People, Work and the New Normal

Design for all, also known as universal design, is centered around issues of accessibility and inclusion. This is also an area where HTO member Lars Oestreicher has done a lot of interesting work. This was also the topic of the Digin seminar jointly organised by three Swedish authorities. In particular, the event focused on the democratic issues related to digital inclusion/exclusion. Speakers stressed the existence of a digital divide, for instance how people without digital ID are excluded from large amounts of online services. Furthermore, it was noted that this is not only a technical problem but to a large extent a question of competence and learning.

The seminar also provided some examples of public organisations working with digital inclusion in a very proactive way. The Swedish tax authority had a number of strategies, including an inhouse expert team for accessibility. What was interesting here was that they had built the team from employees having various disabilities and having them provide feedback. A brilliant concept that could – or should – be introduced in many other organisations. Of course, this was supported by a general concern for accessibility, including mandatory courses for managers on the subject. The municipality of Skellefteå presented how they worked with citizen engagement. Here the policy aspects were also central, centering on supporting the autonomy of their citizens.

Interestingly, many of these ideas also were manifest in the business oriented conference Digital Workplace Summit. Clearly, technology was seen as an enabler but what was really striking was the people centric perspective and the emphasis of wellbeing and employee experience. Many of the speakers also returned to the topics of managerial trust and employee engagement. A big question in this context was of course what kind of work organisation we will go back to. Only time will tell, but every one seemed to agree on that the pendulum will not swing full back to the extreme of working only on location again.

One stream of thought that was present in both events was co-production. This was discussed in depth by Dr. Albert Norström at a seminar by the Uppsala University Sustainability Initiative (UUSI) . This is one approach that has surfaced over the last decade (though it has a long legacy) and is a response to the complexities of sustainability. The focus of his talk was climate change leadership and environmental sustainability, however he made a strong point of how intertwined environmental issues are with other dimensions of sustainability (such as social sustainability). In short, co-production of knowledge means involving diverse stakeholders in the production of knowledge, not only researchers. This is not an easy route though, on the one hand it requires building trust among actors, on the other it challenges mainstream academic practice. Especially it challenges (short term) funding and publishing models. Hopefully they will change at least enough to allow researchers to meet the many challenges society face today – in collaboration with others.

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