Playing make believe in the Finnish Digital Agency - Exploring socio-political implications in the digital public sector through speculative design and live action roleplay

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Master's Programme in Collaborative and Industrial Design
77 + 29
The Finnish Government has decided that public services will be primarily digital in the future, suggesting proactive, personalized services that increase efficiency and improve user experience. Meanwhile, digital governance initiatives have been criticized for not only exacerbating existing structures of inequality but also creating new ones. Where do we draw the line between “personalized services” and “surveillance state”? How do we balance questions of efficiency and convenience with accountability and democracy? The digital public systems of the future will have consequences far more complex than what traditional design practices can help prepare us for. We need other tools to examine which societal implications we should steer clear of and those we want to steer towards. This thesis explores the use of speculative design and live action roleplay (larp) to explore potential socio-political implications of the future of the Finnish digital public sector. The case study is the Aalto Thesis Project – Design system in Digital Public Sector in collaboration with the Finnish Digital Agency. Background research and expert interviews create the base for the speculative design of an automated, public service platform, Suomi Cloud. The larp, a citizen’s feedback session set in the year 2035, explores the socio-political implications of Suomi Cloud through 11 characters representing future Finnish citizens. The larp is played in a workshop with employees from the Finnish Digital Agency and students from the Aalto Thesis Project group. The research demonstrates that speculative design and larp are effective tools for engaging concrete discussions about the future. Larp and improvisation allow for immersion in the fictional narrative and spontaneous reactions less clouded by rationalization. Different characters create multi-angled discussions and evoke empathy for the characters’ experiences. However, a need for facilitation and explicit articulation of issues to discuss is identified to elicit more profound reflections on societal and political implications and structures. Moreover, the study suggests a need for a more continuous mode of working to move from speculation to action. While the thesis is based on just one case study, the project indicates a synergy between speculative design as an approach and larp as a medium. Additionally, the research contributes to a growing body of work that utilizes speculative design in the public sector context.
Julier, Guy
Thesis advisor
Wu, Yiying
speculative design, speculative futures, live action roleplay, larp, digital public sector, digital transformation, public sector
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