Theory & Techniques

During the workshop, participants will engage in a variety of activities which draw from theatre workshop practice, dramaturgical theory, philosophy of technology and virtue ethics. Here are some materials and background reading to help prepare and familiarise yourself with the theories, practices and ideas that we hope will be useful in further developing our knowledge of Ethics on the Ground.

Forum Theatre

Forum theatre was developed by theatre practitioner and activist Augusto Boal, as a type of theatrical game where a problem is shown in an unresolved form. The audience is invited to suggest and enact solutions. The scenario is then repeated, allowing the audience to offer alternative solutions. The game becomes a kind a contest between the audience and actors trying to bring the play (or ‘oppression’ in Boal’s terms) to a different end. The result is a pooling of knowledge, tactics and experiences. As the audience participates in enacting solutions to break the cycle of oppression they are also “rehearsing for life.”


Augusto Boal at a workshop in New York 2008 –
By Thehero – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

For Boal’s own writing about theatre techniques, see Games for Actors and non-Actors (2005)

Theatre of Action

The Stanislavski ‘method’ of acting is often considered to involve seven key steps – techniques that were developed to help actors to build believeable characters. Here participant/actors must answer the following questions to build an improvised response:

  • Who Am I?
  • Where Am I?
  • When Is It?
  • What Do I Want?
  • Why Do I Want It?
  • How Will I Get It?
  • What Do I Need To Overcome?

Read more about Stanislavki’s methods and techniques here

Virtue Ethics & Applied Phronesis

In Virtue Ethics, phronesis is the core intellectual virtue through which other scientific, artistic and technical virtues are expressed. Phronesis comes from an intimate familiarity with practice in contextualized settings. It represents knowledge that is context dependent and particular, rather than what is abstract and universal. Phronesis involves practical judgment about the right ‘choice’ to make among various possibilities and is ultimately concerned with the appropriate action in relation to things that are good for us.

Applied phronesis seeks information based on experience in context for the benefit of the people being studied and for whom systems are designed. It demands analysing what appear to be the same phenomena or requirements in different contexts and reflecting on the choices and dilemmas arising. Building phronesis into data design processes contributes to deeper ethical reflection, which leads to a more sustainable design ethics.

Elements of applied phronesis that have been developed in mHealth research include:

  1. Cast a wider net for feedback in research: this goes beyond contextual design practice to include multiple participants with distinct perspectives on the same phenomena in different contexts. Analysis shows that this can produce ‘value conversations’ that result in changes to the ‘voice’ and tone of design.
  2. Pay attention to the order of feedback: this relates to which values may become embedded first in design. E.g. clinical requirements take precedence in mHealth, but can present challenges for vulnerable groups in accessing and using technologies whereas design that recognises the order of feedback can support intrinsic values like empowerment in simple ways.
  3. Adopt an ethically pluralist approach that expects and acknowledges difference among designers and participants. Small but important differences can arise in how designers, developers, data scientists and participants conceptualise those who use mHealth technologies, e.g. the term ‘client’ (rather than user or patient) may better reflect the communication relationship.
  4. Acknowledge and disclose practitioners/researchers subjective value systems: this ensures that we continue to ‘see no neutral ground’…

For an extended review of its application the mHealth for mental health context, see:

M. Barry, K. Doherty, J. Marcano Bellisario, J. Car, C. Morrison, G. Doherty (2017) “mHealth for Maternal Mental Health: Everyday wisdom in ethical design”, Proceedings of CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2017.

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