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Video Emancipatory boundary critique

This short video provides insights into the application of the method Emancipatory boundary critique. The method was explored along the concrete example of a research on communication of earth quake information.
(Due to the covid pandemic, the method application took place in a online setting.)

Emancipatory Boundary Critique

Facilitator: The Emancipatory Boundary Critique is a tool to challenge an expert solution to a problem. If experts develop solutions to a problem, they have to set boundaries, they have to decide consciously or unconsciously what parts of the world they take into account and what they exclude. And the Emancipatory Boundary Critique provides a set of questions that helps non-experts to challenge those boundaries set by the expert. So those boundaries might be parts of the world that were excluded, it might be stakeholders, winners or losers that were not excluded or included. It might be that expertise of certain people was included; expertise of others was excluded. All those aspects can be challenged by particular questions of the Emancipatory Boundary Critique.


Co-Facilitator: And just to set the stage, let’s assume that Irina [the expert] has been invited to the Swiss Federal Office to present her solution to the problem and the problem is….

Expert: ….how to best communicate earthquake information during and after an earthquake in order to increase society’s resilience. And with society’s resilience I mean their ability to take informed actions during and after the earthquake. Before I present you my solution, I would like to start with the problem statements. Push-notification via multi-hazard apps is the solution because people are already familiar with such apps. Of course, not all people have a smartphone but when only one person in a room has a smartphone, she or he can be a multiplicator and forward information to the other people in the room.


These questions clarify the goal, the stakes that were included or excluded and the idea behind ‘improvement’.

Participant 1: So how would you measure the success of this measure?

Expert: Our aim is that really the people see the information and then they also take informed decisions or actions and so the first quantitative measure could be that we measure the rate of access or the forwarding rate so if they have forwarded the message to other friends, families.

Participant 2: I might be a little bit devil’s advocate here. So, what ought to be the method of evaluation because you’re focusing the evaluation on the sharing of information and I ask shouldn’t you focus for instance on the incorporation of the information? So how many lives do you save?

Expert: So, we aim to do a risk benefit analysis but there in the model it’s always tough to say okay how many people can be safe now because they have received a message. So, the assumptions there are quite tough.


These questions clarify who is in power to decide about the proposed solution and conditions needed to make it a success.

Expert: ...Yes?

Participant 2: Maybe going back to the questions of sources of power. Who is the decision maker?

Expert: So, we from the SED the Swiss Seismological Service, we can make a proposal to the LAINAT. This is the association which combines all the natural hazard institutions in Switzerland and then they will decide whether it’s a good idea to also include push notifications for example on the app. And then it also has to be in accordance with the Federal Office for Civil Protection because then they would also need to communicate further information or to relate to this information that is spread via the MeteoSwiss app. So, these two instances are able to take the decisions.


These questions clarify how those who can’t speak for themselves were taken into account and whether those affected could freely voice their concerns.

Participant 1: But what if there is a community of people who doesn’t have smartphones and I’m thinking of the elderly population who may have less access to digital technology and at the same time be maybe less mobile in a physical sense. Did you include you know this group of stakeholders?

Expert: The solution now on the app is really for people wo are using a smartphone. We aim to have not only a written message but also an audio so people that cannot read still hear the audio.

Participant 3: I mean it was already discussed that elderly people need help but what about non-human animals like dogs, cats.

Expert: So, we focused on humans, what they have to do inside the building, outside the building or when they are driving in a car. But we also provide some behavioral recommendations for animals on the website or for pets. For example, when you have birds or budgies then you have to have a carton at home so that you can put your birds inside the carton and then go outside with them or then the dog and the cats.

The participants formulated the questions in their own words as the key of it are the boundaries they address and not the formulation.

As a rule of thumb, the checklist should be seen as a tool to trigger impactful questions.

Facilitator: In a way, those questions help non-experts to challenge the solution suggested by the expert and the framing that he or she makes on equal footing. So, they can really challenge questions where the expert is not more expert than the layperson.

The transdisciplinary crowd and the expert found thee questions helpful to examine the boundaries of research projects.

Participants report that the four sources motivation, power, knowledge, legitimization, enabled them to quickly touch fundamental aspects of the expert’s work.

Boundary evidences:

In the case of the earthquake information app in the video, the emancipatory boundary critique questions led the expert to expressed boundaries of her approach, e.g. refering to data protection, liability, strong assumptions that had to be made to make the risk-benefit analyses feasible, and different preferences & needs of people. In several moments during the discussion, the participants and expert jointly started to develop ideas about how to (better) measure the effectiveness of the app.

Additional tips for facilitators:

  • You may have noticed in the video that the questions asked were not identical to the original “Checklist of boundary questions". The participants formulated them in their own words. This is fully fine because the key of the questions are the boundaries they address and not the way they are formulated.
  • To support participants in adopting the questions, it is recommended to start with a short training exercise, before entering the session with the expert. Participants can be asked to read the questions and to apply them to a very simple solution, e.g. “to tackle air traffic’s contribution to global warming we have to replace fuel driven engines by electric engines”. During this training exercise, encourage participants to explore questions regarding all four sources (motivation, power, knowledge, and legitimation).
  • The facilitator may also decide to derive 5-7 questions from the original checklist with the aim to formulate questions that relate more concretely to the solution at stake.
td-net toolbox – Emancipatory boundary critique
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