Panel 2: Participation, Collaboration, Innovation

The discussion, moderated by James Crabtree of the Financial Times, included Raman Jit Singh Chima of Google India, Eswaran Subrahmanian (Sub) of Carnegie Mellon University, Joshua Karthik of Asian Paints, and Ekta Ohri from CKS. Each panelist spoke in turn about their work and how participation and information sharing plays a role within their work. Crabtree then briefly related these issues to trust and the discussion of the first panel.

They touched upon the necessity for adequate avenues of participation for the successful design of any policy, service or system. In the absence of opportunities for self-expression and assertion of one’s rights and opinions, something has to give way. This results in the breakdown of systems in ways that may be more or less apparent, but which seem to be manifesting in abundance around the globe in the form of protests, government upheavals, demands for more transparency and much more.

The discussion also moved to ways in which traditional institutions – governments as well as corporations – much change in order to address this breakdown in trust. In particular, the conversation focused on how new networking technologies – mobile phones, the internet and the web 2.0 – have facilitated the potential for massive participation, which has not yet been garnered by most private, public or social institutions. However, there is certainly an increasing recognition that something much change even just for these institutions to keep themselves afloat, as Sub stated.

Ramanjit talked about the numerous ways in which these institutions were beginning to incorporate these changes, especially using different forms of social media. This includes governments, planning agencies and even corporations – albeit not the majority – beginning to open up their processes to the wider public, in order to make them more reflective of the peoples’ actual needs. Joshua Karthik agreed and talked about how social media platforms allow for both the free voicing of opinions as well as more sophisticated, moderated dialogues, which can surpass the threat of Babel-like cacophony and allow the discussants to gain and participate in a meaningful discussion. This has the potential to yield far richer and more successful as well as impactful innovations, whether in a product, service or process.

Relating the conversation back to the previous panel’s discussion on trust, James Crabtree asked participants to comment on the relationship between participation and trust in the specific context of India. Ekta talked about how new networking technologies have opened up opportunities for participation that did not previously exist in India, especially in rural India, which previously faced the problem of remoteness – in terms of communication, resources and more. These technologies, whether they be mobile phones or the internet, create spaces for discourse, debate, and an opportunity for collective organization and activity that have transformed the very agency of these previously remote societies.

Participants from the audience spoke then about how the lack of participation has resulted in a dichotomy of social structure, not only in India but across the globe. A participant from the Swedish embassy spoke about how games, and fun, are excellent ways to engage the public and garner participation in open government initiatives. Sunil Abraham, speaking from the audience, asked whether the move towards eliminating anonymous commentary on the internet and social media platforms is necessary a good idea, pointing to the fact that some officials and public figures may not make statements unless they can do so anonymously.

Sub asked the important question of how we look at participation in the Indian context, and how much we care to truly hear and take different perspectives into account. He too, spoke of games – visual and paper-based – and the various design projects he has been involved in to make games for social betterment. Games are safe spaces, where people can transcend the fear of failure and feel free to express themselves. In such a safe environment, people are free to play, engage and ideate creative solutions to large platforms.

Joshua Karthik talked about the role of the solution designer and how it relates to a participatory approach. The role of the solution designer seems to be moving towards intelligent moderation and curation of the conversation, rather than an unicentric solutioneering emerging from a single source. He also talked about the sharing of information, and making internal processes and open-sourcing your own expertise, indicating that it can generate much greater value than keeping this information close and protected.

Participants from the audience, including Aishwarya Panicker, asked about how effective technology-based platforms are in country like India, where the majority of the population does not have access or full knowledge or even the ability to use these technologies. It seemed that face-to-face interactions are still key to engendering participation, but perhaps the role of technology then becomes to enable these interactions to actually happen. This then leads to the question of good design – good interaction required good design of platforms that can allow participation both in real time as well as in the virtual space.

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
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