When Social Issues Do Not Matter In Technical Debates (and when they do)

Speaker: Katheryn Sutter

Track: Social context

Type: Talk (45 mins)


Room: Buzz

Time: Aug 11 (Fri), 14:30

Duration: 0:45

Collaborative software-development groups face dual demands in technical debates: analyzing participant-concerns rationally, while keeping organizational cultures healthy. Codes of conduct help, but some argue that being nice is antithetical to critical intelligence, just as group intelligence may be lost when feelings run strong, or when minority perspectives are bullied into silence.

Sometimes social issues do not matter in technical debates, and sometimes they do. This talk introduces specific methods of getting beyond ‘objectivity versus subjectivity’ and ‘facts versus values’ conflicts in technical-policy discussions. The presentation will suggest learning to hear conflicts like a facilitator, noticing technical debates that do not hinge on social issues at their core. We will identify those factual types of debates and how validating their solutions differ from other conflicts, and how to tease out the differences. The first step is about learning and recognition.

Suggestions offered here are based on the Theory of Communicative Rationality, of Jurgen Habermas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communicative_rationality

Katheryn Sutter PhD has a background in community development and policy analysis, specifically democratic deliberations in organizations. She is also a long-time free-libre and open-source software user and advocate (Debian since 2003). A version of this talk was presented at the Seattle GNU-Linux Confernce http://seagl.org in 2016.