Reinventing social media

Between January and early May 2022 we were busy organising and running participatory design workshops about social media. 

Participatory design is a movement that aims to democratise the process of making technology. Participatory designers believe that all of us should have a say in what technology does and how it behaves. Therefore the objective of our workshops was to involve autistic adults in the process of evaluating and reinventing social media. 

For these workshops, we collaborated with 20 autistic adults recruited with the help of our research partner: Autistica. We split our 20 collaborators into 4 working groups of 5 people each. We did 3 workshops with each group, for a total of 12 workshops. 

We ran the workshops remotely via videoconference. To support the workshop activities, we used a digital whiteboard application.  

This image shows the progress of the digital whiteboard from one of the groups across the 3 workshops. It includes 4 vignettes. Vignette 1 shows the starting whiteboard, with the materials for workshop 1. Vignette 2 shows the whiteboard after workshop 1. Vignette 3 shows the whiteboard after workshop 3. Vignette 4 shows the whiteboard after workshop 3. You can appreciate how the number of materials and content increases from workshop to workshop
The evolution of the digital whiteboard used by one of our groups across the three workshops. 

Participants also received working materials by post. These materials were made of cardboard, and allowed people to choose how they wanted to work: with digital tools or with physical objects. 

The photograph shows the materials for workshop one right after they were printed, still in the box they came in.
The photograph shows the materials for workshop 2 right after they were printed, on top of the envelope they came in.
Some of the printed materials we posted to our participants for workshops one (top) and two (bottom). 

What did we do during the workshops? 

Our first workshop was dedicated to the present of social media. Together with our participants, we discussed the social media experiences and testimonies of other autistic adults. These testimonies had been collected during the first year of the project through interviews. They also included participants’ posts from Facebook and Twitter.  

The second workshop was dedicated to the future of social media. To help us envision the future, we designed special “social media features” that were a bit ridiculous and controversial. This was on purpose, since our special features were created to stimulate discussion. 

During the third workshop, we jumped back in time to discuss the near future of social media. Together we assembled functionality for a new social media platform designed by autistic adults. 

Over the next few days, we will publish a series of blogposts explaining what we did during each workshop in a bit more detail. We will also share some of the materials we used, and some of the work contributed by our participants.  

Stay tuned for the next instalment about workshop one, where we dealt with the present of social media. 

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