Mediated values in Swedish municipality Website design

Emma Eliason and Karin Hedstrom


The Internet, as communication medium, is being increasingly used by citizens and governments in most advanced democracies (Gibson, 2003). ICT has changed the possibilities and restrictions in the way you can communicate, thus offers a new action space for politicians and citizens to act within (Astrom, 2004). This arena is dependent upon the possibilities the citizens are offered to communicate upon. For example if information is accessible regardless of time and place and if the citizen can be active and give information (chatt) or just receive (read). But it is also dependent on how the possibilities are presented e.g. how the arena is designed and thus what values it mediates.

Many organisations although, do not have a clear picture of how the Web can be used and see it primarily as a cheap means of publishing information and moves existing documents to the new medium for communication (Crowston & Williams, 1999). Designs are created in a social context with values, expectations etc. Social and cultural expectations concerning Swedish municipality websites are e.g. built in the interaction with other websites (internet as a medium) and experiences in communicating with municipalities face to face. A genre is experiences and use oriented expectations that exist concerning a certain type of artefact, expectations that both the producer and consumer have (Lundberg, 2004). That mediates between communities, creating expectations and help designers to create more of the same (Agre,1998). ). For example, to label a movie as an “action movie”, direct the creator in the process, constitute both as restrictions and possibilities, and helps the audience to define what kind of movie it is and what to expect (Lundberg, 2004). Users and designers expectations and experiences of using the ICT illustrate what values they consider important. Expectations and the design of new ICT often build on ideas of existing designs. Therefore designers have to be aware of and have to (in some degree) consider existing products that have been designed in that specific genre and design standards that exist for the specific kind of product. Designers often build on existing genres in the design of an information system but it is though important to be aware of what consequences it has, in form of values that are expected and experienced. For example many municipality websites use the newspaper layout, a design that naturally consist of (is dominated of) different kind of news, mediating a main usage situation to read municipality news, but is it news that is the most important to promote or something else?

The purpose with this paper is to exemplify how values are mediated through a design (genre) thus to highlight the importance of value awareness in the design of government websites. In the paper we present parts from a genre analysis that we have conducted on Swedish municipality websites. In the study genres in municipality website design is identified. We exemplify how values are mediated through different genres, e.g. in what modes of address the layout/design/text communicate (the participator, listener etc) and what is emphasised on behalf of others (pictures, navigation, news, information or services), with design examples with focus on which values that is prioritised. Thus the presentation focus on how designers build on existing genres to design a web site and what consequences it have, in form of values that are mediated.

Accessibility is a common value in web site development in governments in Sweden. This value often is operationalised through using WAI guidelines (e.g. pictures should have an alt text). In this paper we use another perspective on accessibility, were focus is on how the communication medium is used to mediate values, for example what roles that is established between for example a municipality and the citizen, through the design elements that are used. Thereby how different designs promote e.g. certain user roles and suppress others. As designers of ICT we design new technology that will eventually change society, and that it is impossible to exactly predict the actual consequences of a design (Stolterman & Nelson, 2000). Such consequences include providing a better life for various stakeholders and also consequences of unintended effects (perhaps making life worse for some). It is though essential to take design responsibility for the design effects (mediated values), thus important to be value aware in website design.


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