Workshop on Technology-Mediated Social Participation: Reports

Last month, PARC hosted the first of two National Science Foundation-funded workshops on Technology-Mediated Social Participation, co-organized by PARC’s Peter Pirolli (see his original post on why we were motivated to do this here) and the University of Maryland’s Jennifer Preece and Ben Shneiderman. With the goal of drawing up a strong scientific research agenda and educational recommendations to help foster a new era of technologies that support social participation, the workshop brought together some of the top U.S. industry and academia researchers from fields such as Computer Science, Information Science, and Cognitive Science.

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Specifically, the workshop addressed three major themes:

  1. How to integrate theory across levels from the individual to the community.
  2. How to develop new methods of measuring social connections and social capital across networks.
  3. How to build an infrastructure to collect data reliably and responsibly.

The primary goal of the workshop has been to produce reports on these three topics — now available on the public TMSP wiki. The reports address participants’ government, academic, and education recommendations, and implications for each of the topics.

Motivations and timing

Amy Bruckman of Georgia Tech reminded us of the need for such a cross-cutting initiative, commenting that “Right now it’s harder than it should be for academia and industry to work together. I think that’s a key place where a government-funded initiative can help — making it easier to form industry-academia collaborations.” Ben Shneiderman enthused that the workshop was a “remarkable gathering of leading academic and industry researchers and that it served as a big step forward in realizing the goals set out in my letter in AAAS Science (13 March 2009).”

Preece (serving as the Principal Investigator for the NSF grant supporting the workshop) spoke to the timeliness of this effort, observing that “A few people have been investigating this topic since the 1990’s, but now that billions of people worldwide are using Web 2.0 social media, such as Facebook, wikis, blogs, microblogs, and discussion forums, substantially increased research is needed to understand the benefits and dangers.” Throughout the workshop, one theme that emerged was how a more thorough understanding of social participation could affect users at all levels of participation in a variety of domains; Preece noted, “If community managers knew how to increase participation, then this technology could be more successful for patient support, citizen science contributions, and changing behaviors for energy conservation.”

PARC Forum and audience participation

The workshop also featured a special PARC Forum panel discussion on the Future of Technology-Mediated Social Participation, which discussed patterns of attention in social media, the potential of peer-produced content, and leveraging social network data to model and understand behavior. Bruckman (who served as a panelist along with Shneiderman, HP Labs’ Bernardo Huberman, and Facebook’s Cameron Marlow) shared, “Aside from joking about avocados and bison…I do think the panel opened some questions that fed into the discussion we had the next day,” highlighting the impact that public participation can have on driving this initiative.

How can you get involved?

For those interested in helping to support this initiative — or curious about technology and social systems — the final reports will provide a glimpse into the ongoing discussion. In addition, the TMSP website also features a growing list of relevant resources, such as books, courses, and research groups (compiled, in part, by U. Maryland graduate student Dana Rotman, who has been instrumental in the planning and execution of these workshops).

What’s next?

Shneiderman hopes the effort will “catalyze the research community and encourage the U.S. National Science Foundation to dramatically increase its support for Technology-Mediated Social Participation, which is aligned with national priorities such as healthcare, energy conservation, disaster response, community safety, and more.”

The next event, the East Coast Workshop, will take place 11-12 February in Virginia (more information will be available at the TMSP East Coast Workshop website.)

And, we welcome you to read the reports, watch the Forum, and add your insights!

 

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