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Schneider, Hanna (2019): Designing for empowerment - An investigation and critical reflection. In: It-Information Technology, Vol. 61, No. 1: pp. 59-65
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Abstract

Technology bears the potential to empower people - to help them tackle challenges they would otherwise give up on or not even try, to make experiences possible that they did not have access to before. One type of such technologies - the application area of the thesis presented here - is health and wellbeing technology (HWT), such as digital health records, physical activity trackers, or digital fitness coach applications. Researchers and companies alike often claim that HWTs empower people to live healthier and happier lives. However, there is reason to challenge and critically reflect on these claims and underlying assumptions as more and more researchers are finding that technologies described as empowering turn out to be "disempowering". This critical reflection is the starting point of the thesis presented here: Can HWTs really empower people in their everyday lives? If so, how can we design for empowerment? In my cumulative dissertation, I combine studies on existing HWTs, such as patient-controlled electronic health records and personalized mobile fitness coaches with the development of novel prototypes such as transparent digital fitness coaches that communicate their rationale to the user. By reflecting on these case studies, I come to revisit the sometimes washed-out meaning of "empowerment" in "empowering technologies";I introduce a framework to establish conceptual clarity;and I suggest three principles to design for empowerment based on my own work and the Capability Approach by Sen and Nussbaum that aim to inform and inspire research on HWTs and beyond.