St Andrews HCI Research Group

Co-creating alternative narratives for decentralised digital futures with rural communities in Karnataka, India

Decentralising Digital was a 2 year research project involving design researchers from universities across the UK, Quicksand – a design research studio with offices across India, the National Institute of Design, India and a range of community partners including Black Baza Coffee CollectiveBuffalo Back Farming Collective and Janastu.

Through the project, we wanted to co-create new narratives that explore how powerful developments in emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things, the voice enabled Internet, machine learning and artificial intelligence might be harnessed to support rural communities in India. Often, these technologies are products of companies far removed from India and the asymmetric relationship between the makers of such technologies and the people that use them is sometimes referred to as Digital Colonialism.

We wanted to challenge existing narratives, telling new stories that reflect the diverse hopes that people and communities from rural areas have for their futures and the roles that emerging technologies might play in supporting and delivering these. These new narratives point to Hopeful Futures. This research uses creative technology and design fiction to explore hopeful futures with farmers and tribal people residing in the Indian region of Karnataka. Farmers and tribal forest people are two groups that are experiencing the most damage from climate change, large-scale agricultural technologies and the politics of an unequal world. In response to this, we co-created a set of creative technology derived narratives and fictional artefacts that represent multiple futures for how emerging digital technologies could support such communities.

A series of interactive prototypes using electronics and digital fabrication were created to explore future narratives with communities. The final futures speculated with the communities were presented in the form of three stories in illustrated comics. 12 artefacts representing future technologies the communities hope for were designed and presented in the comics.

To read more about the project and download the comics see: