Stakholder involvement and the case of Hidden Design

The first output from our project was published yesterday. Dr. Auke Pols published a paper titled:

‘May Stakeholders be Involved in Design Without Informed Consent? The Case of Hidden Design’

The paper is open access. You can find it here


Stakeholder involvement in design is desirable from both a practical and an ethical point of view. It is difficult to do well, however, and some problems recur again and again, both of a practical nature, e.g. stakeholders acting strategically rather than openly, and of an ethical nature, e.g. power imbalances unduly affecting the outcome of the process. Hidden Design has been proposed as a method to deal with the practical problems of stakeholder involvement. It aims to do so by taking the observation of stakeholder actions, rather than the outcomes of a deliberative process, as its input. Furthermore, it hides from stakeholders the fact that a design process is taking place so that they will not behave differently than they otherwise would. Both aspects of Hidden Design have raised ethical worries. In this paper I make an ethical analysis of what it means for a design process to leave participants uninformed or deceived rather than acquiring their informed consent beforehand, and to use observation of actions rather than deliberation as input for design, using Hidden Design as a case study. This analysis is based on two sets of normative guidelines: the ethical guidelines for psychological research involving deception or uninformed participants from two professional psychological organisations, and Habermasian norms for a fair and just (deliberative) process. It supports the conclusion that stakeholder involvement in design organised in this way can be ethically acceptable, though under a number of conditions and constraints.