Farewell 2020

Social Informatcis staff and students all centre meeting December 2019

The way we were, December 2019. L to R: John Marshall, Peter Cruickshank, Lyndsey Middleton (now graduated with PhD), Katherine Stephen, Rachel Salzano, Marina Milosheva, Laura Muir (now retired), Hazel Hall, Leo Appleton (now graduated with PhD), Ella Taylor-Smith, David Haynes, David Brazier, Frances Ryan (now Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen), Colin Smith, Wegene Demeke, and Bruce Ryan.

Just over a year ago, on 22nd December 2019, I summarised the the previous six months of activities of the members of the Centre for Social Informatics. I illustrated this account with a jolly photograph of us all bunched closely together around the table a few days earlier in room C34a of Edinburgh Napier University’s Merchiston campus.

At this point, none of us would ever have thought of putting the terms ‘social’ and ‘distancing’ into the same sentence; the letter R was only important to us as the name of a software environment for statistical computing and graphics; and we would have considered it very odd should anyone have suggested the donning of a face mask to pop into Tesco to pick up a loaf of bread. Looking at this photograph today, and rereading the text that accompanies it, generates mixed feelings of nostalgia for pre-COVID19 times with my wonderful colleagues, and regret that we have been working apart from one another for so long, with little prospect of this arrangement changing in the near future.

This time last year it was inconceivable that many of our usual work activities would either come to a complete halt (e.g. business travel – my last trip was on 19th February to the University of Glasgow to deliver a research seminar on collaboration and networking) or shift to online (e.g. meetings, supervisions, PhD examinations, interviews, preparations for REF2021). We enjoyed only a couple of months of pre-pandemic normality at the start of 2020 before we were instructed to work from home from mid-March onwards.

Peter Cruickshank and Frances Ryan (who, at the time, was still working with us) were very lucky with the timing of their workshop for the Digital identity security information practices of citizens (DISIPRAC) project on 27th February. (See the project report made available in April.) In contrast Bruce Ryan, Rachel Salzano, Katherine Stephen and I were extremely unlucky with our 19th March timing for Event 3 of the Research Impact and Value in Library and Information Science (RIVAL) project. We were obliged to cancel this event at very short notice on 13th March, eventually converting it for online delivery eight months later on 19th November 2020. Still in my office at Merchiston today are piles of printed material that we had hoped to use at RIVAL event 3. These include delegate packs, specially created posters, and a stack of yellow cards for an i-Spy game. What a waste!

For other projects that were only just underway – or about to start – when the pandemic hit, it was a case of reviewing the original plans and converting them for online delivery. So, for example, video conference interviews were conducted for the Information avoidance and diabetes project led by Gemma Webster with Bruce Ryan. (Preliminary findings are available in a poster presented in June 2020; Gemma and Bruce hope to publish a full paper on the project in 2021.) Similarly a pilot researcher mentoring scheme led by Ella Taylor-Smith was delivered online. Some of us found imaginative new ways of meeting our project aims. For example, David Brazier (project lead) and Rachel Salzano (researcher), had hoped to conduct some public engagement work on the theme of information literacy with Edinburgh city library users in workshops. Instead they refocused their practical work to make online recordings of individuals speaking about their information behaviour and use.

Later in the year, we were much better prepared to plan and execute our research taking into account the pandemic restrictions, and built this into project proposals such as our two successful bids for SFC funding. (This is also the case for two new ESRC/SDS funded PhD studentship awards that we will be advertising in the new year – David Brazier is the Director of Studies (DoS) for one, and Ella Taylor-Smith DoS for the other.)

In the past 10 months we have also become quite used to participating at online conferences. For example, we have made contributions to:

Despite all the difficulties of remote working, we have had good news to share with one another over the course of the past 10 months. These include, for example, prestigious external appointments: Rachel Salzano as a part-time researcher at the Alan Turing Institute; Peter Cruickshank to the editorial board of the eJournal of eDemocracy & Open Government (JeDEM); and Gemma Webster as a full member EPSRC Peer Review College. A couple of us were pleased to be recognised for our teaching in the ENSA award nominations (myself and Wegene Demeke). Even better better news was that David Haynes’ ISKO2020 contribution won the best paper award, and Katherine Stephen won the SDS TMT competition, with Marina Milosheva’s submission to the latter also highly commended. It would be remiss not to mention our three 2020 PhD graduates: Leo Appleton and Lyndsey in Middleton July and Iris Buunk in October. We congratulated our PhD graduates on their new jobs: Leo Appleton and Frances Ryan in March; Alicja Pawluczuk in April; and Iris Buunk in June. We waved goodbye to Laura Muir when she retired in September. A warm welcome awaited David Haynes when he joined the group in January and Debbie Meharg at the start of the autumn term, as was the case for our three new first year PhD students in October.

