The OeSS project supports research into the ways in which e-research and digital approaches to research more generally are reconfiguring the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities. As digital social research is conducted in a variety of manners and research settings, the methods the team deploys are suited to particular contexts of investigation. These include questionnaire based surveys, focus groups, interviews, content analysis, and ethnographic participant observation. Generating diverse types of information, these methods converge in building an overall vision of digitally enabled research.

This project has build on a multi-method approach to empirical research of its first phase, combining case studies with in-depth interviews and focus groups. The second phase adds ethnographic studies of e-science and e-social science projects that incorporate aspects of each form of research, from quantitative research to modelling and simulation. Specifically, Phase II draws from and integrates case studies, focus groups and ethnography. Selection of cases and solutions is distributed across our four areas of research practice (quantitative, qualitative, modelling and collaboration) and incorporates variance across other key dimensions of e-research, such as between research that is dealing with sensitive data about human participants, as against projects managing data about things -- materials and objects.

Issue-based studies

Within this broad remit the project is organised around specific issues which have been identified for their potential to provide specific case studies where changes to scholarship may be empirically investigated. These issues include: ownership in relation to IPR; institutional infrastructures (including copyright, IPR, liability, contracts etc); privacy and data protection; digital sustainability; virtual research environments (VREs) in Higher Education institutions; ethics in e-social science; privacy and trust; co-present and distributed collaboration (including issues of trust, ownership, motivation and working practices); disciplinary cultures and work practices; imaging, visualisation and changing practices of visual evidence; the history and future of e-Science; anonymity and confidentialiy; and Open Science. These issue-based studies are detailed below.

How are researchers' information practices changing?

As digital approaches to research become ubiquitous across disciplines, what does that mean for the ways in which researchers engage with information? OeSS researchers have obtained additional funding from the UK's Research Information Network (RIN) for two projects on understanding information practices in the humanities and in the physical sciences. With 60 interviews, 12 focus groups, and 12 case studies, OeSS researchers and their partners are developing a more nuanced understanding of researchers' information practices in the age of digital research.

Associated project: "Humanities Information Practices"
Associated project: "Physical Sciences Information Practices"

Using web archives as e-research tools

Web archives such as the Wayback Machine and OeSS partner Internet Archive offer the potential of being able to use the past web to understand changes in communication online over time, changes in society that are reflected in online materials, and the changing nature of the Internet itself. OeSS researchers obtained funding from JISC for two projects in this area. The World Wide Web of Humanities project focused on proving the feasibility of extracting focused collections from the Internet Archive for research purposes by building collections of humanities materials. More recently, JISC has again funded OeSS researchers to write two reports on how researchers engage (or more commonly, fail to engage) with web archives as research objects and as a method of research.

Associated project: World Wide Web of Humanities
Associated project: Researcher Engagement with Web Archives

Measuring the impact of digitization in the humanities

One of the clearest wins in the e-research realm has been the widespread digitization of the materials used by humanities scholars. Many digitized materials are proving to be popular resources both for academic and non-academic audiences. However, there has been limited empirical evidence collected, thus far, about the ways these materials are being used, and the impact the digitization is having in the humanities. OeSS researchers, with additional support via offshoot funding from JISC, did case studies of the impact of five digitization projects. In addition, the team created the TIDSR toolkit that other digitization projects can use to better understand the impact of their own web-based materials. The toolkit and recommendations in the project report have led JISC to initiate a new funding stream to allow other projects to use and contribute to the TIDSR toolkit.

Associated project: Digitised Resources: A Usage and Impact Study
Resource: Toolkit for the Impact of Digitised Scholarly Resources

Are social scientists aware of e-research initiatives?

Are social scientists aware of e-research initiatives? What are the characteristics of early adopters of e-social science practices and technologies? Our survey on awareness of e-social science (2008) was designed to gain an understanding of the centrality of a variety of tools to social research. The results are discussed in the following papers:

Collaboration and e-Infrastructures for research

There have been a number of initiatives to build e-infrastructures for research in the UK and internationally. Called Virtual Research Laboratories or Collaboratories, or simply e-Infrastructures, this programme has reached a point where there are some mature projects, lessons learned and new directions. In particular, it is necessary to study the international, national, institutional and disciplinary embedding of e-Infrastructures. OeSS researcher Annamaria Carusi collorated with Torsten Reimer of King’s College London on a JISC funded project to undertake a VRE Landscape Study of related developments across the globe. With 21 case studies of programmes of funding and projects funded, the study makes a number of recommendations for policy relating to e-infrastructures and for the engagement required for their development.

The future of global research communities

OeSS researchers were partners in the European Commission project eResearch 2020. The main goal of the study was to understand better the organizational, collaborative and technological developments in e-Infrastructures which are effective in supporting virtual research organizations in different fields. The 18 case studies forming the core of the project served as evidence for the Roadmap to 2020 and Beyond (pp. 205-232 in the final report), which OeSS researchers took the lead on.

