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UOA 37 - Library and Information Management

Napier University

RA5a: Research environment and esteem

INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL INFORMATICS RESEARCH AT NAPIER
This submission presents research in the Centre for Social Informatics (CSI) in the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Creative Industries (FECCI) at Napier University. The CSI consists of two subgroups – the International Teledemocracy Centre (ITC) and the Social Informatics (SI) group. Six Category A researchers have been submitted: Ms Kathy Buckner (Director of the Centre), Professor Elisabeth Davenport, Dr Keith Horton, Dr Hazel Hall, Dr Colin Smith from the School of Computing, and Dr Alistair Duff from the School of Creative Industries, who has been affiliated with the group since 1999. Professor Ann Macintosh, Category B, was a dedicated researcher in the ITC, which until July 2006, was an independent unit. The group has expertise in a number of areas including information management (Davenport; Hall; Buckner; Smith), critical systems theory (Horton; Davenport; Buckner); knowledge management (Hall; Davenport); user-centred evaluation (Buckner; Smith); critical and historical analysis (Duff; Davenport) and this interdisciplinary mix has produced a distinctive body of research. The main focal areas of research are:

  • socio-technical issues in information systems design and use
  • knowledge production and knowledge practices at different levels of organisation
  • organisational and personal information management.

Typical projects explore technology choices and technology trajectories in different contexts, information behaviours and work practices or the institutional and societal implications of new technologies. CSI’s research interest in technology infrastructures is complemented by work on publishing infrastructure and literary history  in the School of Creative Industries submitted to UoA 57, with four active researchers (McCleery, Kelly, Copeland and Fischer) cross-referred to UoA 37. 

 

RESEARCH STRATEGY AND ENVIRONMENT 2000 – 2007
In the RAE 2001 document, the objectives of the group (then known as ‘Social Computing’) were to sustain research impetus and achieve managed growth over the next five years. A number of specific objectives were presented: to expand the complement of active research staff; to expand the PhD cohort; to expand RA provision through a sustained programme of funded research; to extend the group’s active research networks (academic and non-academic). The group achieved these goals by pursuing a strategy of managed growth in its target areas of e-government and e-democracy, societal and organisational informatics. Two research-active members of staff have been appointed in the period under review (Buckner; Smith), and research income and doctoral student enrolments and completions have increased.

 

RESEARCH ACHIEVEMENTS
An important line of the group’s applied research was undertaken in the ITC under the direction of Ann Macintosh (Category B staff). This is a dedicated research unit where a number of ground-breaking applications (such as e-voting and e-petitioning systems) have been developed for e-democracy, and for e-government (e.g. ontologies for computer-mediated government services) in the UK and elsewhere. In recent years, this suite of applications and proof of concept systems has been augmented to include argument visualisation, conversational knowledge management, and the development of interfaces for citizens and government officers, drawing on expertise across the CSI (KB1; CS1; CS3). Critical evaluation of such applications is an important component of the group’s research portfolio (KH1; ED4)

In the period since the last RAE, the group has sustained its work on social and organizational informatics, focusing on knowledge intermediaries (HH2; KB2) and learning communities (ED1; KB4; HH4), and has extended its work on critical analysis of information systems (ED1; ED4; KH3; KH4). This explores production (an under-explored area) and implementation, as well as user evaluation (KB2; CS1; CS4), with a focus on large public infrastructures (KB3; KH4; ED4). Further lines of work address policy-making (AD2; KH1); professional education in the information society (AD1), and issues of power and justice at organisational (ED4; KH1) and societal (AD3; AD4) levels and offer critiques of current approaches to design and project management (KB4; KH1; KH4; HH2; ED4). The group has extended its methodological expertise in the period under review to include techniques for social analysis such as social network analysis (KB1; HH4), activity theory (KB3), actor network theory and discourse analysis (ED3; ED4) and contributed to relevant external workshops on research methods such as a US National Science Foundation workshop on Social Informatics in UC Irvine, and ESRC workshops on E-Social Science and e-Participation in Manchester and Leeds.