We have also been actively publishing our work this year. The outputs listed below draw on the expertise of the group members in their social informatics research. (Names in bold indicate current members of the Centre for Social Informatics; in green are the names of former members.)

So, in spite of everything, we actually achieved quite a lot in 2020. We have plenty of other work underway that should deliver in 2021 (e.g. grant proposals pending, papers under review). Here’s hoping that later in the year (once vaccinated) we’ll be able to share our good news for 2021 on campus in person (rather than on Teams, as is the current practice for our weekly Wednesday afternoon research group meetings).

Information Research December 2020 issue available with six contributions from the Centre for Social Informatics

Information Research logoThe December 2020 issue of Information Research is now available. Alongside the ‘regular’ papers and book reviews, this issue incorporates all the papers and posters from the Information Seeking in Context (ISIC) conference hosted online by the Department of Information Science, University of Pretoria, South Africa in September. Continue reading

Two new papers by Dr David Haynes

ISKO 2020 conference proceedings coverCongratulations to my Centre for Social Informatics colleague Dr David Haynes: last week two of David‘s recent papers were published.

The first is the award-winning ISKO paperUnderstanding personal online risk to individuals via ontology development’, which I wrote about on 14th July 2020. The final version is now available from the publisher in the proceedings of the Sixteenth international 2020 ISKO conference entitled ‘Knowledge organization at the Interface. Continue reading

RIVAL network event 3: preview

RIVAL logoAfter two postponements and a decision to move to virtual delivery, we (myself, Dr Bruce Ryan and our Edinburgh Napier PhD student helpers Rachel Salzano and Katherine Stephen) will (finally) be hosting the third RIVAL network event next week on Thursday 19th November 2020. Continue reading

Newly published: version 11.2 of the Centre for Social Informatics flyer (autumn 2020)

Centre for Social Informatics bannerThe Centre for Social Informatics flyer (version 11.2) has just been updated for the new academic year. Follow the link to read about the work of our group, including details of research expertise, funders, recent PhD completions, and recent publications. The flyer includes profiles of the group’s academic and research staff: Continue reading

Catching up with conferences in autumn 2020

autumn, trees, bruntsfieldIt currently feels like we have reached the peak of the autumn conference season. An array of events of interest to those of us working in Social Informatics and related areas are taking place this week. These include: Continue reading

All set for #asist20

ASIST2020 logoFollowing three days of virtual pre-conference workshops and the annual doctoral colloquium, the annual meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology 2020 ‘proper’ opens today.  The opening keynote speaker is Houman Haddad, Head of Emerging Technologies, United Nations World Food Programme (Nobel Peace Prize winner). He will present to the online audience on blockchain technology for humanitarian assistance at 09:00 EDT (13:00 GMT in the UK).

Several members of the Centre for Social Informatics are making co-authored contributions to ASIST 2020: Continue reading

SFC COVID-19 funding for two new projects in the Centre for Social Informatics

Scottish Funding Council logoOn 6th May 2020, the Scottish Government announced a ‘£75 million boost for Scottish university research’ to contribute to the mitigation of effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Scottish university research base. This recognised the wide range of impacts to both the income and activity of university research in the short, medium and longer term. The Scottish Funding Council then announced the allocation of this funding to the Scottish universities  on 12th June, and in recent months each institution has considered the best use this investment to meet the objectives of: Continue reading

RIVAL goes virtual on 19th November 2020

RIVAL logoAfter two unsuccessful attempts to postpone the third of our RSE-funded RIVAL network events, Dr Bruce Ryan and I have admitted defeat. With the support of the RIVAL project board members, we have decided to keep Thursday 19th November 2020 as the date for RIVAL event 3 and run it as a virtual meeting that afternoon. Continue reading