Research:Sociotechnical epistemology: how do we foster good practices in collective knowledge-production?
Wikipedia is a sociotechnical machine, in that it is a prime example of cooperation between people and technology, aimed at creating and maintaining a universal encyclopaedia.
I am interested in how Wikipedians discuss with each other: I’d like to know how suitable content is defined, what is considered to be a winning argument, and how editors experience conflict within Talk pages. The “technical” in “sociotechnical” is also of primary importance to me: my aim is to define the role of the digital space and bots in the process of decision-making, to gauge their agency and investigate the way they are programmed.
Over the course of my PhD, I will look closely at WikiProject Solar System, reading Talk pages, and talking to editors who are active in these spaces. I will also interview some members of the Wikimedia Foundation.
Talk pages will be analysed in terms of argumentation strategies, asking the question: what kind of arguments do editors put forward in order to make their case? I am also planning to contact editors and ask about their experience of editing Wikipedia.
Policy, Ethics and Human Subjects Research
My study has received ethical approval from my home department, the Science and Technology Studies Department at University College London (UK). Reference number: STSEth180
Upon contacting individual participants, I will introduce myself as a researcher and provide a short summary of my research aims, as well as linking to the project summary available from Research:Projects. In my invitation, I will also specify what kind of questions they are likely to be asked during our interview. I will let them know that they can withdraw from participation at any point, and without providing a justification; I will add that I will store their data securely.
I will send a consent form to those, among potential participants, who have expressed an interest in being interviewed. At this stage, potential participants will be able to state their preferences in terms of anonymity and means of communication. Such information will be included in the consent form. The consent form will detail exactly what they are consenting to, and state that, by agreeing to be interviewed based on the information they have been given, they automatically give informed consent to being interviewed as outlined, and to their data being stored as described.
My contribution to the Wikipedia community
Conflict is inevitable in any large community of human beings; our aim shouldn’t be to smother it, rather to use it to our advantage. In the context of gathering knowledge, disagreement can be fruitful in reducing bias and allowing multiple voices to be represented. How a group of people handles conflict makes the difference between a toxic community and a thriving one. The main benefit my project would provide to the Wikipedia community would be a better understanding of disagreement, which may foster reflection on how to make it as fertile and fair as possible.