The Human Factor partners, Rachel Moore Best and Kathleen Bond, presented their paper titled “A Spectrum of Stakeholder Perspective Taking in Early-Stage Design” at the 24th International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED) in Bordeaux, France in July 2023. The paper, co-authored with colleagues from NASA CAS, explores the cognitive processes of an early-stage design team of NASA engineers adopting stakeholder perspectives and won the Reviewers’ Favorite Award from ICED’s selection committee.
ICED is organized by The Design Society, an interdisciplinary community of designers. This year’s conference theme, “Design in a Complex World,” joined academics and industry practitioners to explore the role of design in addressing complex systems challenges in socio-technical environments.
Our paper presents an ethnographic field study that examines the extent and conditions in which engineers with deep technical expertise embrace the perspectives of stakeholders with a vested interest in a challenge. The paper introduces a nuanced framework for evaluating the level of engineers’ engagement in perspective taking, which pushes against the prevailing notion of two distinct extremes (the binary ‘do engineers accept stakeholder perspectives or not’). It further demonstrates that while professional engineers can fully assume stakeholders’ perspectives, it requires intention and suitable conditions, such as strong facilitation, mitigation of organizational pressures, and reduction of a team’s reliance on their own personal connections and expertise.
The study contributes to a body of work which contends that stakeholder perspective taking is a critical practice for organizations with deep technical expertise that strive to address complex design challenges in socio-technical environments. Relying on purely technical skill sets in approaching such societal challenges can result in unintended adverse consequences. Our research provides practical guidance for organizations seeking to enhance the skill of stakeholder perspective taking on their teams and design stakeholder-informed solutions.
Read our full paper “A Spectrum of Stakeholder Perspective Taking in Early-Stage Design” here.