Themes in My Research

I place my current research in social computing, an area examining digital systems that support online social interactions. My core interests include:

1. citizen engagement in science, policy, and innovation:  citizen engagement is an umbrella term encompassing a range of practices, including citizen science and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) practices, which attempt to connect citizens, experts and policy makers.                

2. human-machine cooperation in collective intelligence:  I am interested in the ways in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) mediate collective intelligence and participatory citizen science.  I have an interest in human computation and the design of cooperative human-machine systems. 

3. science-policy interface: I am interested in how we can turn science into policy.

I am a hybrid of sociologist and information scientist. As such, my research output and approaches do not fit neatly into a single category. In my research work I tend to draw from a range of fields, including library and information sciences, science and technology studies, social informatics and e-research. In particular, science and technology studies, and specifically actor-network theory, have influenced my research approach, directing my attention to the sociomaterial relations existing in social practices.

Over the years, since I started my doctoral studies in 2006, I have studied several themes that are contiguous with my current core research interests, which are citizen science, peer-to-peer networking, and co-creation.

In my doctoral thesis, I studied three cases of collaborative research between practitioners and academics in library and information science, and I found that peer-production is a form of work that could help bridge the gap between research and practice. This finding has shaped the direction of my research after the Ph.D. Peer production is a special kind of work in which individuals act in response to their own needs and interests and in a decentralized manner. The attributes and organization of peer production support participatory forms of activities, which can capitalize on the wide range of creativity, interests, experience, motivation, and availability that individuals can bring.

I decided to explore instances of the peer-to-peer  approach and the opportunities and challenges of open models in non-formal education.  I have always been interested in examining these concepts as part of a larger picture, including volunteers and rewards, co-production and sharing, distributed management and control. I looked at the use of digital media and open educational resources as tools for developing more participatory and inclusive forms of learning and for changing our understanding of the role of expertise. Emergent technologies have been claimed to disrupt the notion that learning should be controlled by traditional gatekeepers, as information and “knowledgeable others” are available on online networks. This shift in information provision suggests circumstances under which uncredentialed sources can provide valuable information. The use of crowdsourcing tools can be seen as harnessing the ability of those providing useful information, even though they lack special training, credentials, or established an offline reputation. From here to studying citizen science it was a short step. Citizen science projects share characteristics with peer production and is another realm where we observe spontaneous and ad-hoc forms of participation of the general public in contributing to science. Besides, as it has been noted, the structure of tasks in citizen science can be similar to those of peer production and the literature from Benkler is helpful to understand important aspects of citizen science.

I am interested in the ways in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) mediate citizen science. Currently, I study how citizens use Games with a Purpose (GWAPs) to solve scientific problems and contribute to social causes. Some of these games aim at integrating what humans and computers, respectively, can do well. In this respect, I have an interest in human computation and the design of cooperative human-machine systems. However, my focus is not restricted to games and I am interested in the use of digital technologies to support citizen science and processes of co-creation.

Generally, I lean towards the qualitative side of research, with a particular interest in ethnography (as a solo and joint endeavour), but I like to collaborate with quantitative researchers and embrace mixed-method approaches.