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Sociological tips for successful infrastructures


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  • 1. Sociological tips for successful infrastructure Christine Hine Department of Sociology University of Surrey
  • 2. Or…
    • Why the challenges that ViBRANT faces are not unique
    • Why the Scratchpad solution is a really promising way forwards as an infrastructure for systematics
  • 3. Sociological tips for successful infrastructure
    • What is infrastructure?
    • Barriers to becoming an infrastructure
    • How to become obligatory
    • Some sociological tips…
    • In homage to Susan Leigh Star
  • 4. Qualities of infrastructure
    • Embeddedness
    • Transparency
    • Reach or scope
    • Learned as part of membership
    • Links with conventions of practice
    • Embodiment of standards
    • Built on an installed base
    • Becomes visible on breakdown
    • (Star and Ruhleder, 1994)
  • 5. Infrastructure as a relational concept
    • An infrastructure only acts as such in relation to organized practices
    • It can take a lot of labour for a user to fit in with a standardized system
    • Standardized systems can render invisible particular kinds of work or silence particular perspectives
    • Even a really good technology can fail to become an infrastructure
  • 6. Thomas Hughes: history of electrical networks
    • Successful infrastructures are sociotechnical systems
    • In developing a system sticking points that impede progress will be met
    • Solutions may not be in the same register as problems – social/political solutions can be found for apparently technical problems
    • Tasks can’t readily be assigned to particular specialists – needs agility in redefining problems and solutions
  • 7. Thomas Hughes: history of electrical networks
    • The developers of one successful system are often involved in the next
    • Strengthens skills base but can limit imaginations
    • New ways of thinking may be needed for new technologies
    • David (1995) – the “productivity paradox” – new technologies don’t immediately improve productivity until new ways of thinking emerge
  • 8. Barriers to becoming an infrastructure
    • First order problems
      • Making it work, technically
    • Second order problems
      • Knowing how to make technical choices
    • Third order problems
      • Questions relating to goals and directions which might be embedded in particular technical solutions
    • Star and Ruhleder (1994)
  • 9. How infrastructures become obligatory
    • There is no guarantee that the best technology will win… electric refrigerators, VHS, QWERTY…
    • Network externalities can play a large part
    • Embedding in existing systems is key
    • Facebook fed on an existing adolescent concern with being visible and validated
    • How to embed Scratchpads, and what concerns can they feed on?
  • 10. The sociological tips…
    • Work with multi-disciplinary teams and involve users
    • Tread lightly with standards, and recognise the first, second and third order problems they may bring
    • Design for flexibility in the face of diverse uses and changing technologies
    • Attend to the interests of users and the pressures they are under with fluid combinations of technical/social/political solutions