How can design methods add a public voice to scientific research questions?

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Technological and scientific change will radically transform the world we know. We vote on daily politics but how can we, the public, have the opportunity to shape the technological landscape of the world 50 years from now? What kind of future do we want? Whose future is it? And how do we get there?

Scientific bodies have long been striving to create a culture of public engagement with ideas and directions of scientific researchers. Having a public voice in scientific research helps to maintain public trust in science and ensures accountability, relevance and ethics of the directions that scientific and technological progress will take us. Most efforts at public guidance with research involve presentation and discussion of scientific material, but all too often these events fail to offer genuine input from the public or critique of the science being discussed. Emerging methods in design and futures studies could provide a creative, non-technical way for the public to directly influence scientific research questions. …

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Image: Eric Schummutenmaer

Any scientist will tell you that science is a process of trial and error. Error, however, is rarely rewarded (and often not even admitted to) by the scientific community. This is a result of stagnation in the way that scientific discoveries are made public, with scientific publishing seemingly stuck in a paradigm unaffected by the modern digital age. The current system makes it difficult to publish negative results or failed experiments, often resulting in different labs repeating the same experiments and making the same mistakes. This lack of recognition for the value of failure holds back creative risk-taking in science.

Whilst scientific publishing at this moment isn’t broken, it does leave a lot to be desired. Scientific discoveries are reported by publishing papers in journals, a convention dating back to 1665 when the first scientific journal was established. The submitted paper is traditionally a polished work, containing the necessary background information and details of a set of experiments which, taken together, lead to a certain conclusion being proposed. …


Finn Strivens

Futurist and participatory designer looking to revolutionize the interaction between science, design and the public.

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