 

RESEARCH INCOME 2000-2007
Grant awards to the ITC have been a major source of research income in the review period and these have supported a research staff complement of 5 - 7 researchers and a part-time administrative support post. A series of EC 5th Framework projects explored the role of knowledge management technologies (‘SmartGov’) and natural language techniques (‘AVANTI’ and ‘EDEN’) in e-government services. The latter project resulted in the Commission funding a follow-on project (‘HANDS’) through its ‘eTen’ programme. These consolidated ITC’s position as a contributor to European research on digital government. Two major grants were secured under Framework 6 funding which, firstly, allowed the group to expand its research area and investigate the use of mobile secure environments as information repositories and collaborative work spaces (‘eRepresentative’) and secondly, secured a major role the ‘DEMO-net’ Network of Excellence to build an e-participation research community in Europe. At present, CSI’s participation in these projects is managed respectively by Smith and Buckner – the former, a junior researcher, is thus gaining invaluable experience of large-scale funded work. A recent project (‘WEB-DEP’) aims to establish a platform where journalists, politicians and citizens in the Western Balkans can engage in discussion about current issues of national and regional importance. The past seven years of ITC’s operation have coincided with a growing interest and uptake in e-democracy from governments world-wide. This resulted in substantial consultancy funding for the ITC that includes policy advice to the OECD and the Scottish, Canadian and Queensland governments. It also resulted in systems development work for the Scottish Parliament, the German Bundestag (ITC manages its e-petition server and archive) and various local authorities in the UK (the ePetitioner and Highland Youth Voice projects). Smith has also received consultancy funding from the Scottish Executive and Scottish Office for work on interactive TV and e-democracy.

Organisational and societal informatics research has been supported by competitive funding from a number of sources. The EC-funded ‘NET-QUALITY’ and ‘OPAL’ projects explored knowledge management in SMEs and the development of formal systems to support social capital in collaborative work. In addition to consolidating internal Napier and UK partnerships, these projects extended the group’s international research network, and established robust relationships with a number of European research institutions (such as Fraunhofer Institute). SI research has also received a number of grants from UK funding bodies. Napier participated in a one-year seed project (‘Non-place’) under the ‘Design for the 21st Century’ programme sponsored jointly by EPSRC and AHRC which strengthened links with ISSTI (Institute for the Study of Science, Technology and Innovation) in Edinburgh University. AHRC funding was awarded to Duff to support the writing of a monograph (‘Towards a Normative Theory of the Information Society’). Much of this work was undertaken at the Oxford Internet Institute, where Duff held a Fellowship from 2006-7. In future, joint industrial/academic research will be an important source of funding in the Faculty through either direct sponsorship, or through schemes such as the KTP programme. In this context, Buckner is currently involved in a KTP project with NCR and Hall was seconded on a Royal Academy of Engineering grant to TFPL in 2006, and her subsequent appointment as an Associate has enhanced the group’s industrial network.

 

RESEARCH STUDENTS AND THEIR ENVIRONMENT
In September 2006, the establishment of a Graduate School and major restructuring transformed research degree provision in the Faculty. Higher Degrees Committees (HDC) at Faculty level and School level work closely with the Graduate School and central HDC on recruitment, progression, training and examination, and the student experience. A tailored programme (http://www.napier.ac.uk/fecci/researchstudents/Pages/home.aspx) provides sessions on a range of generic skills and awareness of issues such as intellectual property, research ethics and data protection, coupled with discipline-based advanced training (Davenport and Hall have contributed to this). This is backed by workshops, seminars and conferences provided in-house or externally, to meet various needs including training for teaching, advanced data analysis and IT skills, English language support and careers advice. Progress is monitored by means of an individual PG Development Record.

Doctoral dissertation work extends and consolidates the work of CSI active researchers. Since the last RAE, when the recently formed Social Computing group had no completions to its name, nine PhDs have been awarded to students (Bruce, Ebel, Hall, Van de Walle, Xenakis, Evangelides, Jeffrey, Hancock, Griffin) supervised by members of the group, and work on seven PhD dissertations (Edwards, Rasmussen (p/t), Ziba, Riley, Auernhammer, Irvine, Mabweazara) and one MPhil (Zhang) is ongoing. Though the contexts which are explored may differ, there is a common concern to provide a socio-technical account of different technologies at work, and a shared approach – empirical case work. All doctoral students are encouraged to publish their work (co-authored with supervisors at first, and as sole authors by the time of completion) in appropriate conferences and journals. For example, Evangelides and Xenakis, explored risk management in integrated local government systems and e-voting; both presented their work at DEXA conferences which led to a number of publications. Ebel charted the formation of community among online writers and participated in several TRACE conferences; Bruce and Hall traced the outcomes of corporate KM policy in the context of spatial planning and intranet implementation respectively, and both published papers while doctoral students in the Journal of Information Science. The tradition of publishing continues with the current cohort: Rasmussen, for example, uses discourse analysis and structuration theory to track the development of a knowledge networking initiative in a public sector agency, and has co-authored a published work in the 2006 IFIPI3E conference; and Ziba, exploring technology choices in Malawi’s secondary schools has published a sole-authored paper in an edited monograph on research methods for e-government that emerged from the ‘DEMO-net’ project.

