ways. How can citizens effectively understand, contest, and co-shape the technologies that have increasingly started to govern them in so many aspects of their lives?

More-than-Human Civics

Finally, given the profound imperative for more sustainable and regenerative futures, we need to move away from a perspective that exclusively prioritizes human needs. Through research and design, we need to explore ways to understand the worlds of other species not as separate to or less than humans’ but as fundamentally entangled. How can we better listen to, call in, co-create, and cohabitate with other-than humans?

Design the City | Lab of Labs | Designing Smart Cities for Citizens

In all four areas, we see civic life not as a given, but as continuously shifting, emerging from ongoing negotiations with other domains that shape society such as government, the market and the logic and ethics of various professional domains. Therefore, we also take on a more speculative take on civics: what techno-social constellations could we imagine to work towards the collective well-being of people and other species?

Our ambitions need to be embraced with humility. The enabling of civic life is a long-term and complex process which we cannot attend solely as a matter of design. Creative, designerly approaches can certainly help with finding meaningful questions and both inventive and effective ways to answer them. Yet importantly, civic interaction design is equally, if not more, about care in action.

As researchers and designers, we see it as our main task to stage, provoke or orchestrate ongoing ‘conversations’ between all actors involved in such processes. We aim to contribute to these conversations through research and designerly activities that enable listening, interrogating, encouraging, probing, informing, dissecting, learning, trying, reflecting, etc.

Taken together, our projects aim to contribute to ongoing discussions about civic futures in a digital society and the transformative pathways through which they could be realized. How is it that, we can live together towards collective well-being, in relations of mutual care, in a society where our interactions with the world around us are increasingly mediated through digital technologies?

We whole heartedly invite you to take part in our conversations!

  dr B.G.M. de Waal (Martijn)

Professor Civic Interaction Design

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