12:00 - 12:20 pmSunday, September 29
LK 130
What we talk about when we talk about data
LK 130
What we talk about when we talk about data
Associate Professor, Department of Communication, University of Washington
What do people mean when they say the word data? In the rapidly changing world of mobile health technologies, the answer might seem obvious at first. For almost three years we interviewed designers and... Read more

Description

What do people mean when they say the word data? In the rapidly changing world of mobile health technologies, the answer might seem obvious at first. For almost three years we interviewed designers and users of consumer health and wellness technologies and applications, and we observed doctors, nurses and care providers working with (and sometimes around) patient data. What we found are particularly stark differences in the meanings of data.

In this talk, we’ll focus on the social life of data--the ways in people talk about data, what they try to do with data, and the possibilities that they imagine with data. We argue that these discourses and practices around, with, and through data play an enormous role in shaping the design and use of health and wellness technologies. Doing ethnographic research funded by Intel and the National Science Foundation, we studied the gap among clinicians, technology designers, patients, and users on what they expected from mobile app data. The results were a surprising lack of convergence among these stakeholders on what data’s social lives should be.

We map out six dimensions (what we call “valences”) of these different approaches to data.  Together these data valences form a three-dimensional mapping of people’s expectations of data’s social roles. These six are action, self-evidence, truth, discovery, connection, and transparency.  We found that valences varied the most when people interacted between social institutions--for example, between “home” and “clinic” or “clinic” and “lab.” Already we see emerging conflicts about health and wellness data. Doctors may only value data that is clinically actionable, while technology designers and researchers alike may value the potential for novel discoveries in data that is less important for clinical decision-making.

Translating insights from the discipline of communication for practitioners, we show how this concept of data valence could support design for the information needs of multiple stakeholders in multiple social institutions and support the exchange of information among them. Recognizing data’s multiple social lives has implications for the generation, storage, and interpretation of data and for how people make sense of data within different medical, business, and use communities. These experiences with data and conversations about data suggest that people are tapping into a wide range of valences of health and wellness data, allowing the data to perform in different ways in different communities and for different purposes. In practice and conversation the term data means something that is perspectival, fluid, and relational, even if the underlying numbers, or data, do not change. For example, rather than think of data as having users oruses, we show the social process of how any particular use of data gets labeled as appropriate, useful, or legitimate. The valence of action, for example, helps us analyze the difference between the enthusiasm of apps designers for the potential of data to lead to behavior change and the less sanguine view from health care professionals. Finally, our work highlights how and when people use data as a starting point for conversation.

Dr. Gina Neff is an associate professor of communication at the University of Washington. Her book Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries (MIT 2012) examines startup work during the first internet boom. With Carrie Sturts Dossick, she runs the Project on Communication Technology and Organizational Practices, a research group studying the roles of communication technology in the innovation of complex building design and construction. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, and she is currently at work on a three-year project funded by Intel studying the impact of social media and consumer health technologies on the organization of primary care.

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