Thursday, December 29, 2011

Interview with Lisa Nathan

Lisa Nathan is a faculty member at SLAIS, the iSchool at the University of British Columbia. Through a range of projects she investigates: 1) the design of information systems that address societal challenges, specifically those that are ethically charged and impact multiple generations (e.g., environmental degradation, war, colonialism) and 2) creative information practices that influence how these systems are appropriated over time. She is a founding member of the Voices from the Rwanda Tribunal project hosted by the University of Washington. The project's website provides citizens around the world with various means to access and use video interviews with personnel from the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (e.g., judges, defense lawyers, translators, prosecutors). The research team is building design theory and method to inform the development of the multi-lifespan information system design research initiative.

HCI for Peace interviewed Lisa about her work with the Voices from the Rwanda Tribunal project.

Lisa Nathan: A brief caveat before I dive into answering the questions - although the responses are mine, my experience with this project is strongly shaped by the numerous individuals I have had the honor of working with over the past few years. In particular, discussions with Batya Friedman (project PI), Nell Grey, Milli Lake, Bob Utter and Betty Utter continue to shape how I think about the project.

HCI for Peace: Can you briefly explain the concept of multi-lifespan information systems and how it may apply to post-conflict reconciliation?

Lisa Nathan: For me, the question motivating multi-lifespan information system design is simple - how can we design information systems to help us address complex societal challenges that influence many generations? For example, how might we design an information system to help recover from genocide or environmental degradation or colonization? Rather than thinking in the short term - designing an information system to meet the needs of today - the multi-lifespan information system approach is focused on longer-term goals. In terms of post-conflict reconciliation, the multi-lifespan design approach recognizes that reconciliation after horrific conflict will likely take many generations to achieve. The approach positions designers to investigate how an information system might scaffold this multi-year process. Although the concept is simple, implementation is complex and quite frankly, daunting.

HCI for Peace: How did you get involved in the project with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda?

Lisa Nathan: At the time I was a doctoral student working with Professor Batya Friedman at the University of Washington. We attended a talk by Angeline Djampou, the Director of LIbraries for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). After the talk we met with Ms. Djampou to discuss with her the multi-lifespan information system design approach, which at the time was a nascent concept. There was a great deal of synergy throughout the conversation. She invited us to visit the ICTR in Tanzania to speak with administrative officials about developing a multi-lifespan information system associated with the work of the ICTR. We made the trip a few months later and officials were very receptive to the idea. We were invited to return a few months later to start a project. Once we were back in Seattle we invited a range of people involved in information system design, international justice, international criminal law, and film to work with us on crafting the project. Over many long discussions and challenging debates, the Voices from the Rwanda Tribunal project began to take shape. We were given permission from the ICTR to recruit tribunal personnel for video interviews. During the interviews judges, defense lawyers, interpreters, prosecutors shared compelling reflections concerning the role of justice in the process of reconciliation. There were no restrictions in terms of interview questions and ICTR administration did not ask to review the material we collected. Interviewees were provided the opportunity to review his or her video interview, but only one person asked to have an interview sealed until the ICTR closes. That was the beginning of the project. Although an incredible amount of work has gone into the project over the past few years, it is still just getting underway.

HCI for Peace: What is one of the greatest challenges in the project?

Lisa Nathan: The multi-lifespan information system design approach is incredibly ambitious. It is much easier to critique than it is to feel that you have made progress because we are building a system to address a complex, shifting issue. Clearly this challenge is tied to what you use for metrics of success. Most projects in our field are in the 2-5 year range and it is a bit easier to figure out whether they were successful or not. Similarly, funding opportunities and other standard research components are based on projects with a much shorter time frame.

HCI for Peace: What are your hopes for the system you built?

