Design for Cognitive Justice

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= a form of Value Sensitive Design, a way of fighting illegitimate Protocollary Power


Maja van der Velden:

"The importance of cognitive justice for the design and development of information systems is that it provides a framework that challenges the assumed neutrality of the technology and the technology designer. With cognitive justice there is no objective ‘expert’ position from which to design and develop technology. Cognitive justice focuses information systems design on the knowers and the environments in which their knowledge is situated. As a result, the design process itself becomes a dialogue of diverse interests and values. The importance of this dialogue is that it takes place during the design of the “technical arrangements that precede the use of the technology in question.

In theory, a design process based on cognitive justice would lead to technologies that are more flexible, because they accommodate diverse interests, and more democratic, because they incorporate diverse values. In practice, the full participation of end users, including their diverse knowledges in each phase of the project, leads to technical solutions that provide a better overall fit. As the study of ecological systems shows, diversity plays a crucial role in a system’s ability and capacity to adapt to change and to solve problems. In the absence of diversity, development can stumble and social, economic and cultural disruption will follow (Apffel-Marglin & Marglin, 1996; Lal, 2002; Shiva, 1993).

By enabling diversity, cognitive justice renders effectiveness a product of the meeting of knowledges of participants. A knowledge sharing system based on cognitive justice may thus produce the same or even a higher level of effectiveness or efficiency than a regular system. Johnson et al. (1998) argue that a diverse, non-competitive system is more successful in problem solving than a competitive, survival-of–the-fittest system. This may be the result of diversity enabling self-organisation. Thus the diversity and self-organising capacity of a system are interlinked. Self-organisation, the process in which global order comes forth out of local interactions, builds forth on both the differences and commonalities found in the local entities that form its diversity. A self-organising system uses collaboration and decentralised local control to network the local entities. Similarly, De Landa (1997) describes how a diverse, self-organising system, through meshworking, can create the same economies of scale as a hierarchy of uniform elements.

Escobar (2003) uses the term “meshworks” while Rheingold (2003) uses the terms “swarming tactics” and “smart mobs” to refer to the decentralised, self-organising, flexible, and often mobile, networks that civil society is building in cyberspace. Out of these smart mobs and meshworks comes an emergent, collective intelligence. Embedding cognitive justice in information technology may facilitate these meshworks and smart mobs and cultivate their diversity and capacity for self-organisation. The result may be an increase in their swarm intelligence, the emergence of a more effective solution or a higher problem-solving capacity. Seen in this perspective, cognitive justice is an ethical framework that simultaneously may cultivate more efficient networks and more effective knowledges." (