In our previous blogpost, we introduced our 3 participatory design workshops about social media. In this blogpost, we will tell you about our first workshop, which was dedicated to the present of social media.
Our first workshop had 2 main goals:
- Getting to know each other, and
- Becoming familiar with the existing data
Getting to know each other
One of the core objectives of the first workshop was getting to know each other and becoming comfortable working together. To get started, we invited people to introduce themselves through something they had made. This gave us an opportunity to share some of our special interests.
The object-based introductions turned out to be a fantastic ice-breaker. There was a truly remarkable range of skills and abilities within the participating groups. We got to see illustrations, paintings, embroidery, music, poems, fabulous Lego pieces and even a guitar that one of our participants had made from scratch. The members of the research team brought hand-made bead jewellery, delicious Mexican food recipes with over 20 ingredients, and beautiful crochet pieces.
Becoming familiar with the existing data
The second goal of the first workshop was to become familiar with the data the project had collected during its first year. This data was gathered through interviews, and also included participants’ Facebook and Twitter posts.
During the first workshop, we looked at this data through an activity called the evidence safari. To prepare the activity, the researchers chose a sample of the data representing the main topics and subjects. Then, they organised the sample data into 5 themes. These themes are summarised below:
- Autistic community. This theme was about how people use social media to connect and interact with other autistic people.
- Comments. This theme was about people’s preference for engaging with existing social media conversations, rather than starting new ones from scratch.
- Social media features. This theme was about how people use things like emojis, images, GIFs and hashtags.
- Avoiding conflict. This theme was about how people carefully craft their social media messages to prevent misunderstandings and to avoid arguments.
- Special interests. This theme was about how people use social media to learn, read about and discuss their interests and hobbies.
Each of these themes included 4 evidence cards, with each card displaying a piece of data. All data in the cards was anonymised, with participants’ names and social media handles replaced with pseudonyms.
For each theme, we also prepared a review card. Each review card listed 4 questions participants were invited to reflect upon while looking at the evidence cards.
Workshop 1 took place remotely via videocall. To make possible our remote evidence safari, we put all the cards on a shared digital whiteboard, neatly organised by theme.
We also printed the cards on thin cardboard and posted them to participants well ahead of the workshop. Together with the cards, we also sent some magic whiteboard and washi tape, so that participants could put the cards up at home on a wall or window.
The evidence safari
We had 4 working groups, and so we run 4 different workshops: one with each group. A workshop lasted only 2 hours: not enough time to review all 5 themes. So we split the themes across the 4 workshops. Each workshop was allocated 2 themes to review, with 20 minutes for each theme.
A theme review started with 5 minutes of individual work. During this time, participants read the cards in the theme, and wrote comments about them. There were 2 ways of writing comments. Participants could add their comments to the digital whiteboard, as shown in the image below.
Participants could also handwrite their comments using paper post-it notes. They emailed a photograph of their handwritten comments to the researchers, and the researchers then added those comments to the digital whiteboard.
After the review and comment time, there was a group discussion about the theme. Once the 20 minutes had passed, we repeated the process with the second theme. The workshop ended with some final reflections from each participant.
What did we find?
We are still reviewing and analysing the data from the workshops, so we cannot share much about this just yet. But one of the key messages from our participants was that they felt torn about social media as it is today.
On one hand, social media platforms are a fantastic tool to socialise and stay connected. On the other hand, they are confusing, have too much content, are prone to conflict, demand too much effort, jeopardise our privacy, and are driven by questionable business principles.
For now, it looks like the advantages of social media outweigh its drawbacks, but only by a wafer-thin margin. Change is needed if we are to preserve the benefits these technologies can contribute to our lives.
How do you feel about social media? Let us know by leaving a reply.