Controversies are public discussions about something that people disagree about – it is where perspectives clash and value tensions emerge. We witness these disagreements every day. Controversies often arise in complex socio-technical contexts that involve multiple stakeholders and societal issues which are too important to be ignored. Although often perceived as a source of impasse, controversies help to reflect on technical, social and ethical aspects of socio-technical challenges. Our projects specifically zooms in on smart-city controversies, as complex challenges where technological innovation and social live merge, and are often characterized by conflict. Think for example about the turmoil surrounding surveillance cameras or 5G infrastructure.
This project presents an approach to systematically unpack, navigate and address the ‘network of conflicts’ that shape controversies. Through a roleplaying exercise that takes place in the fictional smart city of ‘NeverTire’, participants collaboratively map their network of conflicts and identify interventions to address it. Through iteratively zooming in and out on the various values and value tensions that build this network, participants can anticipate and address and potential consequences in relation to the wider network and perspectives.
By embracing these conflicts to support a greater awareness of various values and diverse perspectives in society, our approach equips participants with a deeper understanding of the complex context in which they operate. Participants are encouraged to move between various levels of conflict as they discuss ways to intervene or address the conflict. More importantly, they learn how to relate the values, tensions and consequences of possible interventions to each other, in order to utilize conflicts in a collaborative setting.
Although often perceived as a source of impasse, we argue that conflicts can be constructive: they help to reflect on technical, social and ethical aspects of socio-technical challenges. Understanding the different values and perspectives that coincide, can help to open spaces for diverse viewpoints and perspectives, and surface voices and viewpoints previously unseen or underexposed.
Although we often feel that dilemmas and controversies separate us, when we embrace them, they can help us to identify and shape responsible futures.
The presented conflict-inspired approach is a promising way to achieve social innovation in a responsible manner. By unpacking the network of conflicts that make up controversies, participants gain greater awareness of various values and perspectives in society. More importantly, they learn how to relate these values to each other to reveal and utilize potential conflicts.