Sponsored by the Information Law Institute
Organizer: Helen Nissenbaum
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A workshop on Public Design was held on September 13-14, 2002, at the NYU Law School, dedicated to the pragmatic challenge of shaping computer and information systems to reflect public values.

The Workshop consisted of a small group of participants representing diverse disciplinary and professional fields whose work is devoted, in some way or other, to the social and human dimension of computer and information systems. It included researchers in academia and corporate settings in technical areas (including standards setting), law and policy, and the philosophical and social study of technology.

At the intellectual core of the workshop was the idea that values may be embodied in computer and information systems, which has surfaced in important recent work in several disciplines. With this as a starting point, the workshop focused on pragmatic questions of whether active and systematic attention to public values can yield devices and systems better able to promote the public good, and if so, what forms such interventions could take.

In order to study the process of design and the potential loci of normatively informed intervention, we used the workshop to explore the trajectory of a design process and the critical junctures at which public considerations can be brought to bear. We invited the participants to chart the complex journey traveled from earliest ideas to the completion of a system or device, taking note not only of scientific and engineering steps but also social, political and economic ones. (Of course, we concede that the task of identifying public values in diverse societies is itself a thorny problem.)

We gave special attention to technologies of security and privacy, both to lend a focus to our discussions and to acknowledge their increased prominence in the wake the World Trade Center attacks and aftermath. This focus, however, did not preclude attention to general theories of the shaping of technology, including historical discussion. The idea was to build on the relevant knowledge and know-how of diverse fields of study and practice.