Missing data in mediated research

Online research is often viewed a mediated experience -- missing the tacit information gained by being in the field. How do eResearchers think about these issues and respond to them? This study investigates new types of mediation of qualitative e-research, as well as the impact of electronic archives of qualitative material. It is being led by Alison Powell and Bill Dutton, working in collaboration with Graham Crow and other colleagues in the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM).

Legal and Ethical Aspects of e-Research

e-Research raises a number of legal and ethical issues relating to personal data, anonymity, ownership, and the regulation of research. There are often questions regarding whether existing legislation and regulation is sufficient or appropriate for meeting the challenges of what sometimes appear to be a different set of ethical norms arising from the Internet itself, and from the extended possibilities of e-research, for example with respect to data mining and aggregation. OeSS researchers have held a number of events to explore these issues, and have been conducting research in the area. Recent activity includes a panel at the 2009 e-Social Sciences Conference and a workshop on e-Research Ethics at the 2010 NCRM Research Methods Festival. A collaboration with the Virtual Knowledge Studio in Amsterdam has also seen us launching a web-based debate ‘Towards a Manifesto on e-Research Ethics’, and a workshop held at the VKS in October 2010.

Associated events:

Ethics of e-Research Workshop, Virtual Knowledge Studio, Amsterdam, October 2010 and Workshop at Research Methods Festival, July 2010.

Workshop on Law and Ethics in e-Social Science, 5th International Conference on e-Social Science. 24 – 26 July, 2009 Cologne.

Associated publications:

  • Carusi, A. and Jirotka, M. (2009) From data archives to ethical labyrinths. Qualitative Research, vol 9, no 3, 285-298. Also in the Proceedings of the 3rd International e-Social Science Conference, Ann Arbor, Michigan, October 7th to 9th October, 2007.
  • Carusi, A. (2008) Beyond Anonymity: Data as representation in e-research ethics. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, vol 1, no 1, 37-65.

Ensuring the anonymity of medical data

This research was an early focus of our case research, and resulted in a case study of the eDiamond project, led by Marina Jirotka.

Interdisciplinary e-research collaborations

e-Research is characterised by new inter-disciplinary collaborations, which open up avenues for novel research but also create new challenges for researchers. A range of case studies have focused on inter-disciplinarity between social scientists and computer scientists; biomedical researchers, publishers and informaticians; and biologists of different sub-disciplines using computational, mathematical and experimental techniques. This work has focused on ontologies and semantic web; modelling and simulation, and visualisations. We have also been concerned to try to understand the research processes and practices that are deployed in interdisciplinary e-research, and that are sometimes transformed by it. For example, philosophy as a humanities discipline does not seem to make use of e-research tools and techniques, yet, OeSS researcher Annamaria Carusi argues, it is being influenced by the surrounding culture where the usage of modelling and visualisation tools are emerging ever more strongly.

Associated events:

Carusi, A. & Clark, T. Workshop on Web Semantics in Action, IEEE Conference on E-Science, December, Oxford.

Associated presentations:

  • Carusi, A. ‘Notions of “model” and “simulation” across the disciplines’, Modelling Knowledge Dynamics Workshop, Amsterdam, October 2010.
  • Carusi, A. ‘Models and simulation in social science and biology’, Social Life of Methods Conference, CRESC, July 2010.
  • Carusi, A., Qualitative and Quantitative Modelling in Biology. Modelling Science Workshop, 7 – 9 October, Virtual Knowledge Studio and Rathenau Institue, Amsterdam.

Associated publications:

  • Carusi, A., Rodriguez, B., Wakefield, J., et al. (2009) Forum for Scientific Method in Biology: Transcript. Oxford e-Research Centre, University of Oxford.

Visual evidence in e-research: Imaging and visualisation

There has been an unprecedented rate of innovation in computational imaging and visualising techniques to render physical and non-physical data in visual form, including techniques for multidimensionality, the development of algorithmic techniques for image processing, the production of hybrid visual objects and an apparent photorealism for non-existent entities and objects. The emergence of the internet-as-database, with complex and massive quantities of data mined from online social and spatial processes given visual form, has gone hand-in-hand with these advances in making new phenomena and data visible.

OeSS researchers are undertaking participant observation and content analysis in settings ranging from computation biology to crowd sourced geography to understand the ways in which these new computational techniques mediate between ourselves and the people, objects, entities and processes that are visualised – or indeed, the ways in which these new techniques affect imagining, thinking and doing and foster new notions of self and agency.

Associated events:

Visualisation in the Age of Computerisation. Conference co-organised by Annamaria Carusi, Aud Sissel Hoel, Timothy Webmoor and Steve Woolgar. To be held in Oxford, March 2011.

‘Are digital picturings representations?’, Panel presented by Annamaria Carusi, Gordana Novakovic and Timothy Webmoor at EVA London, July 2010.

Associated publications:

  • Carusi, A. (2008) Scientific visualisations and aesthetic grounds for trust. Ethics and Information Technology. Vol 10, 243-254.
  • Carusi, A., G. Novakovic and T. Webmoor (2010) Are digital picturings representations? Proceedings of the 2010 Electronic Visualisation and the Arts Conference 9 (2010): 174-184.