Alchimia Project Ex-ante Evaluation Findings

By Rachel Hale, Dean Stroud, Martin Weinel and Vinicio Di Iorio

The ALCHIMIA Project social science research team has contributed to the project’s latest deliverable with its analysis of social requirements and human-centric recommendations to the ALCHIMIA project. This analysis is integral to the ALCHIMIA project through its alignment with human-centered design (HCD) principles and the EU Guidelines for Ethical and Trustworthy AI.

The ex-ante evaluation phase of the ALCHIMIA project elicited the social requirements of ALCHIMIA through online surveys and on-site interviews conducted with different types of actors working in the four plants (CELSA in France, Spain and Poland, and FDT in Italy). The online surveys were circulated to the four project plants in April. Then, in May and June, the ALCHIMIA Project social science team visited all four project plants to conduct the on-site interviews. Social scientists at Cardiff University and Scuola Superiore Di Studi Universitari E Di Perfezionamento Santa Anna (SSSA) conducted the interviews, with help from project partners who acted as interpreters for some of the interviews. The interviews covered all aspects of production processes likely to be affected by ALCHIMIA.

From the interviews and surveys, the team found that, in general, respondents indicated strong support for the aims and objectives of the ALCHIMIA project. While there was some limited potential for strained employment relations as a consequence of inserting ALCHIMIA into production processes, e.g. some minimal potential for deskilling, decreasing autonomy and discretion, and routinisation, but this might be more related to how ALCHIMIA is to be inserted than to the technology itself. The team recommended that continued commitment to HCD and continued efforts to communicate and engage with staff on relevant aspects of ALCHIMIA should help to minimise the risk of rejection by users.

For the HCD recommendations, the social science team reflexively analysed and evaluated the alignment of the design and development activities in the ALCHIMIA project with six HCD principles. The team have recommended:

More structured, frequent and intense communication and collaboration between users, stakeholders and developers – this is important to prevent misunderstandings from affecting the technological design.

More general information for workers within plants, ensuring that workers (users) have clear and honest explanations as to why a new technology is needed and the likely consequences for the company and their jobs.

More interdisciplinary working between the social science and technical partners to ensure a newly developed technology can work as intended and align with HCD principles.

The social science team are now further analysing the interview and survey data to identify training opportunities and to develop a potential training programme to meet emerging skill needs arising from the usage of federated learning (as well as machine learning and AI in general) in the workplace. This will be followed in a year by the ex-post assessment of the ALCHIMIA project, which will build on the ex-ante evaluation to deliver post-insertion surveys and evaluation interviews.

Image 1: The Social Science Team

Image 2: Site Interview Team