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On Speculative Enactments

Elsden, C.Chatting, D. Durrant, A.Garbett, A.Nissen, B.Vines, J. and Kirk, D. (2017) On Speculative Enactments. In: ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2017), 7th – 11th May 2017, Denver.

Elsden et al propose a move preformative and participatory Design Fiction which is enacted with the audience. The work draws on preformative narratives and pervasive media work such as Blast Theory to scope a space to create a new kind of Speculative Design which creates scenarios for the audience to work inside to increase the investment in the future making and storytelling. The work, like the World Building paper by Coulton et al considers the way that Design Fiction tells stories. It calls for a more useable or experiential approach to projects to help participants co-contract the fiction. The paper draws on three examples; Runner Spotter,  Metadating, and A Quantified Wedding.

In the concluding sections the authors offer a framework to producing what they coin as a Speculative Enactment which augments the Speculative Design approach to create a participatory and performance space for the audience.

Useful Quotes

“Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is a future-oriented field with a pragmatic drive to discern and shape preferable futures of technology use in everyday life. ‘Envisioning’ possible futures – through a mixture of fiction, forecasting, imagining and extrapolating – is a central concern for HCI research” (p5386)

“Speculative design research goes beyond envisioning as prototyping or scenarios, and instead relies on imagination and fiction to develop critical dialogues and discourse about new, alternative and future paradigms of technology use.” (p5386)

“We argue that, beyond generating discourse, there is a need to ‘engage people more viscerally in futures conversations’. Practically, there is more we can learn from the way people can interact with, and experience, speculation.” (p5386)

“Speculative Enactments constitute an effort to meaningfully enact elements of possible futures with participants. Speculative Enactments work by making speculation matter to these participants; we suggest they become consequential to participants, who are encouraged to act in a speculative setting. Their actions (or non-actions) have consciously meaningful outcomes, either immediately, or longer term.” (p5387)

“attempts to address a fundamental challenge of futures work – that in its multiplicity  the future is, as Candy notes, inherently abstract. Much of the design work entailed in speculation attempts to ground abstract or seemingly far off propositions” (p5391)

“described as counterfactual artifacts, which deviate sharply from familiar technologies. Over long periods of time participants are forced to speculate, reason and make sense of the actual presence of such artifacts in their lives.” (p5391)

“Speculative Enactments generate consequentiality through both counterfactual materials (e.g. data profiles and the Abacus cards) and demanding social performance (e.g. improv work, dates). The data profiles and ‘real wedding’ article were given to participants under demanding conditions, and demanded engagement with the speculation.” (p5391)

“Entirely bound up with consequentiality, we argue that Speculative Enactments create real social experiences with participants. These real experiences invite empirical analysis of participant actions and discourse amidst speculation. We wish to contrast this carefully with the discourse and participant experiences proposed by Lindley et al.’s ‘Anticipatory Ethnography’ and Odom et al.’s ‘User Enactments’.” (p5391)

“Reeves and Sterling both note a vital caveat in all futures work; however sophisticated, any envisioning necessarily reflects our present concerns projected onto visions of the future.” (p5392)

“Speculative Enactments are distinctive in prioritizing participant experience” (p5392)

“Speculative Enactments are concerned more with participants than audiences. There should be minimal, if any, ‘smoke and mirrors’ or behind-the-scenes work to manufacture a fictional set of circumstances. Part of the challenge of Speculative Enactments is to develop a scenario where the speculation becomes grounded, relevant and essentially makes sense to participants as a reality they can identify with.” (p5392)

“the challenge is to construct a plausible set of circumstances or stage for the enactment to take place. Dunne & Raby have argued gallery spaces suit the critical reflection intended for Critical Design [29]. We should question what the best staging is for any speculation with participants to take place. We did not want to simply ask people what data they would put on a dating profile or collect from their wedding. We developed a stage where doing so had outcomes and became consequential.” (p5393)

“we are forced to repeatedly reflect on and rationalize how circumstances or materials should be designed to become plausible to real-world participants.” (p5393)

“Benford et al. have discussed at length the ethics of such performance-led work in-the-wild, particularly the need to do ‘ethics throughout’; Speculative Enactments should also do this.” (p5394)

“This was an explorative mode of design-led research – to open up new playgrounds for further study.” (p5394)

Further Reading

Candy, S. (2010) The futures of everyday life: politics and the design of experiential scenarios.

Candy, S. and Dunagan, J. (2016) Designing an experiential scenario: The People Who Vanished. Futures.

Chatting, D. (2014) Speculation by Improvisation. In DIS 2014 Workshop on Human-Computer Improvisation. Retrieved September 21, 2015 from

Lindley, J. and Coulton, P. (2015) Back to the Future: 10 Years of Design Fiction. In Proceedings of the 2015 British HCI Conference (British HCI ’15),

Gaver, W., Dunne, T.,and Pacenti, E. (1999). Design: Cultural Probes. interactions 6, 1: 21–29.

Mancini, C., Rogers, Y., Bandara, A., Coe, T.,  Jedrzejczyk, L.,  Joinson,  A., Price, B., Thomas,  K., and Nuseibeh, B.,  (2010) Contravision: Exploring Users’ Reactions to Futuristic Technology. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’10), 153–162.

Sturdee, M.,  Coulton, P., Lindley, J., Stead, M., Ali, H., and Hudson-Smith, A., (2016) Design Fiction: How to Build a Voight-Kampff Machine. In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 375–386.

Voros, J., (2003) A generic foresight process framework. foresight 5, 3: 10–21.

Wakkary, R., Odom, W., Hauser, S., Hertz, G.,  and Lin, H., (2015) Material speculation: Actual artifacts for critical inquiry. Aarhus Series on Human Centered Computing 1, 1: 12.

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