Title: Cross-cultural Co-creation of Digitalization Efforts for preserving Indigenous Knowledge


Summary: The position addresses imbrications and limitations of designing cross-cultural ICT prototyped artifacts and methodologies to conserve and co-create digitalization of Indigenous Knowledge and cultural content pertaining to Intangible Heritage. The project is grounded in Participatory Action Research and methodologically in Participatory Design and seeks through in-situ design sessions and prototype development in Namibia together with indigenous groups in the Kalahari, to design approaches to interfaces and interaction design located in local epistemology.

Background: Indigenous Herero elders in Namibia have for decades transferred valuable cultural and local knowledge to youths through interpersonal interactions in collectivistic rural villages. The youths are now urged to study a ‘modern’ curriculum as directed by governmental rules and regulations – usually far away from their villages resulting in few home returns per year. This creates a knowledge paradox where youths can only fully partake in one epistemological system, while the tradition for the Hereros is that they return after years living in the city to the rural areas in the villages they come from. The consequences hereof limit not only to how to sustainably interact in the ecosystem, but will in few years have an impact on their cultural self-understanding. Generally, attempts to preserve and facilitate this knowledge transfer and conservation have proven difficult due to Western designers’ origin in another epistemological system and the technology production emanates from the dominant societies. This means that designs are unaligned with local perspectives, these are rarely checked with the people involved and technology by itself is not value-free thus it shapes through representation and is only able to include what the designers can represent.

Grounding the Approach: Due to the outspoken differences between designers and local elders, and the necessitation for eliciting design from ‘within’ the context, the project is positioned in the (Participatory) Action Research (PAR) paradigm (Reason & Bradbury, 2013). From an overview position I as a Western academic together with a local team of academics constitute and already belong in one epistemological ‘community of practice’ (Wenger, 1998) where the elders who are knowledgeable about the subject intended for digitalization subscribe to a local indigenous epistemology – hence constructivism becomes a viewing glass for looking at the research resulting from this collaboration. This positionality of outsiders and insiders having ‘sovereignty’ over different knowledges fits well with PAR tenets of Mutual Learning (Nielsen et al., 2003). and as suggested by Bennett (1986), through ‘experience of difference’ can we move from denial where “one’s own world view is unchallenged as central to reality” to integration by “application of ethno-relativism to one’s own identity”. The project is methodologically situated in Participatory Design, which is a product of imbalanced knowledge and power-relations in technology production in Scandinavian union-worker-management setups in late 60’s and early 70’s (Schuler & Namioka, 1993).

Thus in the context of participatory design not solely the designers’ world view gets challenged but also the users’ in terms of representational transformations and technology use. In the production of prototypes it is pivotal that the designed outcomes can represent the world views of the actors involved; that the actors are co-creators in this process and able to change it is fundamental to PD. Through the collaboration it is instrumental to facilitate the involved communities’ own empowerment (Freire, 2000) by enabling them to be critical towards technology that might be acculturating. Intertwined in all applied design and evaluation methods is the concept of ‘dialogue’ as expressed by Bohm (2007).

Contributions:  The project has so far contributed with methodological papers for the 12th and 13th Participatory Design Conference, Interact2013 and OZCHI’14. The design-technological outcomes of the PhD project have been published as both papers and book chapter in e.g. NordiCHI’12, SPRINGER Lecture Series, HCII’13 etc.    


Bennett, M. J. (1986). A developmental approach to training for intercultural sensitivity. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10(2):179-196.

Bohm, D. (2007). On Dialogue. Routledge, 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN 270 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Nielsen, J., Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L., and Danielsen, O. (2003). Dialogue Design-With mutual learning as guiding principle. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 15(1):21-40.

Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (2013). The SAGE handbook of action research: Participative inquiry and practice. Sage.

Schuler, D. and Namioka, A. (1993). Participatory design: Principles and practices. L. Erlbaum Associates Inc.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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