Lisa Nathan: It is critical to realize that although there are strong technical components, at its heart this is a deeply human endeavor, it depends a lot on things like interpersonal relationships, goodwill, trust, and respect. I see those involved as stewards of the system, constantly evaluating and trying to improve the system (technical aspects, policies, protocols, etc.).One of my deepest wishes is that more Rwandans become actively involved in the project. I am not referring just to Rwandans using the material within the system to support local initiatives -- which is happening and is fantastic --but Rwandans becoming active stewards, helping to envision future adaptations of the Voices from the Rwandan Tribunal information system.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

HCI for Peace hosting a workshop at CHI 2012

It will be on May 5 or 6, 2012 in Austin, Texas. Please checkout the workshop's website for more information.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

HCI for Peace on SustainableLens

Samuel Mann interviewed Juan Pablo Hourcade for SustainableLens, a radio program out of Otago Access Radio in New Zealand. You can listen to the interview about HCI for Peace, which covers most of the material in the paper Prof. Hourcade presented on HCI for Peace at the CHI 2011 conference. The interview starts about 5 minutes and 40 seconds into the program.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Humanitarian demining: An interview with Lahiru Jayatilaka

Lahiru Jayatilaka is a researcher at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He leads the project called PETALS, which aims to create visual support devices for use by humanitarian deminers. We recently had the opportunity to interview him.

HCI for Peace: What has inspired you to conduct research on computer-based solutions to clear landmines?

LJ: Thrishantha Nanayakkara introduced me to the severity of the landmine problem during my Sophomore year at Harvard. After a couple of conversations with him, I was moved by the humanitarian urgency of the problem, and simultaneously shocked at the state-of-the-art in the domain. I, like most others, could not wrap my mind around the fact that most landmine clearance occurred with humans using metal detectors and hand-held probing tools. In these times of ‘high-tech’, it seemed unjust to have a fellow human being manually finding and removing buried explosives--a missed audio signal seemed to be the difference between life and death. Furthermore, I found it hard to accept the reality that countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia had remained contaminated with landmines since around the 1970s. Why was landmine clearance so slow? Why did we have to risk human life to get rid of these post-conflict threats? These ponderings, along with a keenness to apply my skills as a Computer Scientist to interesting, challenging and socially relevant problems, were some of the driving factors behind my decision to enter this space.

HCI for Peace: Can you give us a brief overview of the PETALS project?

LJ: The PETALS (Pattern Enhancement Tool for Assisting Landmine Sensing) project is a recent research initiative at Harvard University that aims to develop assistive visual devices to improve the safety and efficiency of metal detector-based humanitarian demining. PETALS is motivated by two fundamental characteristics of humanitarian landmine clearance. First, metal detectors are, and will for a very long time remain, the primary detection tool for finding landmines. Second, metal detectors are of limited effectiveness, as modern landmines contain only minimal amounts of metal, making them difficult to distinguish from the ubiquitous but harmless metallic clutter littering post-combat areas. In response to these challenges related to detection, the PETALS system enables deminers to visualize ‘metallic signatures’. A metallic signature is simply the outline of an electromagnetic field belonging to a buried metallic object. Given that a metallic signature is roughly proportional in size and shape to the buried metallic object, visualizing metallic signatures provides more information to the deminer about the nature of the object buried in the ground, thereby, enabling better detection decisions.

HCI for Peace: What are your plans for the future of PETALS?

LJ: We are currently prototyping the PETALS system with both novice and expert humanitarian deminers at a demining training center. These preliminary field studies have helped us gather ecological support for our experimental findings, and also ascertain feedback about eventual system design. We hope to continue with these field studies during the coming months, while simultaneously transitioning PETALS to a field-ready system. If our plans proceed as expected, we hope to deploy PETALS commercially in the not-so-distant future.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

HCI for Peace: A Call for Constructive Action

A preview of our CHI 2011 paper is now available here: Here is the abstract for the paper:
Peace is an important value for the human-computer interaction research community, yet it has not resulted in the development of a research sub-community or even a research agenda. In this paper we seek to address this void by first motivating the need for computing research on promoting peace and preventing war. We then review evidence on the factors that affect the likelihood that armed conflict will occur, as well as the aspects involved when individuals make moral decisions on whether or not to support a war. Based on this review, we propose a research agenda, citing research examples from the human-computer interaction literature and discussing new ideas.