On the Role of External Representations in Designing for Participatory Sensemaking

Philémonne Jaasma, Jelle van Dijk, Joep Frens, Caroline Hummels

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Public issues demand highly complex collaborations in which different (public, private) stakeholders, each with their own complementary or conflicting interests, expertise and experiences, work toward public good. Typically, collaborative technological applications function to represent people’s ideas and to enable the exchange of representational messages between people. By contrast, we designed [X]Changing Perspectives ([X]CP): an interactive table-system for multi-stakeholder collaboration around public issues. The system aims, not to represent views but rather, to scaffold the emergence of situated meaningful couplings in face-to-face interactions. It helps people to align their visual attention, materialises their input and provokes associations. However, [X]CP does contain representations, such as symbols, tangibles and an interactive visualisation. In reflecting on its design and use, we analyse what these representations do, as seen from the perspective of embodied, participatory sensemaking. We explain how representations are not the foundational building blocks of the system, and how they do not have fixed meanings. Rather, as scaffolds, our representations add a layer of artificial structure that guides the ongoing interactive couplings between people, contributing to participatory sensemaking. Applying this approach to the design of mediating technologies for multi-stakeholder collaborations can open up new ways of interacting and understanding between stakeholders without disrupting their collaboration.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the Conference on Design and Semantics of Form and Movement - Sense and Sensitivity, DeSForM 2017
EditorsMiguel Bruns Alonso, Elif Ozcan
ISBN (Electronic)978-953-51-3588-3
ISBN (Print)978-953-51-3587-6
Publication statusPublished - 18 Oct 2017
Event10th Conference on Design and Semantics of Form and Movement, DeSForM 2017: Sense and Sensitivity - Eindhoven, Netherlands
Duration: 17 Oct 201720 Oct 2017
Conference number: 10


Conference10th Conference on Design and Semantics of Form and Movement, DeSForM 2017
Abbreviated titleDeSForM


  • multi-stakeholder collaboration
  • participatory sensemaking
  • embodied sensemaking
  • representation
  • embodied cognition


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