On Accountable Objects: Designing and Deploying Accountability Tools for Charities

Matt Marshall

5 Designing Accountability Tools

5.1 Introduction

This chapter presents an empirical account of the design process that was undertaken in order to produce systems that were later deployed.

This phase of research was important because it transitioned the research from the fieldwork accounts of the previous chapter into a phase where design work was being performed and tools were being produced. This allowed for sense-checking of the findings from the previous phase of research as well as a field-test for trying to embed these sensibilities into designs. It also allowed me to reflect on the performance of the design work and the implications for designing transparency tools in charities and other civic spaces in the future.

As such this chapter begins with accounts of the performance of design workshops and how these transitioned into an iterative design cycle. It then gives an account of the systems themselves which I present as a design rationale for their core features. Finally, I reflect on lessons learned from this design process including early insights into the nature of these tools; where the responsibility for doing the design work lies; and considerations for performing design work in spaces such as these.

5.2 Beginning Design Work with Futures Workshops

As noted in Chapter 03 design activities began in late August 2016 with the performance of design activities building on my fieldwork at Patchwork. This section elaborates on the design activities encapsulated in a Futures Workshop and the resulting discussions and space it created to take forward into development.

I originally intended to perform a single workshop using the Futures Workshop (Jungk & Müllert, 1996) framework, however due to scheduling restrictions was instead performed as three separate workshops spaced roughly three to four weeks apart in each instance1. Each workshop was performed with Patchwork in the main room at their central hub (Patchy 1) and the workshops lasted approximately 60 - 90 minutes in each case.

Chapter 03 discusses these workshops under the heading of Fieldwork Methods, but I must reiterate that these research activities marked a transitional phase from the strictly investigative fieldwork activities and towards the design phase of this research. They served as a bridge where I was situated at the field site but beginning to bring design activities into the work there. The workshops allowed me to first check assumptions by presenting them back to Patchwork in a particular way and then use these discussions to fuel a reflective process about work practice and digital systems that could in turn be used to organise design work.

With this in mind the performance and “output” of the workshops was captured and conceptualised as part of the ethnographic corpus with which to begin the iterative design process that lead to the implementation of a system. Each of these workshops were audio recorded and some photographs were taken at each but the data was later damaged. This left only an audio recording and partial transcript for the first workshop, as well as some photographs for the third amidst my field notes. The remainder of the iterative design process was started quickly after the performance of these workshops so these additional materials were used as prompts for memory during the early stages of sketching and prototyping.

5.2.1 Performing the Workshops

The goal of the first workshop activity was to elicit reflection on how Patchwork communicated its spending and activities both internally and externally to partners and the community. The workshop centred around the collaborative, iterative, building of a Rich Picture Diagram (Monk & Howard, 1998) using common office materials such as cork boards, post-it notes and pins along with yarn to draw connections. A Rich Picture Diagram was chosen for use because of its flexibility to capture “whatever seems important to you” in a way that makes sense to those involved in creating it (Lewis, 1992).

Going into the workshop I asked the workers to draw a picture of themselves and write about their role or life at Patchwork. This first step was intended to serve as an ice breaker and to start setting the mood for the conversation. After a brief chat about each of their roles the main activity was introduced and Patchwork added as many entities onto the board as possible and to think aloud as they placed them. These entities could be anything from organisations and other actors to physical things or services that they felt were central to their work. I asked Patchwork to think about entities that were conceptually “inside of Patchwork” and “outside of Patchwork” and to indicate this by placing things in relative proximity to each other. Patchwork chose to place things along a spectrum of entities that were “really inside Patchwork” to “really outside Patchwork”.

After entities had been placed on the diagram, I asked Patchwork to start drawing connections between them with the yarn. As a prompt I chose the performance of the Duke of Edinburgh award with a group of young people to start with as an example. This is a mid-to-long term project which takes place over the course of a year and involves lots of different discrete activities which interacts with a lot of moving parts in the organisation and also involves multiple pathways for accountability to external actors. We talked and reflected while we made this mapping; discussing how a commitment is made and then what entities it involves and how it is accounted for. As we talked I’d prompt Patchwork to think about where on the diagram to make a connection. This was used as a model for discussion throughout the remainder of the workshop; tangents were followed and I attempted to steer the conversations towards the activities, entities and methods used to organise their work and communicate it to others. Originally the workshop was supposed to end with an explicit “deep-dive” on things that took a lot of time, or were difficult or caused problems, but we ran out of time as Patchwork had commitments with another engagement. Difficult or time-consuming activities were discussed as part of broader conversation and were noted.

