Ehn: "Scandinavian Design: On Participation and Skill"

Ehn, P. (1993). Scandinavian Design: On Participation and Skill. In D. Schuler (Ed.), Participatory design : principles and practices (pp. 41-70). Hillsdale N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates.



Scandinavian approach-- ''work-oriented design approach.'' Democratic. Political and technical.


Designing for Democracy At Work


Freedom from the constraints imposed by the market economy and the power of capital. Freedom to practically formulate and carry out projects that further democratize work. Attempts to democratize address: power of capital owners  to control how resources are used; decide how production process in general is organized of how tech is designed and used; power of workers to decide how work to be organized, planed, controlled; power to limit an individual''s autonomy at work.


The Scandinavian Setting


features of Scandinavian countries. (unionization, education, trade unions, etc.). Compares to US-- democracy stops "at the office door and the factory gate."


Laws on Democratization of Work


History of democratization in Scandinavian countries. 


The Trade Unions as Vehicles for Industrial Democracy


Workers collective. Two major weaknesses: can only informally defend individual worker; lacks organizational ability to develop offensive strategy for changes. Other issues of lack of homogeneity, power issues. 


Unions and Design


need new trade union activities. traditionally have focused on "distribution" issues-- wages, working issues. Characterize as well-developed union objectives, clearly formulated demands (oft quantified), demands based on workers'' practical experience; clearly delimited short negotiation cycles. Contrast to production issues: only vaguely formulated union objectives, demands difficult to quantify, practical must be supplemented by theoretical knowledge, design processes that stretch over long periods of time, negotiation situations difficult to define clearly.


From Sociotechnical Solutions to Work-Oriented Design


Critiques sociotech approach. 


The NJMF Project


Project group-- carried out investigations into study of 2-3 comp based planning/control sys; survey of union goals re working conditions and org control; form of demands on comp-based sys based on survey; eval of need for knowledge in areas of planning, control, data processing, poss dev of teaching material. 


As project progressed, impossible to apply project to daily work. New strat had to be developed to determine to accumulate knowledge about planning, control, data processing; investigate selected probs in these areas; tak actions directed at management to change use of new tech. 


Brought about results; inspired new research projects. Tradition termed "collective resource approach"


The DEMOS Project


Swedish. Union influence in affecting the project. Made demands to influence democratization of the work.


The UTOPIA Project


supplemented ideas from other projects to develop UTOPIA (acronym for Training, Technology, and Products from a Quality of Work Perspective).


Other Projects


notes several other projects using participatory work-oriented design approach, and not only for computer-based systems


Some Lessons on Design and Democratization


  • participatory approach not sufficient for democratization
  • trade unions must play active role
  • need clear distinction based on negotiations between union and mgmt.
  • comp-based systems req. new trade union activities.
  • comp-based systems often restrict trade union abilities to reach local objectives


Towards a Philosophical Foundation For Skill-Based Participatory Design


need new foundation for science of design


Rethinking Systems Descriptions


don''t underestimate the importance of skill in design; do not mistake the role of description methods in design. Picture theory of reality


Practice is Reality