Research Note 9: the research singularity

Tuesday next week is my presentation for the Probationary Research Seminar (I’m not in trouble, you’re just on probation until you “upgrade”). I’ve been finding making the presentation interesting.

It’s hard to explain civic tech. It’s hard to explain government tech. It is almost harder to explain why so many people give so much of a shit about it, why there is a community, a twitter conversation, cliques, relationships, weddings, divorces over something that people often imagine is “just IT”.

So I’ve been trying to explain that. Sometimes that’s about trying to tell the difference between what is civic or not, the belief in the act of “civil service” and so on. I’m hoping it’ll generate debate and I’ll be putting the slides up on the project github and tweeting them out when they’re done.

Worrrrrkkkkkkkk

I wrote a little thing about what I’m doing with my 2.5/week at the ODI. It is super interesting and I’m hoping to be able to write something really useful when we’ve got a bit more research done, but there are some real themes here. Especially about the perennial “data user needs”.

Books

Lots of reading at the moment. As ever, nudge me if you want PDFs. I’m mostly reading things recommended to me as avenues that I need to know about for when I get interviewed about my project by academics. Also reading about how to disagree with your participants as an active ethnographer and what that can mean and produce in your work.

The singularity. Research and Work.

Maybe not a singularity. But. I’m doing a class at the moment called “ethnographic portraiture”. It is focusing us on thinking about the spaces we research in, the power of the institutions that negotiate our access to those spaces and our responsibilities to speak for (and often responsibility _not_ to speak for) the people we encounter and interview.

This is interesting to me for two reasons. My project is explicitly covering the tension in being an anthropologist studying people who are often at least graduates in anthropology or other social science disciplines. I am studying people who can self-theorise within a western academic model, so my frameworks have to be co-created. And this is a useful thing to feed back into the discipline. Writing about what I’m doing means that I get challenged. Harry 5 whys’ed me about something a while ago and it changed my line of questions and made me re-orientate the project a bit.

In that sense, my approach to ethnography is starting to look more and more like agile research (broadly defined). I have an idea. I chase it, I use feedback to challenge and shape it and to try and break down the power dynamics and barriers sometimes created by research.

This links into a few of the debates that I think are happening about research within digital government.

This thread had some really interesting parallels with what I’m looking at:

Click for one million lines of chat.

The questions I have at the end are:

  • If Home Office has good process, can this be properly open sourced?
  • Could there be a situation where an ethics committee in Home Office signs off research with asylum seekers etc. that is ethical within Home Office’s policies but leads to deportation or poorer outcomes for those people? And would external challenge before or after the fact have an impact on the results for users?
  • When will more people FOI discovery reports. When will they be accepted as a thing to be released? (c.f. https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/reports_following_discovery_and)

But these are useful things to talk about, especially as the conversation matures about the place of social research in executive government. It was really interesting reading people’s ideas and I really want to keep digging on these ideas.

Photos

Got some photos developed. Other photos available on this twitter thread. I feel like I’m getting better at them (especially as I found a few boxes of old photos I took between 2005–14 recently and these are way, way better). Some of it is technique, but some of it is being less formal or scared of just taking a photo and seeing how it looks. I’m talking specifically about film here, my digital work has, of course, always been 💯.

Look at this absolute portrait.

Bruce

Is at my parents’ house this week as the house is being rewired and the kitchen replaced and the last time we had builders in he decided to run out the back and had to be returned to us by a neighbour who used her handbag strap as a lead.

Bruce and dog friend and my friends’ shadows in Huntingdon

Travel: Berlin

We went back to Berlin this weekend just gone, which was great for my levels of döner, flens and club mate. It was also nice to catch up with just a few of the friends we made there over two years. It felt deeply melancholy to reflect on the coming political severance between where I am now and where I was then.

Typisch

Thanks:

  • Charlotte for whatsapping me in to a seminar I had to miss because of paid work.
  • AHRC & Democracy Club for all that ca$h.