The goal of the second workshop activity was to explore the relationship between the workers at Patchwork and their data (or data about them) as well as bring the concept of technology into the mix. To this end, I developed nine scenarios in a design fiction style (Hales, 2013) that were deliberately intended to be provocative akin to Garfinke’s breaching experiments (Garfinkel, 1967) (this is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 03). My initial plan for the session was to have each of the workers read through the scenarios and reflect on them and then discuss them as a group before producing and presenting their own scenario or storyboarding their own interaction for for accountability. The latter half of the session was based off of the ‘fantasy phase’ of Jungk and Müller’s Futures Workshop to try and begin approaching their vision of the future. To support them in this I created some short booklets from printer paper and coloured card which I hand-bound. On the front was a simple title “Patchwork Design Book” and the inside bore a message summarising the activity:

I’d like you to spend 10 minutes coming up with your own technology for ‘being accountable’ at Patchwork.

You can use the pages of this book to draw, describe, or storyboard the technology. If you like – anything goes!

You don’t need to worry about the nitty-gritty or feasibility of your design. As far as we’re concerned, it can be magic. We just want to know what it will do for you, and how it would fit into your day.

It would be good if you could consider others as well; who else might want to use your thing? In what ways could they?

Introduction written on interior of the design books

In the execution this session turned out differently to what I had planned. This was likely because this session was performed relatively late in the evening and as such we had a much stricter time allotment than the previous session. Instead of reading separate scenarios as individuals Patchwork opted to have me read each aloud to the group and then discuss them together. The activity that was to form the latter half of the session (producing and presenting their own alternative vision of the future) was abandoned after it became obvious that Patchwork didn’t quite gel with activity. At first there was an initial, awkward, silence as Patchwork read the introductions to the “Design books” and then Dean asked me for clarification on the activity. Andi followed suit, and then Michael suggested that instead we should chat as a group about what they thought they needed. At this point, however, the time was approaching 22:00 so this discussion didn’t last very long and proffered little in the way of designing potential futures so we wrapped up and I released Patchwork after having taken over their evening2.

Ahead of the third session I was concerned that not completing the latter portion of the previous workshop meant that Patchwork would be going from reflecting on technologies that were presented as provocative or negative straight to a practical implementation discussion. I wanted to give them the opportunity to think about technologies as a tool for achieving their goals and explore what those interactions may look like. For this reason I decided to frame the entire third session around revisiting the magic machines activity. This took place in September after the summer programme had completed which meant that we could take a relatively relaxed approach to timing and the group was given more substantial design brief this time:

The year is 2116. Technology looks like magic: phones, laptops, and cameras are only found in museums and impossible things happen every day.

Your youth project has been given permission to go back in time and speak to the youth workers of 100 years ago. You’ve got permission to give them a glimpse into life in 2116. You, the Patchwork team of 2116, suit up and grab your gear to meet the youth workers of Patchwork 2016.

When you arrive, the team are excited to meet you and can’t believe how amazing life in the future sounds. They notice that you’re holding a machine in your hand and ask you what it’s for.

“This? We use this to let people know how we spend money and what our work is. We want to be visible with our work and our money”

“What does it do? How do you use it? Can you show us?” – Initial brief of the Magic Machines style workshop

The activity again centred around the production of magic machines (Andersen, 2013) to imagine how a future version of Patchwork would incorporate technology to support it accomplishing transparency and accountability.

Patchwork were given basic office materials as well as cardboard harvested from boxes and some adhesives in order to construct their machines (Figure 5.1). There was no further instruction given during the hour of the session although the group was told that I was interested in learning about their machines afterwards. During the session a member of the trustees entered the building and joined in the session as well