Management Centre for Human Values, IIM Calcutta (MCHV) & Association for INAIS co-host Workshop on “Being (more) Human in a Digitised World”

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New Delhi: Management Centre for Human Values (MCHV) at IIM Calcutta and the Association for Information Systems – India Chapter co-hosted the “Workshop on Being (more) Human in a Digitised World” at the MCHV Seminarium in IIM Calcutta on February 1-2, 2019. The workshop brought together 30 researchers and practitioners working on the various facets of behavioral and social issues relating to information technology. Researchers and doctoral students from institutions of national importance in India and universities abroad participated. These included IIM Bangalore, IIT Delhi, IIIT Bangalore, Xavier University Bhubaneswar, Australian National University, National University of Singapore, University of New South Wales (Australia), Towson University (USA), Nova Southeastern University, etc. Select papers from the workshop will be part of the special issue of the Springer journal Information Systems Frontiers.

There were 14 paper presentations, one panel discussion and one experience sharing session spread over one and half days. Day 1 began with an inauguration of the Workshop by Director – IIM Calcutta, Dr. Anju Seth. During her address to the audience, Dr. Seth emphasized the need for such inter-disciplinary workshops and conferences to bring together researchers and practitioners from disciplines as diverse as information systems, computer science, sociology, marketing, strategy, behavioural sciences etc. She also opined that in a world where people are gravitating away from fundamental human values, centres like MCHV have a more intense role to play in re-establishing the importance of these. Prof. Manish Thakur, Coordinator, Management Centre for Human Values and Professor, Public Policy and Management Group at IIM Calcutta highlighted the broad mandate of the centre, mentioning the current and upcoming activities of MCHV. Prof. Saji Mathew (Department of Management Studies, IIT Madras) and Prof. Priya Seetharaman (MIS Group, IIM Calcutta), co-chairs provided the background of the workshop, recollecting how the theme of the workshop was framed and set the context for the deliberations. Prof. Saji Mathew also briefly introduced the Association for Information Systems – India Chapter and encouraged the participants to play a more active role in the association’s activities and view it as a platform for networking with other information systems researchers across the country.

The first paper presentation session for the day included papers on the social factors shaping users’ agency to engage with voice user interfaces in smartphones and other devices; the need for designing ICTs which are low-cost, small-scale applications, easily operable by local stakeholders, and provide scope for creativity demonstrated by the mobile payment platforms; how complementary institutional voids can be bridged using ICTs as seen in the case of a start-up that addresses the problem of poor quality of rural education. The second half of Day 1 of the workshop included 4 papers on diverse topics such as smartphone addiction and its impact on social life of people; evolution of automation; a social knowledge management framework proposed to bridge the rural-urban divide through a social technology platform; and an institutional work perspective to the creation and development of digital social enterprise.

The day ended with a panel discussion on “Making technology more human(e)” with panelists Prof. Atreyi Kankanhalli, Mr. Dilip Ghosh, Prof. Israr Qureshi and Mr. Mandeep Attri moderated by Prof. Anirvan Pant. Interesting perspectives on the boon and bane of technology were presented by the panelists. While prevailing discourses on the impact of artificial intelligence on unemployment, de-personalization and control were discussed, the panelists also argued that information technology also demands a user-centric, cautious approach given that intelligent democratized technologies and their use are often unpredictable in their consequences. A number of new technologies tend to alienate themselves from the everydayness of human lives since they are designed to not let users negotiate with them. The ambiguity between the technology itself and the designers and creators of such technologies is a cause for concern. The panel emphasized that it must be the designer and the creator who should be more sensitive and empathetic to the human user of such technologies, building humane(ness) into the technology, instead of leaving much to the technology to self-learn human values.

Day 2 of the workshop began with an early morning experience sharing session on “Doing Ethnography on Technology-related Phenomena” where Profs. M.S.Sandeep, Israr Qureshi, Bidisha Chaudhuri and Doctoral Students Linus Kendall and Rishikesan Parthiban shared their experiences doing ethnography, the challenges they faced and what could be done to overcome them. Be it Sandeep’s work with the Syrian refugees in Europe, Israr’s work with marginalized communities across India, Bidisha’s work with ration shop owners and citizens in Andhra Pradesh, Linus’s action research work in the Sunderbans or Rishi’s work with women in rural India, there seems to be a far greater need to situate oneself in the context and view the artifact and the affordances from the users’ perspective in order to understand, create, assess, question and improve information technology devices and applications.

The two paper presentation sessions scheduled for Day 2 included seven papers across two slots. The first three papers covered the research themes of creating an ecosystem for assistive technologies for the visually impaired children to study science and math; inclusion of the vision impaired through open source software; and gender and exclusion in the technology-enabled welfare distribution through Aadhaar. The final session of the workshop included four papers on technology enablement of cities; using twitter analytics to map customer expectations; the role of the national knowledge network on academic and research collaboration; and using tourist sentiment analysis on Indian destinations.

The workshop ended with concluding remarks. Over lunch, the participants shared their experience of meeting a diverse set of people in working with many different areas and themes of research – from intensely technical areas such as twitter analytics and sentiment analysis to intensely social themes such as inclusion of the marginalized and differently abled. The opportunity to understand diverse research methods used by different researchers; debate the different perspectives on technology use by people, communities and society at large; apart from the comments and feedback on work-in-progress were greatly appreciated by the participants.