Is empathy a foundation for shared situational awareness within collaborative design?


Chairs: Miss Amy Grech, Dr Ross Brisco, Dr Dorothy Evans, Dr Ian Whitfield

Organised by: Collaborative Design SIG

Successful collaborative engineering practices have demonstrated significant benefits to industry: improving efficiency; eliminating rework due to information inconsistencies; managing complexity and automating parts of the collaborative design process. Despite these benefits, collaborative endeavours fail due to obstacles such as: sharing knowledge through ineffective communication methods; co-ordinating stakeholders with divergent objectives; managing teams with cultural and leadership differences; and configuring collaborative networks towards a long term and strategic vision. Changing innovation landscapes have the potential to radically advance collaborative practices to develop more user-centred, innovative and customised products in a timelier manner.

The aim of this workshop is to explore the concepts of empathy and shared situational awareness in the context of collaborative design to establish whether there is a logical basis for empathy being a foundational element for supporting shared situational awareness.

Situational awareness may be defined as the ability of an individual to maintain an accurate and sufficiently complete cognitive model of their environment to support their decision making. From a collaborative design perspective, shared situational awareness reflects the extent to which the situational awareness of the individuals within a team overlaps. This could, for example, relate to an unexpected situation within an engineering programme where there is a deviation from expectation that requires input from team members to agree on a new course of action. The challenge is to establish the extent to which the team agrees on the situation, in order to formulate the best solution. This challenge would obviously be confounded when considering collaborating individuals from different engineering disciplines, cultural backgrounds, and levels of engineering experience.

Within this context, empathy is described as representing an ability to reflect on a situation from another individual’s perspective and adjust actions accordingly. Whilst it may generally be considered as a component of emotional intelligence, it has been established that it represents an individuals’ ability to understand the situation of another and provide help.

This workshop, through a series of directed questions and attendee participation, will subsequently investigate whether the natural empathetic abilities of individuals within a collaborative design team, form the foundation for establishing a shared situational awareness, and can improve collaborative decision making. The workshop will explore whether empathy can be measured within a collaborative design context, as well as the extent to which we share our situational awareness.

Participation will be entirely voluntary, and ethical data collection practices will be adopted throughout. The workshop is anticipated to last for approximately three hours. The outcome of the workshop would lead to a better understanding of the role that empathy has in supporting this particular aspect of collaborative design. This workshop relates to the DESIGN Conference themes of Human Behaviour and Design, Creativity and Design, Organisation, Collaboration, and Management.

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