Students interact with their colleagues in the School of Computing and other Faculty research groups through shared seminars, shared training sessions and an annual Faculty Research Day, and, informally, in the research rooms provided by the School. CSI also hosts visits from European graduate and post-doc researchers, funded, for example, by the Social Science Research Council of Canada (Alberts), the Finnish National Academy of Sciences (Widen-Wulff), and the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation, one of the two main competitive research funding bodies in Sweden (Steiner). Students are also encouraged to attend and present at relevant research meetings (University funding is available for this). All research students are in close proximity to relevant supervisory staff (as are RAs), which facilitates information exchange between staff and students, and reduces the opportunity costs of weekly meetings. Research students and research active staff are supported by a range of internal library services (NUIN, NUINLINK, ATHENS, ILL, subject specialism procurement), and can also use the research resources of local institutions such as National Library of Scotland and Edinburgh University.

The destinations of graduate research students are varied. Xenakis has returned to Greece where he is involved in a number of EC e-government projects and is currently employed by the Ionian University in Corfu; Evangelides is currently employed as a research officer in the Scottish Executive; Ebel runs an academic research training unit in Stirling University; Bruce is working for the Office of the Chief Scientific Advisor. Hall and Jeffrey are academic staff at Napier.

 

RESEARCH STUDENT FUNDING

CSI research students are not funded by direct grants from Funding Councils. Some of them are mature students, returning to work or currently employed, and studying on a part-time basis; others are proceeding to a higher level after obtaining Masters degrees. The funding patterns vary. Napier supports a number of University-wide and Faculty studentships (the latter are for interdisciplinary research) with central funding. The School of Computing supports further studentships, and further discretionary funding goes to local research centres (like CSI) to support, for example, student travel. A second source of financial support for research students is corporate funding – Bruce and Rasmussen, for example, were both sponsored by employers, Hall was partly sponsored by the organisation that was the object of her research, and Auernhammer’s first year of research was sponsored by Daimler AG. In addition, students can claim assistance with fieldwork from the university, though they are also encouraged to find external sponsors for these such as the Carnegie Trust (Van de Walle’s exchange visit to Montreal was funded in this way).

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND VITALITY: STAFFING POLICY, STRUCTURE AND CULTURE

The sustainability of the CSI is assured by means of well-established university-wide financial and organisational structures. The Graduate School and the University Research Office support staff research training, the management of student data, and the preparation of grant proposals. Industrial research is supported by a Knowledge Transfer and Commercialisation officer, and two Business Development Managers, and, at School level, by a dedicated KT manager.

Recruitment of research active staff has been a priority in appointments to the Faculty in the period since the last RAE, and the work of all FECCI academic staff is managed by means of a resource allocation model, which differentiates the teaching/research balance load of research active staff from those who do not undertake funded research. Support for staff development is generous – in addition to internal training provision, staff can be funded to attend external courses. Early career researchers are offered support and training through a centrally managed training programme for researchers and supervisors. The departure of Macintosh has provided opportunities for other staff (e.g. Smith) to undertake research management. Davenport, the group’s other Research Professor, who is due to retire in July 2008, will continue to work with CSI in an Emeritus role. Local mentoring practices are in place to ensure that experienced researchers work with professionally younger colleagues. The pattern of publication reflects this: Davenport and Macintosh, have consistently published with less senior research colleagues, and both Hall (recently appointed as a Reader) and Buckner have published with Davison, a junior researcher. Buckner, leader of the CSI research group, discusses individual research trajectories with individual group members, and approves spending plans; the university has recently introduced standard Personal Development Portfolios which formalise these processes.

Staff are encouraged to take initiatives that enhance the academic presence of the group, and a number of successful international colloquia and workshops have been organised. Output from ‘Understanding Sociotechnical Action’ (USTA 2004) run by Horton and Davenport was published in a special issue of the ‘Journal of Organisational and End User Computing’. Two meetings on ‘Space, Spatiality and Technology’ (co-organised with colleagues in the Centre for Interaction Design) have led to two research monographs, one published by Springer/Kluwer (2006) and one in preparation. Duff secured sponsorship from Ameritech for a significant series of lectures (1997-2001) by key experts on the Information Society. He also organised a conference on ‘Teaching the Information Society’ that led to a special issue of Education for Information in 2001.

There is a large amount of interdisciplinary networking between members of CSI and their colleagues in the School of Computing, in the School of Creative Industries, in the Health and Life and Social Sciences Faculty and in Napier University Business School. Much of this happens through shared PhD supervision, and joint seminars. For example, Dryden and McCleery (UoA 57) have shared doctoral supervisions with Davenport; and Dryden and Davenport have been Internal Examiners of each other’s doctoral students.

