Tying Knots: Participatory Infrastructuring at Work
Today, most design projects are infrastructuring projects, because they build on technologies, competencies and practices that already exist. While infrastructuring was originally seen as being full of conflicts and contradictions with what is already present, we find that many contemporary reports seem to mainly address participatory infrastructuring as horizontal co-design and local, mutual learning processes in which people attempt to make the most out of available technology. In this paper we expand our view of design activities in three dimensions: First, how participatory processes play out vertically in different political and practical arenas; second, on the back stage of design, the messy activities that occur before, between and after the participatory workshops. And third, on their reach; how they tie into existing networks across organizations, and how agency and initiatives become dispersed within these networks. To illustrate and discuss the process of participatory infrastructuring we use a case study from an educational context. This particular project contains a diverse set of design activities at many organizational levels revolving around technology, decision-making, competence-building, commitment and policy-making. The project highlights these complexities, and our discussions lead to a vocabulary for participatory infrastructuring that focuses on knotworking, rather than structure, and on both horizontal and vertical reach and sustainability. This vocabulary is grounded in the meeting of the literature on infrastructuring, participatory design, and activity theory, and leads to a revised understanding of, for example, learning and conflicts in participatory infrastructuring.