Is Society Ready for IT? Or is IT Ready for Society?

Monika Buscher and Birgit Mosel are running a workshop at the 2020 Public Safety Communications Europe Network Conference in Brussels. This is inspired by rapid changes in public safety communications and a need to deal responsibly with the increased volume and mobility of data, and to do so in dialogue with citizens.

Excerpt from preliminary Call for pParticipation:

Public Protection and Disaster Response (PPDR) is changing radically. Three trends are coming together to drive this. Firstly, PPDR practitioners are faced with more frequent and more intense disasters as we enter an era of climate crises. Secondly, a new generation of emergency service professionals is entering the workplaces, and they bring high skills and high expectations for digital augmentation. Thirdly, innovation in digital technologies from Artificial Intelligence to the Internet of Public Safety Things, automation and robotics, and mobile broadband networking is gathering pace. However, as Prefet Guillaume Lambert, Head of the French Public Safety Broadband Network Programme at the French Interior Ministry observed at the last PSCE Conference in Paris, while the technologies might be ready, the public is not ready for these innovations. We need to convince them. This workshop explores questions of, and approaches to, ‘societal readiness’.

We are developing a critical approach to the concept of ‘Societal Readiness Levels’, acknowledging that ‘convincing the public’ demands sound arguments. Rather than seeing ‘societal readiness’ as a matter of society getting ready to ‘take’ innovations, we are asking what design can do to meet the requirements of society. How ready are our technologies for society? To what extent do they support social and material practices, complex socio-technical systems with histories, cultures, and path dependencies, societal values and civil liberties? How high do our innovations (in technologies, policies, organisational structures, emergency plans and planning processes) score on a scale of ‘Societal readiness Levels’ (SRL)? And what can be done to raise their SRL? This is both a substantive and a methodological question, because designing for society translates into a need for designing with society. As a result, this workshop also asks how we can develop better methods for engaging citizens in innovation in PPDR.

Topics to be discussed at the workshop include (but are not limited to):

  • Studies of change in PPDR, e.g. towards net-centric approaches, with a focus on citizens and publics
  • Experiences from and studies of implementations of innovations focused on public perceptions and public engagement
  • Methodologies for co-design in PPDR that engage citizens
  • Studies of public perceptions of PPDR innovation, including NGO, such as civil liberty groups

Contact Monika for more detail.