Probing into apartment management platforms for inclusion of domestic helpers
Many apartment complexes in Bengaluru are now being managed with the help of apps like Apna Complex, MyGate, Apartment Adda, etc. that can be used to keep track of everything from maintenance payments, to monitor entry and exit at the main gate, to being a community forum for people in the building to talk about what’s going on. Discussions in these forums and the usage of features like rating and reviewing domestic workers show how these apps are being used to actively quantify, qualify and control the lives of domestic workers . While before these apps residents would use platforms like Whatsapp to discuss these concerns, the digital platforms give an organized and structured way of tracking and reporting worker performance. Surprisingly, although it concerns them directly, workers have no access to this system. These platforms deny them the rights to create, read, and update content or contest the ways in which their information flows through the system and this seems to be prevalent in many such apps which drive the gig economy .
As designers, we believe, this information asymmetry is unjust and denies workers access to a system that has significant impact on their livelihoods and dignity. Petty ratings and reviews, quantification of worker attendance, inconveniences like having to identify themselves using different 6-digit codes at complexes they work at and the lack of privacy considerations in the data about workers exposed on the platform (photos, phone numbers, addresses) — all point towards how these systems have excluded workers and worker interests in their design and instead cater to the security and convenience of the middle-class residents who occupy these gated communities. Keeping this context in mind we want to ask,
What are the consequences of giving helpers access to create, update and read information that concerns them on these apartment management platforms?
We want to engage with this context using props for collaborative generation and exploration of design ideas . We are going to identify intersections between the journey of a domestic worker, the platform and the design idea and use them as sites to critique, engage and discover new ways of enabling workers to participate in the apartment management platforms. We want to work in the pursuit of the non-existing and the ultimate particular  instead of focusing on solving or investigating existing realities of the systems these platforms are embedded in. To this end we propose the following timeline for our studio -
We will be conducting the research with one resident, their domestic help and security staff over a period of 6 days. The first session of three days will introduce the artefact through drama to the domestic help which will aid in warming her up to the idea of collaborating with us. The next two days we will be spent in giving her access to the artefact and observing her interactions with it. We aim to present these initial findings at the WIP session and after iterating based on feedback, we will conduct our second session of 3 more days.
We propose to document and share the knowledge generated from our design engagement using speculative fiction in the form of a video, story book or a zine. The key expected outcomes are ways to understand emerging roles and forms that apartment management can take which would include and appreciate workers and worker interests. We hope our research can help uncover what implications a design practice of this nature would have on the design of these platforms and the relationships between the various actors in this system starting from the security staff to the residents of gated communities.
- Eva Brandt and Camilla Grunnet. Evoking the future: Drama and props in user centered design.
- Erik Stolterman. Perspective The Nature of Design Practice and Implications for Interaction Design Research.
- Gopal Sathe. 2018. On Maid-Rating Apps India’s Entitled Baba-Log Hit New Low. HuffPost India. Retrieved January 23, 2019 from https://www.huffingtonpost.in/2018/11/18/how-apartmentadda-mygate-commonfloor-make-class-privilege-in-gated-colonies-visible_a_23591186/
- Nick Grossman Woyke Elizabeth. 2015. Serving workers in the gig economy. O’Reilly Media. Retrieved January 24, 2019 from https://www.oreilly.com/ideas/serving-workers-in-the-gig-economy-report