Research Digest A framework to better design information systems for social inclusion 

In “The design of social inclusion interventions: A paradox approach”, published in The Journal of the Association for Information Systems (2022), Almudena Cañibano and Daniel Curto-Millet analyse how the design of information systems influences social interventions' capacity to include or exclude through a case study of an innovative civic crowdsourcing platform, Decide Madrid.

Why study this

The starting point for this research was the question of why so many social inclusion interventions fail. Social inclusion initiatives are meant to enhance the ability of people to fully and meaningfully participate in the economic, social and cultural life. The common assumption is that by increasing participation, these interventions reduce social exclusion, which is the process of declining participation, solidarity and access – yet the authors challenge this assumption of a linear relation between exclusion and inclusion. In addition, information systems (IS) and technologies, which are often part and parcel of social inclusion interventions, are usually considered as mere contextual constructs, whereas their implication in the actors' social practices needs to be analysed to better understand how they influence the tensions between inclusion and exclusion. Last but not least, the researchers argue that the design of IS processes itself also interacts with social practices and enacts exclusion and inclusion.


  • The Decide Madrid platform was designed as a direct vehicle between citizens' affects and the city council. The social inclusion programme behind the tool, and its development, thus builds on the individual as the sovereign political body of choice.
  • The platform's deliberate design and focus on the individual excludes collectives and their organisational capacity. Also, participation is based on affinity for certain topics, with no process to create stable groups that could work on proposals in the long term.
  • Another (and paradoxical) form of exclusion is that of individuals overwhelmed by the massive influx of proposals, which is enabled by the very open platform and its few barriers to entry.
  • Various re-design initiatives, destined to “territorialise” Decide within the local fabric, improve the ratio of proposals effectively turned into legislation, and address other issues, all encountered drawbacks, underlining the existence of ongoing, unavoidable tensions between inclusion and exclusion. 
  • The conclusion is that social exclusion and social inclusion, while apparently opposed or even mutually exclusive, actually form the two sides of the same coin when viewed through the lens of paradox theory. 

Indeed, the surprise that social activists shunned [the civic crowdsourcing platform] Decide shows how IS design can influence who becomes included and that exclusion is not just a social matter. It is entangled with technology’s materiality.

Key insight

Design choices have crucial influence over IS interventions' capacity to include or exclude, because design enacts different understandings of inclusion and exclusion.


The framework proposed offers novel guidelines for information systems that promote the continuous constitution of social inclusion. It can help policymakers understand how different information system designs might help them manage the tensions within and across larger-scale social inclusion projects such as those related to sustainable development goals.

Final takeaway

In light of their findings, the researchers propose a framework for designing IS-based social inclusion interventions. It encompasses four types of IS design strategies (positive discrimination, integrative oscillation, equitability and iterative inclusivity) that rely on different assumptions regarding the paradoxical tensions between inclusion and exclusion, and entail different responses to paradox.


Daniel Curto-Millet Daniel Curto-Millet Senior Lecturer at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden)
Almudena Cañibano - ESCP Business School Almudena Cañibano Associate Professor in Human Resource Management at ESCP Business School