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Cultivating Sustainability – Sensors and Tangible Interaction for Urban Farmin

PhD project As a response to climate change and the environmental crisis, there is an increased interest in more-than-human centered design in HCI. The research project contributes to this field, through design oriented participant observation studies of an urban community farm.

More-than-human centered design focuses on the needs, driving forces, value and agency of other species, while not excluding human perspectives. This is investigated in the project through two methods. The empirical segment is mainly based on three years of participant observation studies of an urban community farm in Stockholm, Sweden. These studies focus on the needs, values and driving forces of urban farmers and their use of interactive and sensing technologies. The other segment uses research through design methodology to reimagine how urban community farming can be designed for.

Project overview

Project period:

2017-09-01 2020-03-01

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Informatics

Research area

Informatics

Project description

Currently, dominant paradigm of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is ‘user centered design’ in which designers study the needs of other humans as ‘users’ in iterative processes. This approach has been crucial when interaction design has moved to diverse contexts of everyday life. However, there are indications that this user centeredness is outgrowing its applicability in the increasingly complex settings in which interaction design is adopted.

This project studies an outdoors setting  that implies a re-contextualization of technologies. Re-contextualization is a continuous process where HCI  has expanded  from the workplace to the home;  from cognitive science to culture;  from stationary computing to ubiquitous computing and so on. To understand this process,  the urban farmers adoption of technologies is studied within the project. The study investigates why certain technologies are adopted in a more-than-human centered  outdoors context, and other technologies are not. This creates insights on interactive qualities that are central in shaping engaging experiences of the more-than-human. The study particularly focuses on  technology as mediating experiences of the environment and more-than-human. Such mediation may range from concrete measuring of data with sensors, to more ambiguous bodily, emotional and cognitive experiences .

Sensors, AI, and IoT are already implemented to optimize growing conditions in AgTech , industrial farming and pioneering IT research . Likewise, applications and devices are developed for more small scale cultivation.  Nevertheless, these technologies are not broadly adopted in the studied urban community and other communities alike. The studied urban farmers are not categorically against technology in their aims to ‘be close to nature’. Instead, the reason why these technologies are not broadly adopted seems to be that they are not adjusted to the context of the urban community farm – an urban commons ecology  exposed to the elements as well as the people of the city. A context that emphasizes  bodily, present, and spontaneous engagement with the soil, plants, and other organisms.

To approach such contexts we need alternatives, in terms of both methodology, theory and concrete designs. More-than-human centered design is a field that contributes with these perspectives through redefining what is included as stakeholders of interactive technologies. From this perspective, we do not only understand interaction as turn taking between humans and technology, but as unfolding between more diverse entities with agency or autonomy. These entities may be both living and technological (e.g robots and AI). This project particularly focuses on the living.