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Paper, Panel, and Workshop at CSCW 2014

I’ll be jumping back into work next semester. What better way to kick off my return than a trip to CSCW 2014 in Baltimore?! I’m organizing the Feminism and Social Media Research Workshop on Sunday, participating in the panel The Ethos and Pragmatics of Data Sharing, and presenting a paper called Tweet Acts: How Constituents Lobby Congress via Twitter. I’ll post specifics for the panel and paper when the program’s available. In the meantime, apply to join us for the workshop! No position paper required, just a short abstract about your work and a couple questions about your interests in feminism and social media research.

Abstract for Tweet Acts: How Constituents Lobby Congress via Twitter

Twitter is increasingly becoming a medium through which constituents can lobby their elected representatives in Congress about issues that matter to them. Past research has focused on how citizens communicate with each other or how members of Congress (MOCs) use social media in general; our research examines how citizens communicate with MOCs. We contribute to existing literature through the careful examination of hundreds of citizen-authored tweets and the development of a categorization scheme to describe common strategies of lobbying on Twitter. Our findings show that contrary to past research that assumed citizens used Twitter to merely shout out their opinions on issues, citizens utilize a variety of sophisticated techniques to impact political outcomes.

Get the PDF from IIT’s institutional repository

Building Bridges: A Study of Coordination in Projects

On August 13, I successfully defended my dissertation. Today, I submitted my final, approved version to University of Michigan’s institutional repository. That version won’t be available until after I receive my degree in December, but you’re welcome to read a nearly identical version of my complete dissertation.

Dissertation Abstract
In our efforts to understand how collaborative work can be accomplished, we often turn to discussions of “coordination” for help. However, the concept of coordination is inadequate for explaining the many interdependent processes at work within successful collaborations. In this dissertation, I examined a collaborative construction project – the Woods Avenue Bridge (WAB) Project – with many coordination demands. I used data from this project to develop the concept of adaptive capacity – the set of capabilities a team develops that enable them to adjust to internal and external stresses.

Through analyzing meeting minutes, interview transcripts, and documents the project team developed, I was able to identify behaviors and approaches the team took that may have enabled them to better respond to changes in their environment. I use a specific example of a time when the team successfully redesigned the structure they were building in the field to illustrate the kind of coordination work adaptive capacity enables.

From data about the WAB Project, I identified components of adaptive capacity including perspective taking, multimembership, affect, and social capital. Understanding these components and the adaptive capacity they can develop helps us understand what about a team enables them to accomplish coordination work. Without adaptive capacity, we lack an integrated explanation of the ways in which different components interact and how those components address coordination.

This dissertation contributes to our understanding of how collaborative teams accomplish coordination by refining the concept of adaptive capacity and integrating earlier literatures on coordination, collaboration, and adaptation. The concept of adaptive capacity helps us understand the resources collaborative teams develop that make it possible for them to find flexible and creative solutions to their coordination problems.

What is an actor?

Some colleagues and I recently submitted a paper to a conference, and last week I sent in our rebuttals to the reviewers’ comments. Our paper introduces some terms from actor-network theory (ANT) to an audience that isn’t terribly familiar with ANT. I like ANT as a method, not really a theory, for helping sort through really dense, unfamiliar data. For instance, you can use ANT to help you figure out where to focus. If you enter a scenario as an ignorant sponge (as many qualitative methods ask that you do), it can be difficult to figure out what’s important. It’s also impossible to pay attention to everything all the time. ANT can help you find some important actors on which to focus your attention. Actors seems like a familiar term – we know of many in Hollywood, we understand what it means to act even off screen. That’s not what ANT means though. For ANT, actors are something like things that cause change, or things that other actors say are actors. You can probably see why some of our reviewers got a bit confused.

