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SKOTT: Scenarios as Patterns of Orientation in Technology Development and Technology Assessment

DFG-Project, funding period: 01.10.2011 – 31.03.2015



The aim of the project is to investigate the action-guiding impacts of technology-related situation scenarios in processes of technology development and technology design. Situation scenarios are imagined representations of the future use of new techniques envisioned by the designers. They spell out in more or less detail how the components of the imagined future situation would look like and how they would interact with each other.

The project was planned and carried out as a qualitative empirical study. The main subject of the study were processes of technology development in the field of ubiquitous computing. This field of technology is particularly well suited for project research because situation scenarios were an integral part of the articulation of ideas about the future right from the start. While we had originally planned to investigate individual development projects, it turned out during the empirical surveys that another case unit was much more relevant: Usually it is the succession of thematically linked development projects carried out at a research laboratory or by a research team within which the situation scenarios of our interest have their social place and unfold their effectiveness. With reference to this case unit, we developed a rather elaborate procedure of case reconstruction and analysis. At its core, it is based on combining complementary statements that could be obtained from expert interviews we conducted and from project publications of the research teams studied.

In our case studies we were able to find convincing empirical evidence that situation scenarios exert a cognitive influence on the concrete processes of technology development as well as we were able to reconstruct an ideal-typical pattern of how this influence occurs. Furthermore, we were able to describe the mechanism of the development-guiding impact of situation scenarios in more detail. It consists in the assumption that the basic structure of situation scenarios - representations that describe how the components involved would interact with each other for presented future technologies in presented future application contexts - leads to a reduction in the degrees of freedom in the construction of the scenario. Thus, a scenario generates requirements for technical components (technology-oriented guidance effect) from the determination of application-side factors and requirements for components of the usage context (application-oriented guidance effect) from the determination of properties and behavior patterns of technical components.

A surprising and unforeseen project result is the central importance of prototype scenarios for the project issue. The manifestation of situation scenarios, as we call it, transforms the narrative form into a physically realized one. Prototype scenarios consist of the prototype of the envisaged new technology and a testbed, which realizes essential aspects of the envisaged usage context as prototypes within the laboratory. The mechanism of development-guiding orientation by reducing degrees of freedom is much more effective in prototype scenarios than in narrative scenarios.

Moreover, prototype scenarios are much more distinctive avenues of negotiation between the present and imagined futures than the narrative form of situation scenarios. Future research on the role of situation scenarios for prospective technology design and on the role of situation scenarios in the further development of technology from prototypes to socially used technology could build on these findings.

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