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Visioning Studies: A Socio-technical Approach to Designing the Future

With Professor Diane H. Sonnenwald
12 Mar 2012
With Professor Diane H. Sonnenwald

It is increasingly important to understand the potential impact of future technology in complex contexts as early as possible in the research and development (R&D) cycle. Understanding the potential impact, including its interaction with social structures, helps inform funding and research decisions. It identifies technology capabilities that may enhance the technology’s adoption and use, and reduce its unintended negative consequences. It also uncovers potential conflicts with current social structures, facilitating the identification of enhancements to social structures and/or practices to derive benefit from the technology. To understand the potential impact of future technology we have been developing a research approach called “visioning studies”.

The goal of a visioning study is to understand the perspectives of potential users and stakeholders, and from this understanding develop socio-technical design recommendations in collaboration with computer science researchers and relevant stakeholders. We have explored two visioning study approaches: a mixed method approach involving simulation, surveys and interviews; and a semi-structured approach in which a video depicting the technology vision embedded in relevant realistic scenarios is used in conjunction with semi-structured interviews. To date, visioning studies have been conducted regarding 3D telepresence technology in emergency health care and mobile technology in policing.

This is a Keynote talk from the Oxford Internet Institute’s Symposium “Social Science and Digital Research: Interdisciplinary Insights”, held in Oxford on 12 March 2012.



Professor Diane H. Sonnenwald

Head, School of Information and Library Studies, University College Dublin