I use ANT in my dissertation to talk about what had to happen for a specific bridge to be built. I couch the study in terms of actors who did work to produce the bridge. I borrow actors from ANT in that I consider non-human actors (e.g. bendable concrete) symmetrical with human actors. Objects and ideas can do work even though they’re not human. They’re identified as important by other actors. For instance, using bendable concrete in the bridge deck required changes in how the sidewalk was connected, how the deck connected to the regular concrete deck on either side. The bendable concrete was acting in that it was creating change. Other actors, such as a construction consultant, identified it as an actor by saying things like, “If we use that bendable concrete, then we can’t use rebar there. We’ll have to use something else.” In that excerpt, he identified bendable concrete as the thing that caused a change. Bendable concrete has some agency. Had we entered the construction project without knowing anything, we’d know from the way the consultant talks about the bendable concrete that it is something important, that determines what other actors may or may not do (e.g. use rebar).

I think our paper does a good job of describing how ANT can help identify the important things in a set of data. When I find out if it got accepted, I’ll blog about the conference itself. I have pretty strong feelings about the conference to which we submitted, and they will either grow stronger or remain in check, depending on the outcome of our submission. Oh, that drama! The intrigue! Stay tuned.

Drafts – new section of libbyh.com

This morning I started a new page called “Drafts” that you can access from the right navigation bar.  I intend to keep that page updated periodically with drafts of papers on which I’m currently working.  Yan Chen rallied a bunch of us to join her at SI North on Friday mornings to sit and write for an hour.  This proved to be a very useful practice today, and I hope to attend many more “writer jams.”  You can expect updates to the drafts section on Fridays, I think.

Rethinking failure

I took a class taught by Karl Weick during the Fall 2006 term. I can’t remember the title of the class, but I know it was MO 700. I’ll call it “MO.” MO and I were instant friends. The reading list was interesting; the course discussions were, for the most part, thoughtful. And Karl was there. Nikhil Sharma and Jude Yew, the students who recommended MO to me, were absolutely right. Karl Weick is a wonderful instructor who provides amazing amounts of constructive feedback both in discussion and about our papers.

The paper I’m thinking about now was the last one I wrote for the class. I called it something like Collaboratories through a Sensemaking Lens. Writing that paper was a tough task. At that time in the course, we were reading Managing the Unexpected, and I was struggling with the way the book used the word “failure.” In the book, “failures” are more like “unexpected events” or “events that don’t go as planned” than they are the terribly negative outcomes that come to mind when I hear the word. Sure, some failures in the book are monumental – I’m thinking nuclear reactors behaving badly. Not all failures need to be life-or-death in order to benefit from the characterization Weick and Sutcliffe give them though. Weick and Sutcliffe ask us to think of failures as opportunities to learn and adjust.

It’s pretty easy for me to recognize a nuclear reactor melting down as a failure. What’s harder is thinking about what would count as a failure in an academic research setting. I’ve been living by the mantra, “It’s all data to me!” Does that mean that I don’t have failures? When things don’t go according to plan, I see unexpected results in my data. Unexpected data, or data that runs counter to one’s hypotheses, certainly provides opportunities to learn. I may even want failures in this sense so that I can easily develop new research topics. Life wouldn’t be very interesting if all my hypotheses were correct. I bet I’d get a “great” academic job if that were true though. More on job stuff later.

So why does it matter that Weick, Sutcliffe, and I think about failure differently? Well, for starters, I’m trying to write a paper about collaboratories using the language provided by sensemaking and high reliability literature. In collaboratory world, we’re not used to talking about sense or failure or reliability. We talk about coordination, bench science, email, cyberinfrastructure. We might benefit from trying to describe what we see in social studies of collaboratories in the unfamiliar terms of sensemaking and high reliability. I’ll give it a shot and let you know how it goes.

Last summer after my field prelim exam, Michael Cohen encouraged me to get in touch with my picky inner critic.  He’s sure that my inner critic will be more demanding of me than I have been without him/her.  For example, my inner critic is likely to make me explain what I mean by “failure” rather than to assume my readers know what I mean.  I look at this Collaboratories through a Sensemaking Lens paper as an opportunity to consult my inner critic and to get his/her help in becoming a more careful and precise academic writer.