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Transforming Digital Tools and Work Processes in Science and Technology Research

[Editor’s note: The author, Andoni Ibarra, was in residence at the Charles Babbage Institute as a research fellow from January through May, 2019. He is a professor in philosophy of science and program director for the Miguel Sánchez-Mazas Chair at the University of the Basque Country, San Sebastian, and serves as PI for the PRAXIS Research Group.]

My research at the Charles Babbage Institute was aimed at understanding the extent of the transformations deriving from new forms of human-machine interaction and new work organization patterns in digitization-intensive scenarios. The objective is to help articulate organizational, social, and technological mechanisms oriented towards practices known as responsible research and innovation (RRI).

In order to do so, I intend to broaden knowledge with regard to the processes implemented to digitize work and their impact on work scenarios. Based, in particular, on research conducted by Thomas Misa and Jeffrey Yost into FastLane implementation and the development of management processes at the National Science Foundation, I examine human-machine interaction in these research evaluation contexts, in relation to organizational models in scientific work.

Analyses of these issues and their operationalization in “socio-technical” concepts are still quite rare and/or are dominated by purely technical perspectives. Given the complexity and heterogeneity characterizing contemporary innovation systems and their interrelations with societal actors (including those in sectors involved in scientific research), there is a lack of studies that link the phenomena of innovation with work processes and conditions where such processes take place.

My research aims to help reduce this lack of research. Within the framework of Misa and Yost’s historical analysis of the design, development and application of FastLane in the period 1995-2010, firstly I will try ( i) to analyze the basic assumptions underlying the organizational work model identified in FastLane and (ii) to study the FastLane interface’s impact—as the materialization of digital human-machine interaction—on institutions that are both internal and external to science system organizations. Secondly, given the recent inclusion of RRI in the regulatory policies on research work organization (8th European Union’s Framework Programme on Science, Technology and Innovation), organizational patterns of research in science and technology systems are undergoing significant change. These shifts include increased involvement of scientists, technologists and engineers from other areas of society, such as industry, services, third sector organizations, and other societal actors, as well as the expansion of collaboration among all the actors throughout the whole research and innovation process, from establishing research agendas to developing the organizational pattern of collaboration known as “Open Science.”

I aim to analyze, in this new context of organizing research work, the dynamic reconfiguration of roles traditionally assigned to actors involved in organizing research in the scenario of a new “moral division of labor” relating to the production of science and innovation. And in this context, I aim to: (i) analyze how RRI, Open Science, etc. condition and shape the organization and meaning of research work; (ii) study how this affects the way in which digital interfaces should be more suitably designed to facilitate new work processes, and finally; (iii) gauge whether there are significant differences in the way these processes are carried out as a result of implementing different public science, technology and innovation policies (in the EU or the US).

Andoni Ibarra


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