There is a tension
between the historical
focus on technological
novelty in HCI and
sustainability goals. I M A G
“sustainability is a process, not anendpoint.” Even as we develop focusedassessments, we must keep in mindthat such assessments are partial: Thecommunities we study are connected toother systems, whose sustainability mayhinge on other factors.
The processes that give rise to the issuesindexed by the term sustainability arelarger in time, space, organizational scale,ontological diversity, and complexitythan the scales and scopes addressed bytraditional HCI design, evaluation, andfieldwork methods. For example, humanshave been burning fossil fuels forcenturies, and while the consequenceshave become clear only in the pastfew decades, they will likely intensifyfor at least another century [ 4]. Theseeffects, and knowledge about them,affect everyday practices throughcomplex webs made up of ecosystems,institutions, and infrastructures, allof which change over months, years,and decades [ 5]. Studies that last weeksor months are rarely long enough tocapture these dynamics or substantivelyexplore the potential roles ofinformation technologies in respondingto or preparing for such changes.
Most sustainability-oriented work
takes place outside HCI. The foundations
for a popular awareness of sustainability
issues were laid in the late 20th century
by researchers in the environmental
sciences. In the past 20 years, robust
and interlinked sustainability
discourses have developed within
policy, industry, and civil society.
These discourses predate SHCI,which developed around 2007. Butlike SHCI, they include a commitmentto translating knowledge into action.
To better integrate knowledge fromwithin and beyond HCI, participantsproposed that SHCI researchersstrive to understand the broaderecological, economic, social, political,and historical contexts of our work,especially the dynamics of the processesthrough which sustainability challengeshave arisen. We can do this by readingoutside HCI and by collaborating withresearchers in other disciplines and withpractitioners in government, business,civil society, and activist movements.
While such collaboration is hard, it isessential to developing more rigorousand impactful SHCI work.
There is a great deal of researchand practice outside and withinHCI that does not explicitly addresssustainability but is relevant to SHCI.For example, work aiming to supportthe “sharing economy”; “collaborativeconsumption”; do-it-yourself activities;repair, appropriation, reuse, andmaintenance; civic engagement; socialmovements; and effective democraticgovernance may align well with workthat is explicitly sustainability-oriented.
There is a tension between thehistorical focus on technologicalnovelty in HCI and sustainabilitygoals. This has been acknowledgedsince the inception of SHCI. Andin the past five years, HCI broadlyand SHCI specifically have hosteda growing discourse on designsthat do not produce technologicalnovelty, focusing, for example, onappropriation, maintenance, andrepair; the “implication not to design”;“undesigning”; and technology nonuse. Yet some SHCI researchers seethe development of novel technologyas a critical part of how HCI as awhole moves forward. Navigatingthe tensions between sustainabilitydiscourse’s sometimes anti-technological implications and HCI’straditional focus on invention andinnovation as central to its work calls