Ethnographically-informed distributed participatory design framework for sociotechnical change : co-designing a collaborative training tool to support real-time collaborative writing

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Although Wikipedia’s immense success is partially due to its support of the asynchronous collaboration model, researchers argue that the bureaucratic rules and technical infrastructure enabling it feed into Wikipedia’s content bias. Attempts to introduce different collaboration models have so far failed, but the fact that they have occurred persistently over time suggests that at least part of the Wikipedia community favours incorporating features such as real-time collaborative editing.

My research is founded on the argument that the advantageous aspects of the asynchronous model should be preserved, although the existing model needs to be complemented by real-time collaboration in settings such as Wikipedia training events. This thesis describes a Participatory Design process resulting in a prototype called WikiSync, a system that introduces real-time collaboration for the Wikipedia community using a responsible design approach that is respectful of Wikipedia’s rich social structure and history.

Furthermore, my research has produced an adaptive methodology for co-designing sociotechnical solutions in a geographically distributed community. After an in-depth observation of online Wikipedia training and the existing community innovation processes, my participatory design sessions have helped create a mutual learning environment for co-designing WikiSync in tandem with the community, while addressing a wide range of their concerns about real-time collaboration. I also consulted the broader Wikipedia community using an online social ideation and voting tool to evaluate the desirability and applicability of the solution. Finally, the resulting ethnographically-informed distributed Participatory Design framework provides an innovation process for involving a diverse, widely distributed online community in co-designing sociotechnical solutions.
Date of Award28 Nov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorAlexander Voss (Supervisor), Uta Hinrichs (Supervisor), Ian Philip Gent (Supervisor) & Angela Ruth Miguel (Supervisor)


  • Participatory Design
  • Collaborative and social computing
  • Information systems
  • Human-centered computing
  • User experience
  • Distributed Participatory Design
  • Online communities
  • Wikipeida
  • Collaborative writing
  • Real-time collaboration
  • Asynchronous collaboration
  • Online ethnography

Access Status

  • Full text open

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