Blog Post

The Ethics of Big Data

Today several member of the HASTAC team are heading to Asheville, North Carolina, where  we will be working with community partners at Southside Community Advisory Board in a project to recreate virtually a community that has been destroyed by so-called "urban renewal."  A community was decimated, but the records, handwritten, remain.   We have already digitized some and, eventually, will be digitizing many other "community-sourced" documents such as photographs, diaries, old newspaper stories, and oral histories.  


All of this goes onto a wonderful new tool the team is developing called Big Board, essentially a geolocated mapping website that allows anyone to click on an address and find a digital record of all materials uploaded there.  It is fully searchable across all the heteroegenous kinds of data.   This was developed by computer scientist and HASTAC Steering Committee member Richard Marciano (UNC), RENCI programmer and developer Jeff Heard.  You can learn more about the Big Board environment here)


HASTAC director of social networking and SILS PhD Student Sheryl Grant and Kristan Shawgo, Manager of Special Projects and CI-BER library liaison, have been working on this wonderful project all year.  You can find their incredible collection of blog posts, detailing their work to date,  here:


The point is that data is not just data---it is humans.  There are ethical, social, historical, political, and policy dimensions to all we are doing, community dimensions that require conversation and consent and understanding.  (Speaking of consent, part of our Institutional Review Board requirements was to take a Creative Commons share-and-share-alike copyright non-commercial license and translate it into 8th grade language.   Don't snicker.  It was the hardest thing I've done in ages and one of the most intellectually stimulating.  All that legalese covered real issues that simplicity and clarity uncovered and required us to reach a decision on.  Brilliant.  I would do this exercise in any data-mining exercise.    And, in fact, I will have the opporutunity to do so this fall. 


Finally, I am the lucky person who will be leading, along with Richard Marciano and others, a team independent study research group to carry this project forward with interested Duke undergraduates as part of Duke's new Bass Connections project.   We call our reserach team "MAKING DATA MATTER":


Consent is one part of what we will talk about, along with how you make Big Board even better and how we can continue to develop our pretty remarkable online multimedia, searchable data display tool in a way that best reproduces a community that was destroyed, leaving something valuable and important, we hope, for posterity.



This project team is almost complete but I can accept two, possibly three, more students.  If you are interested, there is an application on the Making Data Matters site.  Let us hear from you.   Again, there is an application on the website, "MAKING DATA MATTER":


No comments