Infrastructure (or the Lack Thereof) for Collective Design: The Case of Community Access to High-Speed Internet in the City of Baltimore
University of Maryland
Human-Computer Interaction Lab
Theories and tools for design often focus on situations with a small team of designers. Yet, there exists a great many situations where the knowledge and resources required to satisfactorily design solutions are fragmented across a large number (and variety) of stakeholders. Designing policies is an excellent example of such a situation. Can design be successfully conducted in these situations just like in other situations with fewer stakeholders or smaller teams? What would it look like for the stakeholders to engage in ​collective design​?
This exploratory project seeks to answer these questions by conducting an in-depth case study of residents in Baltimore attempting to devise ways to gain access to reliable high-speed Internet. Foundational research in conjunction with the Univeristy of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth has revealed that in Baltimore, many residents live in neighborhoods that lack “Last Mile” connections to the Internet cable infrastructure, and consequently lack reliable access to high-speed Internet. Many stakeholders (community members, funders, policymakers, ISPs, CDCs, foundations, etc.) care about whether or not these residents can get access to high-speed Internet. There has also been many failed prior attempts to design solutions to this problem, including attempts at setting up novel Wi-Fi and satellite access technologies to provide Internet access.
Following recent revelations in political theory (e.g., participatory democracy), design (e.g., designing publics), and innovation (e.g., open innovation), we hypothesize that what is needed is a way for stakeholders to collectively design a solution that takes full advantage of the knowledge and resources that are distributed across each of these groups. For example technical experts know what is possible/expensive tech-wise, policymakers can pull the right strings, and community members know what’s possible to maintain. Nobody knows everything, everyone knows something, and if they don’t design together, they fail.