Action Lab (Monash University)

Action Lab logo

Action Lab is a research group within the Department of Human-Centred Computing at Monash University, Australia.

It is a multidisciplinary group and consists of digital researchers working at the intersection of communities, technology and social innovation.

Action Lab and Unplatforming

One of the areas of emerging interest in Action Lab is Unplatforming, which just means using everyday social media platforms (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) to carry out citizen engagement.

This is a deliberate move away from building custom apps and platforms. Some benefits of this approach are:

  1. Existing literacy: many communities around the world are already using social media, and thus they know how to use these tools easily.
  2. Organizations don’t need to spend lots of money on building a new platform if they build services using social media.
  3. Platforms require ongoing maintenance and software development. By using social media platforms, this cost is significantly reduced.
Using multiple WhatsApp groups and user roles in interesting ways. Source:

A good example of this in practice is the WhatFutures project by Daniel Lambton-Howard (link to research paper).

From the website:

WhatFutures is an innovative and large-scale multiplayer future forecasting game, played entirely over WhatsApp. It is designed to engage IFRC’s youth volunteers in sharing their hopes and fears for the future, and to include these voices in shaping IFRC’s Strategy 2030.

After a pilot in 2017, WhatFutures was rolled out to over 6000 volunteers across multiple national societies of the IFRC.

Of course, there are a number of ethical challenges with using social media platforms. After all, we are living in the age of surveillance capitalism. This is why when we talk about the need for ethics and responsible design when delivering any service through social media.

Check out the research paper on Unplatforming for a more in-depth take on this approach:

Unplatformed Design: A Model for Appropriating Social Media Technologies for Coordinated Participation