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Sociotechnical Food Justice: Examining and Designing Public Interventions for Systemic Social Issues

  • Author(s): Dombrowski, Lynn Susan
  • Advisor(s): Hayes, Gillian R.;
  • Mazmanian, Melissa
  • et al.

In this work, I examine and design public sociotechnical interventions for addressing food insecurity, a systemic social issue that describes a household’s lack of enough food. Despite their efforts to alleviate symptoms of hunger and address underlying causes of food insecurity, government and nonprofit organizations in the US struggle to meet local food needs. My work explores these efforts, arguing that food inequality concerns social justice and interaction design.

I highlight three studies that focus on public sociotechnical interventions to address hunger. First, I examine how hunger-focused nonprofit organizations help their local community members access and use online government applications. Second, I describe a co-designed inter-organizational location-based information system for local nonprofits, which highlights the inter-organizational challenges when designing for collective action. Finally, I held participatory design workshops with urban farmers, hunger-focused nonprofit organizations, and community members to address local food needs. I examine how participants situate concepts of justice in their own practices and experiences by analyzing the workshops’ outcomes and process. I present insights that inform design practice for social-justice oriented design projects. Collectively, this work contributes to larger discussions within human-computer interaction on the strengths and limitations of sociotechnical interventions in addressing systemic social issues.

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