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 One, 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.

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 are example projects to tease out how different elements could work to enact specific principles.

The interface for Take Back the Archive which aims for transparency and temporality:

The timeline is one way of showing stories persist over time. We are working to improve the timeline, but for now, the lines above the dots (which are sized according to how many materials are in the collection) indicate how these stories reappear over time. We want to visualize how these stories drop out of conversations or how often they are referenced.

This interface experiments with  Rich Prospect Browsing as outlined in Visual Interface Design for Digital Cultural Heritage. We used Rich Prospect Browsing as an element of transparency and poly-vocalism to show the extent of the collected materials for the archive, as well as a quick way of identifying the type of content. In this case, materials were designated as advocacy materials, policy reports, and journalistic accounts. Rich Prospect Browsing offers options for representing the full scope of materials with the goal of empowering users to understand the varied paths through the archival materials, that there is not one story, but many represented within. A major challenge to transparency is the ability to visualize absence–we know that many people do not report, particularly men and people from the LGBT community, so their stories do not appear in the archive. Can we better represent absence of materials to signal that this archive is incomplete or not fully representational?


By | 2017-09-18T15:43:48+00:00 Mon, Sep 18, 2017|Research|

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