Advocacy by Design

Moving Between Theory and Practice—Part 1

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I’m posting a short series of a lightly edited posts from of my keynote for the University of Maryland Library Research and Innovative Practice Forum. Slides and talk are available through DRUM. Below is Part 1, with more posts to follow. —Purdom

I have been sitting with a sentence written by the editors of the journal Salvage, “The infrastructures against social misery have yet to be built.”

In 2014, the disappearance and murder of University of Virginia (UVA) undergraduate Hannah Graham, the Rolling Stone ‘After a Rape’ article, and the assault of UVA African American student leader, Martese Johnson, by two Alcoholic Beverage Control agents led to the development of Advocacy by Design. The cries of ‘how could this happen here?’ and ‘we had no idea!’ were discordant with the long history of sexual and racial violence at UVa.

Together with Professor Lisa Goff, the Scholars’ Lab team organized a digital archive to document this history at the university. Jeremy Boggs and I felt the archive must be feminist at the core, that feminist principles must be present at each stage-from collecting materials, to describing and organizing metadata, to the interface, to the ways in which the archive was shared. While we continued to work on Take Back the Archive, we felt this feminist mode of working could be extend to other projects.

Advocacy by Design articulates a shared understanding and practice that fronts questions of how people are represented in, or are subjects of, academic work; questions of who reads and uses our work as well as those who collaborate and contribute to our work. We articulate this advocacy through particular stances on a number of interrelated concepts, we call principles. Some principles are borrowed from Shaowen Bardzell’s Feminist HCI: Taking Stock and Outlining an Agenda for Design, while others grew out of our experiences with Take Back the Archive.

These principles include within them components and elements, such metadata, project management, and licenses, to better apply principles throughout a research inquiry. Advocacy is active–an attention-based practice of asking what are we doing to foster diverse voices? What do these practices look like face-to-face? What do they look like in the things we design, build, share?

Advocacy by Design begins with defining, seeking ‘the why’ and using that why as a guide through the research area. Defining the why enables us to identify which hows are critical. In the beginning stages of a research project or formation of a library committee, task force, or service, the hows should be platform agnostic. For example, centering the why opens up not just what the goals of a particular service or committee will be, but why those goals are important? In turn, the why drives ‘how’ that service or committee will work, how it will be legible to patrons or library colleagues.

Frank Chimero - Why and How

As Frank Chimero points out, it is easier to ask “How do I paint this tree?” (or in our case “how do we organize a new committee?”) than to articulate why this tree or committee needs to be.  Defining the why clarifies the objectives of our work, something we can return to when the tasks pile up. For Advocacy by Design, the ‘why’ frames which principles should be fronted and how those principles can be enacted.

I lean on Bess Sadler and Chris Bourg’s Feminism and the Future of Library Discovery:

“Research libraries in particular have always reflected the inequalities, biases, ethnocentrism, and power imbalances that exist throughout the academic enterprise through collection policies and hiring practices that reflect the biases of those in power at a given institution.”

My ‘why’ is grounded in identifying and revealing practices that reinforce patterns of exclusion and inequality, the “how” flows from this beginning.

Advocacy by Design is not proscriptive, not a checklist, rather a way of practicing that invites return and reflection upon the why and how along with attention to the questions of who is represented in-and are subjects of-archives and academic work; questions of who reads and uses our work as well as those who collaborate and contribute to our work.

Principles for Advocacy by Design include transparency, openness, stewardship, temporality, an ethic of care, accessibility and usability, poly-vocalism, sustainability, interoperability, and collaboration. Today I would like to focus on Transparency, Poly-vocalism, and Collaboration ending with some reflection on the Ethic of Care. As you will see, the principles are interconnected and elements move across them. It is not meant to draw strict boundaries, rather to develop a vocabulary to frame our discussion. Elements are ways to make visible the principles of Advocacy by Design within our workflows, interactions, and research products. What follows in future posts are example projects to tease out how different elements could work to enact specific principles.

By | 2018-02-07T16:12:12+00:00 Mon, Sep 18, 2017|Research|

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