Advocacy by Design: Moving Between Theory & Practice / Purdom Lindblad

Advocacy by Design (AbD) is a design framework for critical engagement centered on advocacy. AbD advocates for transparency, openness, polyvocalism, stewardship, and how to achieve these goals. In order to best fulfill these goals, the presentation suggests that libraries take part in collaborative projects.

For more information on collaborative projects and the importance of collaboration in libraries please see other resources tagged with “Process and Partnerships”

Lindblad, Purdom. 2017. “Advocacy by Design: Moving Between Theory & Practice.” In . College Park, MD.

Against Cleaning / Katie Rawson and Trevor Muñoz

[T]here is not one single understanding of what “data cleaning” means. Many times the specifics of “data cleaning” are not described anywhere but reside in the general professional practices, materials, personal histories, and tools of the researchers. That we employ obscuring language like “data cleaning” should be a strong invitation to scrutinize, perhaps reimagine, and almost certainly rename this part of our practice.

Rawson, Katie, and Trevor Muñoz. 2016. “Against Cleaning.” Curating Menus (blog). July 6, 2016.

“Free as in sexist?” Free Culture and the Gender Gap / Joseph Reagle

This article is particularly valuable when discussing stereotypical and default modes of collaboration and communication within technical communities. Reagle focuses particularly on gender, but the framework laid out here also has resonance for technical development involving other underrepresented communities.

“Despite the values of freedom and openness, the free culture movement’s gender balance is as skewed (or more so) as that of the computing culture from which it arose. Based on the collection and analysis of discourse on gender and sexism within this movement over a six–year period. I suggest three possible causes: (a) some geek identities can be narrow and unappealing; (b) open communities are especially susceptible to difficult people; and, (c) the ideas of freedom and openness can be used to dismiss concerns and rationalize the gender gap as a matter of preference and choice.”

Reagle, Joseph. 2012. “‘Free as in Sexist?’ Free Culture and the Gender Gap.” First Monday 18 (1).

ON NONSCALABILITY: The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales / Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

This heavily theoretical piece provides a vital counterweight to the pressure for “scale” in technological projects, and can give cultural heritage project managers a useful vocabulary for questioning demands to follow tightly regulated software development processes when it is not appropriate for community-driven, humanistic work. Tsing shows that while “scalability” is defined as projects that can become larger without changing the nature of the project — expand without changing — such scalability is possible “only if project elements do not form transformative relationships that might change the project as elements are added.” Tsing then highlights the fact that those transformative relationships are necessary for the emergence of diversity, and powerfully argues that meaningful diversity is “diversity that might change things” — and that the model of “scalability” is antithetical to meaningful diversity.  These theoretical concepts can be applied to almost any digital community archive project.

“When small projects can become big without changing the nature of the project, we call that design feature “scalability.” Scalability is a confusing term because it seems to mean something broader, the ability to use scale; but that is not the technical meaning of the term. Scalable projects are those that can expand without changing. My interest is in the exclusion of biological and cultural diversity from scalable designs. Scalability is possible only if project elements do not form transformative relationships that might change the project as elements are added. But transformative relationships are the medium for the emergence of diversity. Scalability projects banish meaningful diversity, which is to say, diversity that might change things.

Scalability is not an ordinary feature of nature. Making projects scalable takes a lot of work. Yet we take scalability so much for granted that scholars often imagine that, without scalable research designs, we would be stuck in tiny microworlds, unable to scale up. To “scale up,” indeed, is to rely on scalability—to change the scale without changing the framework of knowledge or action. There are alternatives for changing world history locally and for telling big stories alongside small ones, and “nonscalability theory” is an alternative for conceptualizing the world. But before considering these alternatives, let me return to that familiar domain for experience with scalability: digital technology.”

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2012. “ON NONSCALABILITY The Living World Is Not Amenable to Precision-Nested Scales.” Common Knowledge 18 (3): 505–24.

Consider the Boolean: The Challenge of Using Binary Data Structures in a Complicated World / Jacob Harris

I generally prefer to write about big picture subjects for my Learning pieces at Source. But today, let’s start from something small that illuminates the way even simple choices affect what we can represent and the stories we can tell. Let’s talk about the most basic datatype we often build our databases from: Boolean fields.

Harris, Jacob. 2015. “Consider the Boolean: The Challenge of Using Binary Data Structures in a Complicated World.” Source (blog). February 18, 2015.

Finding Gender-Inclusiveness Software Issues with GenderMag: A Field Investigation

Gender inclusiveness in computing settings is receiving a lot of attention, but one potentially critical factor has mostly been overlooked—software itself. To help close this gap, we recently created GenderMag, a systematic inspection method to enable software practitioners to evaluate their software for issues of gender-inclusiveness. In this paper, we present the first real-world investigation of software practitioners‘ ability to identify gender-inclusiveness issues in software they create/maintain using this method. Our investigation was a multiple-case field study of software teams at three major U.S. technology organizations. The results were that, using GenderMag to evaluate software, these software practitioners identified a surprisingly high number of gender-inclusiveness issues: 25% of the software features they evaluated had gender-inclusiveness issues.

Burnett, Margaret, Anicia Peters, Charles Hill, and Noha Elarief. 2016. “Finding Gender-Inclusiveness Software Issues with GenderMag: A Field Investigation.” In , 2586–98. ACM Press.

Critical technical practice as a methodology for values in design

Critical Technical Practice (CTP) is an approach to identifying and altering philosophical assumptions underlying technical practice. In this paper, we propose CTP as a useful method for developing value-sensitive design, complementing existing ethics-based approaches in HCI. CTP, originally proposed by Phil Agre, tightly binds technology development (as practiced in computer science) with critical reflection (as practiced in critical studies and design research), thereby uncovering and altering hidden values and assumptions in technology design. HCI, due to its interdisciplinary constitution and reflective nature, is a particularly fruitful domain for critical technical practice. We demonstrate through four case studies how critical technical practice supports the identification of values underlying design as well as the development of concrete technical alternatives.

Boehner, K., David, S., Kaye, J., & Sengers, P. (2005). Critical technical practice as a methodology for values in design. In CHI 2005 Workshop on quality, values, and choices.

Toward a Critical Technical Practice / Philip Agre

A foundational article in both Artificial Intelligence and critical technical practice, containing a powerful theoretical framework for thinking about the ways that human assumptions and bias enter programming decisions at even the most basic level.

“A critical technical practice will, at least for the foreseeable future, require a split identity — one foot planted in the craft work of design and the other foot planted in the reflexive work of critique. Successfully spanning these borderlands, bridging the disparate sites of practice that computer work brings uncomfortably together, will require a historical understanding of the institutions and methods of the field, and it will draw on this understanding as a resource in choosing problems, evaluating solutions, diagnosing difficulties, and motivating alternative proposals. More concretely, it will require a praxis of daily work: forms of language, career strategies, and social networks that support the exploration of alternative work practices that will inevitably seem strange to insiders and outsiders alike.”

Agre, Philip E. 1997. “Toward a Critical Technical Practice.” In Bridging the Great Divide: Social Science, Technical Systems, and Cooperative Work, edited by Geof Bowker, Les Gasser, Leigh Star, and Bill Turner, Open Access pre-print. Erlbaum.