I’ve been working on an exercise to develop a mission statement for my research. I think I’m settling on the following.
Helping communities have an equal voice in a digital world. To accomplish this mission, it is important to:
- inform communities on how emerging technologies and trends are opening up new possibilities for community action;
- enable communities through access to, and education on, appropriate technologies; and
- collaborate with communities, giving them an equal voice in my own research and helping them have an equal voice with others.
As technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous, to fully participate in this digital world it is important to have the literacies needed to harness technology when appropriate, and to judge when technology is a hindrance instead of a help. But while there is a significant economic and technical hurdle in achieving full digital inclusion for everyone, I think at the core this is a social problem. Achieving an equal voice requires new understandings regarding the value and indeed necessity of diverse voices in all aspects of our society.
But too often we as researchers do not practice what we preach. For in research many would argue that what we do is too specialized to engage citizens, or is contaminated through subject involvement. I take an opposing view. While it is helpful to regularly take a 10,000 foot view of communities, it is also critical to utilize a scholarship of engagement approach in which citizen scientists participate as equals with academic researchers. In so doing, it becomes possible to gain unique, deep perspectives to important social issues.
While it is important to inform the community regarding the possibilities of harnessing new technologies, and to also enable them to utilize those technologies effectively, the cycle isn’t complete until there is also meaningful collaboration. We must practice what we preach lest we live our professional lives as blind men who only percieve the full shape of an elephant through the touch of its trunk alone.