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WANTED: Data Scientists who see beyond Data Science

Update: As of November 23, about 100 people have joined the Google Group. Discussion is starting to pick up a bit. We’ve also scheduled a couple of kick-off meetings. About 30 participated in the first one, last week, and another is scheduled for 5pm ET tomorrow, November 24 (join the Google Group and I’ll send you an invite).

I’m putting out a call for data scientists who give a damn about qualitative research.

(I’m not having trouble finding qualitative researchers who value quantitative research, interestingly. I have theories! Some other time though.)

If you’re a data scientist who knows that your data doesn’t tell the full story of reality — that you’re but one of the many blind men needed to truly see the elephant—then I’d like to get you together with people from the qualitative side of the house. These folks traffic in data types and research tools that are outside your wheelhouse, and their backgrounds and training are likely very different from yours. But you all share a common goal: to connect the dots of qualitative and quantitative evidence in new ways that lead to true insight.

Sounds… interesting; what do I need to do?

Great! Request an invitation to this Google Group. (If you’re a qual researcher, you’re of course welcome to join too.)

Where will this lead?

I’ll be honest: I really have no idea. But nothing will happen until a bunch of you get together in the same virtual room. That’s where the Google Group comes in. I’ll organize an agenda and a videoconference for some time in November after the US elections (assuming such things will still be feasible then). And hey, I’m fine plowing forward with such an ambiguous remit because…

Who am I to do this?

…my life’s mission is to convene people, especially ones who don’t normally find themselves in the same room. I’ve been doing this to varying degrees of success for 25 years. I’ve played a major role in convening the information architecture community, helped bring together many threads of the UX community, started a couple companies that employ teams of fascinatingly weird mixes of people, started more mailing lists than I can remember, and convened thousands of people at the four conferences I’ve co-founded. More recently, I created and help run three active, professionally curated communities.

So why am I doing this?

Because silos piss me off.

Just look at this illustration of me dynamiting silos (for a workshop I used to teach in the early 2000s).

And siloed practices, like research, piss me off even more. Why should we double down on our own narrow slices of reality when the the big picture of insight is not only attainable but, let’s face it, so much more rich, interesting, and powerful?

Frankly, it’s self-serving and myopic and, methinks, is responsible for much of what’s ailing 21st century humanity. Our ability to acquire, process, and noodle over our own pockets of evidence has far outrun our ability to connect the dots, synthesize what we’ve learned, and understand what’s really going on in reality. Enough.

And who am I to do this?

I mean, I’m not even a user researcher or data scientist.

But I’ve worked with and have been trying to convene them for years. As a consultant, I organized an internal summit of different types of researchers at a major Silicon Valley financial services company back in 2005. Total failure; no one showed up because their day jobs’ requirements took precedence.

Then I wrote a book on search analytics because I saw it as a method that married qualitative and quantitative data analysis. It barely sold, even though I’d already co-authored a different (and very successful) book. Though I did manage to write an article back in 2013 on this marriage that some people liked.

So now I’m trying once more. I’m convinced that getting the quant and qual folks talking together might lead to them working together more. Maybe it’ll lead to more insight groups made up of smart researchers of different stripes under one umbrella. (These groups’ recent emergence has been a happy trend.)

Or not. Let’s find out. Once more, you can request an invitation to the Google Group. Looking forward to talking and seeing where this goes!



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