 

EXTERNAL NETWORKING
In addition to the productive links established with a number of European and US academic institutions through project work (e.g.Fraunhofer Institute, Koblenz, Linz, Aalborg, Orebro), the group has consolidated existing relationships in the period under review with Indiana University and the University of Montreal. Davenport has been a Visiting Scholar in the School of Library and Information Studies at Indiana University for over 10 years where she collaborates on empirical projects with colleagues and runs graduate research methods workshops on a regular basis; Blaise Cronin, Dean of the School, has been a Visiting Professor to the group for many years, and he and a number of his colleagues (Rosenbaum, Robbin, Jacobs, Day and Hara) have visited Napier to assist with KM graduate seminars and workshops throughout the period under review. Hall has also presented her doctoral work in Indiana.

There are strong links with the École de Bibliothéconomie et des Sciences de l’Information (EBSI) in Montreal through a doctoral student exchange (Alberts/van de Walle), Visiting Professorship (Davenport), PhD examiner duties and supervision (Davenport), and research visits to Montreal and joint grant applications by Hall, and visits by Bergeron and Heaton to Napier. Recently, links have been made with the KM group at Rutgers University: McInerney, leader of the group, visited Napier in 2005, and Davenport presented her research work in Rutgers in 2006. The group also has strong links with Turku/Abö University in Finland: Widen-Wulff visited Napier as a post-doc 2004-5;Davenport has acted as PhD examiner and NORSLIS doctoral workshop (2006) participant in Turku and Widen-Wulff and Davenport have co-authored together. Hall has been invited as Visiting Researcher to Turku in 2007, and in 2008. The group also has established research links with the Swedish School of Library and Information Science (SSLIS) at Göteborg University/Högskolan i Borås, where Davenport and Hall have contributed to doctoral methods workshops. More recently, links have been made with Oulu University, where Davenport has participated in methods workshops and conference organisation.

Within the UK, the ITC established strong working relationships in the period under review with academic commercial and government institutions such as the Oxford Internet Institute, BT and the ODPM. These were not simply sources of income, but ensured that the understanding of computing and government that emerges from the research work of the ITC contributes to the building and shaping of societal institutions. The CSI group has links with a number of UK industrial and commercial groups, including TFPL, KPMG, SE (Scottish Enterprise), and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Hall’s participation in planning for the Online meeting is a source of further connections. Links with UK academic institutions are sustained through PhD supervision (Horton co-supervised Vasconcelos at Sheffield Hallam), formal visiting (Dr Trevor Wood Harper is a Visiting Professor to the group), through higher degree examining work, through shared workshop and conference organization, and through participation in academic review and professional bodies such as BAILER and CILIP.

 

IMPACT/ESTEEM
Internationally, members of the group have participated in policy-making and standards setting at a number of different levels. Macintosh advised the OECD, the UN and the EC on e-governance policy, and contributed to research and policy agendas for the EC and non-EC national governments. Davenport has undertaken a number of national research evaluation exercises for the Finnish Academy of Sciences. She reviews projects regularly for the Canadian Social Sciences Research Council and has been external PhD examiner of candidates in Canada, Australia, Finland, Ireland. Buckner has been a regular reviewer for EC research programmes and has been involved with the IST (Information Society Technologies) and ‘Disappearing Computer’ Programmes since 2000. Hall has recently been invited to review for the Israeli Science Foundation. At national level, Davenport and Hall are members of the AHRC Peer Review College. Davenport was an AHRC Panel member from 2001-2004 and she has been re-appointed from September to December 2007. She is also a member of RAE Panel I 37. Horton  reviews proposals for the ESRC, and Duff has served as an external assessor for AHRC. Members of the group have served as Higher Degree external examiners in the following institutions: City (Hall); Brighton (Duff); Loughborough (Davenport); Edinburgh (Davenport); Oxford (Davenport); Sheffield (Davenport); Sheffield Hallam (Davenport); QMUC (Davenport); Northumbria (Horton).

Professional association and conference work
In addition to peer reviewing of papers and projects (for meetings such as ASIS&T, ICIS, ECIS and AMCIS), members of the group participate in planning and conference management activities such as the ASIS&T Annual Meeting (Davenport), the Communities and Technology Conference (Davenport), the International Online meeting (Hall); the Ethics of Electronic Information Conference (Duff); the International Conference on Information Systems, Technology and Management (Horton); ALOIS (Horton); the 2nd International Conference on e-Government (ICEG) (Horton), and the Programme Committee for the International Workshop on e-Services in Public Administration (Horton).; EGOV (Macintosh); the Web-based Communities Conference (Smith).

