Cultural Appropriation of Software Design and Evaluation

Cultural Appropriation of Software Design and Evaluation

Heike Winschiers-Theophilus (Polytechnic of Namibia, Namibia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-264-0.ch046
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Communities all over the world have established their own value systems which do not necessarily correlate with the intrinsic values of technology. The account of internationalization and localization of information technology reveals that an abstraction of the receiving societies’ culture leads to the design of unusable and unwanted socio-technical systems. Cross-cultural research extrapolates major challenges of current development practices. Longtime established methods, understandings of quality concepts, and metrics of socio-technical systems can no longer be assumed to be universals. Thus the author argues that as much as the design of socio-technical systems has to be synchronized with the target community so does the design and evaluation process itself as well as the underlying quality concepts. Empirical research in the design of information and decision support systems in the Namibian context demonstrates the need for a change of paradigm in socio-technical system design and supports the presented culture-driven design framework.
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Technological innovation has progressed with breathtaking speed during the last decade. Especially in the field of information technology where people are under constant pressure to keep abreast of development be it at work or in their private space. Although technology is intended to be used by every citizen, not all can manage. Societies are divided in “technological know and know nots”. The socio-technical gap is widening by the day as the technologically skilled are the one’s continuously driving technology further. However in socio-economical terms, all communities are targeted to use technology. Researchers and practitioners worldwide are facing numerous challenges in developing usable systems for specific socio-cultural contexts. Crossing disciplinary or cultural boundaries implies that one should reconsider conventional assumptions, concepts and methods (Winschiers, 2006). As much as artifacts are cultural so are processes, thus software as well as their development methodology are not universally applicable. The invalidity of established design methods and concepts is best explicated with case studies from a society where the value system is highly distinct from a technological society. Our experience is based on the design and evaluation of information and decision support systems in Namibia, a southern African country. From these case studies, similar evidences from the literature and theoretical models, lessons can be learned informing appropriate socio-technical system development.

Culture in this chapter shall be seen as an orientation system including values, beliefs, and behaviors of a group sharing genuine or virtual reality. An important aspect of our debate is to consider culture as much as a structure and a process as defined by cross-cultural psychologist Boesch (in Eckensberger, 1997): Culture represents the field of action which it induces and controls and is also continuously transformed by it. Thus considering culture in relation to the action of software development implies that culture induces and controls the development but is at the same time transformed by it. The dynamic and mutual interdependence of culture and information technology has become apparent through manifold experiences of technology transfer, internationalization and localization efforts and cross-cultural design.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Internationalization: Designing Software for easy local adaptation

Participatory Design: Users are actively involved in the design process. It is rooted in trade unionist movements of cooperative workplace design. Thus in some instances it has a political dimension of user empowerment and democratizations.

Cultural Model: A model consisting of cultural determinants/ variables which can describe and distinguish different societies.

Localization: Local adaptation of software products

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