TITAN (EU R&I project) is dedicated to fighting disinformation, and is doing so through the co-creation of an AI-based engine that encourages citizens’ critical thinking to help them better identify false information online. Whilst AI offers exciting and unprecedented opportunities to deliver social good, the project team recognises it can entail ethical dangers too, from usability and understanding issues, to biases and data quality. To help counter any ethical implications, and enlighten the process of developing a trustworthy, ethically, and societally acceptable AI tool, TITAN has adopted a citizen-centric approach to understand requirements and needs. Citizens from across Europe have been involved in a co-creation process where their values, concerns and requirements were discussed, the results of which will become the foundation for the digital development of TITAN.
The first round of citizen co-creation was conducted during five-hour workshop's with 30 citizens in each session, in 8 different European countries - Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Lithuania, Belgium, Bulgaria and Slovakia. The co-creation framework created by TITAN partner the not-for-profit Danish Board of Technology consists of tried and tested engagement and co-creation methodologies.
Recruiting citizens to voluntarily spend a day in a co-creation workshop is not necessarily easy, and wanting a diverse group of people adds an extra layer of complexity into the recruitment process. TITAN's aim was to have a group of citizens representing diversity across age, gender, educational background, current occupation, and geographical zones.
There are many ways of recruiting citizens. We used social media channels, physical flyers and posters, email lists, network, radio announcements and even secured the help of agencies who specialise in recruiting citizens for events. Whilst we had the goal of recruiting 30 citizens to participate in each workshop, we had to consider the likelihood of no-shows and sickness occurring on the day of the workshop, which meant that adding extra numbers of participants in the attendance register was a good idea.
Besides deciding upon the co-creation methods for the workshop (see next section), a core part of the planning process was finding the right facilitators for the workshop, people who are excited about the subject, talk passionately, good listeners, who can make connections and bring people along with them on the workshop journey. To support these leaders the team made a helpful guide on how to facilitate the exercises of the workshop.
Hosting the workshops
Across the 8 countries, 215 citizens participated in our workshops. To engage the citizens in the co-creation process we aimed to create a feeling among the participants of them being on a shared journey towards defining what the TITAN-system will become in the future. They were made aware of the vision of TITAN, and told that the functionalities and service of the tool would be decided based on their input. To take them on this journey, the following exercises were used to gain their important input:
1. Timeline Exercise: The first exercise entailed asking each participant to draw a timeline of an ordinary day in their life, and then a second timeline with their news and information habits during the day. From exploring the results the organizers gained valuable knowledge about where citizens get their news and information from and how they share news and information. Furthermore, the citizens reflected on their own news and information habits, before continuing to the next exercises.
2. Card Sorting Exercise: The next step involved asking participants to evaluate 10 pieces of news (pictures of a piece of news with headline, an image, and a short text) and asked them to decide on if they believed the news to be true news or disinformation. Participants discussed why they came to this conclusion, which gave the organizers insight into what information signals citizens identify as true information signals and which as false signals. Furthermore, the citizens experienced how hard it can be to identify disinformation.
3. Conversation Game: In this exercise citizens were presented with 4 scenarios, where they had to decide on an answer to each scenario. The game was planned for the citizens to physically move around according to their answer to a given scenario. The scenarios were based on different functionalities of the TITAN tool and once they had decided their answer, they had to discuss their answer with other citizens, explain their motivation for the answer, and what reservations they might have towards the functionality of the system. This game gave direct input on what functionalities the citizens would like to see in the TITAN tool.
4. Pre-mortem Exercise: The final exercise was a short brainstorm among citizens on what reasons would prevent them from using the TITAN tool, which gave input on barriers that need to be overcome to help the TITAN system succeed.
In addition to creating important knowledge for the further development of the TITAN tool, the exercises had another positive side effect for the participating citizens. This was the learning element for participants on the topics of disinformation and AI. The feedback received from the workshops were that many citizens really enjoyed taking part in the workshops. The facilitators made an effort to make the workshop a safe space for citizens to speak their mind and engage and influence the debate.
However, in the co-creation process challenges also occur. Some citizens found it difficult to grasp what the TITAN tool should become. For example some people could not see the difference between a registered and a non-registered user of the tool, because many functionalities are yet to be defined by the co-creation process (hence, little info on what TITAN is). Other citizens did not feel comfortable about having to make defined answers to the scenarios that they did not agree with. Time management was also a challenge in some of the exercises, and something to consider carefully both in the planning process and while facilitating the workshops.
Results and further co-creation
The results of the co-creation workshop raised some important topics to consider in the further development of the TITAN tool. Getting insights into how citizens evaluate news and information, shows that the same information signals are sometimes categorized as both signals of true news and of disinformation, depending on personal experience and cultural differences among the citizens. The results also show that many citizens get their news and information online, but when it comes to sharing news and information it is often via direct messages apps or in offline conversations. To ensure the TITAN tool's acceptance in society, the Consortium must first and foremost develop the tool according to these desires:
The TITAN system must be transparent about data – need, use, and storage.
The TITAN system needs to be adaptable for the different users’ individuals needs and preferences.
The TITAN systems coaching aspect must be transparent in its functionality and user-friendly.
The TITAN system must create trustworthiness by clearly communicating the reasoning behind the tool and its design.
Aspects of how to create trust in a digital tool, has already been touched upon in an earlier blog post - The Psychology of Trust in Online Behaviours (titanthinking.eu). This post explains some of the trust/distrust issues that citizens also highlighted in the co-creation workshops.
The next steps within the TITAN project is to discuss these results with relevant experts to brainstorm insights and ideas on how to solve the challenges that the citizens have highlighted. The project is grateful to all participants for their time in contributing to the co-creation workshops. Their commitment and feedback has already made a difference in influencing early design principles on how TITAN can succeed in developing an AI tool supporting citizens to fight disinformation.
A full results report has been created from the first round of workshops, and will be published on the TITAN website once its has been through the EU approval process. To be notified of publication please subscribe to news updates via the subscription form in the website footer - titanthinking.eu