Members of the group also belong to a number of working groups in the International Federation of Information Processing: WG 9.2 Computers and Social Accountability (Davenport and Horton); WG 8.2 Information Systems and Organisations (Davenport); WG 8.5 Information Systems in Public Administration (Horton). Buckner is Vice Chair of WG 9.3 Home Oriented Informatics and Telematics. She was member of programme committee for HOIT 2007 – Home Oriented Informatics and Telematics 2007 – organised by 9.3; and was co-editor of the Proceedings.

Members of the group have participated in the following editorial boards: The Information Society (Davenport); Journal of Documentation (Davenport); ARIST (Davenport from 2002), JASIST (Davenport), Kluwer Series on Information Science and Knowledge Management (Davenport); Journal of Information Science (Hall), Library and Information Research (Hall), the Sage Handbook of Information Science and Information Management (Hall); Journal of Organizational and End User Computing (Horton) and the International Editorial Review Board of Advances in End User Computing (Horton).

Indicative academic invitations
Davenport was a sponsored NATO/RTA consultant (delivering a one week course) at ISEGI in the University of Lisbon, 2002; was Visiting Professor in the Université de Montréal in the Spring Semester 2005; and has been a visiting NORSLIS Professor at Turku/Abö (2004; 2006), Goteberg (2005) and Oulu (2006). She has been a Visiting Scholar Indiana University from 1994 to the present. Duff was an invited professor at the University of Zurich Department of Mass Communication and Media Research summer school 2001. In 2006, he was an invited speaker at 'Worlds of Knowledge: an International Conference at the Center for the Advanced Study of the Humanities' in Essen, Germany. Hall was an a Visiting Researcher at Turku/Abo University November 2007, an invited seminar speaker at EBSI, Montreal, September 2007 and at the University of Salford, October 2007 and Manchester Metropolitan University, October 2007. 

Indicative conference/symposium invitations:
Davenport delivered the Lazerow Memorial Lecture at GSEIS UCLA in 2001 (Davenport); the Rob Kling Memorial Lecture, IU 2005 (Davenport), a keynote address at COLIS, 2005 (Davenport) and was the NJ ASIST Distinguished Speaker in 2006 (Davenport). Hall was an invited speaker at the European Business Information Conference Seville 2005 and an invited panel member at the SLA annual conference, Denver, Colorado 2007. Buckner gave an invited presentation at a workshop on Customer-oriented Services to citizens, E-Democracy ONF, Paris 2007, and Duff participated by invitation in the British Library symposium on Future Directions for BL scholarship and research priorities 2007.

 

FUTURE STRATEGY 2008-13
The staffing and structural changes that took place in 2007 in CSI, ITC and School of Computing have provided an opportunity to merge the group’s teledemocracy and social informatics research under one Director, and consolidate the group’s interdisciplinary methods portfolio. The strategy for 2008-13 has three main objectives. Firstly, CSI will seek to sustain a high level of empirical and theoretical research output that shapes practice and thinking at local, national and international levels. This will be achieved by a number of activities: focused funding applications both for applied research and for proof of concept and dissemination activity, contributions to selected government and academic policy fora, input into targeted publication channels, and managed input participation in editorial and conference planning. Secondly, CSI will extend its collaboration capability and deepen the scope and reach of its research, by increasing the number of strong ties in its existing networks, and pursuing new links through the networks of its partners. Thirdly, the group will intensify its work with commercial and public sector partners, through empirical projects and methods training outside the University, and through flexible graduate level course provision within Napier. 

Three indicative areas of activity have been identified. The first is applications development, where Proof of Concept and KTP funding will be sought to develop existing applications for e-democracy (petitioning and consultation) with appropriate institutional partners. New contexts for these will be explored, for example, in organizational and corporate environments where managers must comply with the recent EC regulations on Information and Consultation for Employees (ICE), and funding sought at EC and UK levels. Partners for collaborative projects will be sought from CSI’s existing networks. The second area is corporate Knowledge Management where the group will build on earlier theoretical and empirical work on Knowledge Capital and Knowledge Sharing in organizations, extending the scope of projects to include social computing and Web 2.0 applications. EC and other non-UK government funding will be sought (with existing external partners) for comparative studies of knowledge sharing and knowledge representation across institutions. The third area is theoretical and empirical work on large-scale knowledge infrastructures focusing on institutional barriers and technology trajectories. The group will seek partnerships with other cognate SI groups (such as those at York and Brighton in the UK, and Indiana and Penn State in the US), for a range of activities: interdisciplinary applied research, trans-institutional Higher Degree domain training, and the development of international domain networks.