I study information-centric communities that are wholly or partially online. I have particular interest in the roles played by information and communication technologies (ICTs) in online information-centric communities; the relationships and interactions they have with users and their information sharing behaviours and practices within and across community boundaries; and the intersections between informational, social, and emotional facets of online communities and online information sharing. I approach this research through the lenses of information behaviour, information practice, and social informatics perspectives, the latter a primary influence on my scholarship.
On this page you can learn more about the approach I take to my research; further details of my research approach, interests, agenda, and activities can be found in my full portfolio, including my full research statement, details of publications and presentations completed, and my CV.
My research is interdisciplinary and draws on sociotechnical theories, methods, and epistemologies, taken from cognate areas of computing, information, communication, management, and social sciences. Technology, information, people, and society are interlinked in ways that are simultaneously social and technical in nature. Social informatics research and theory, focused on understanding the relationships between people and communities and the ICTs that shape and are mutually shaped by those relationships in complex and dynamic networks and contexts, has significant influence on my scholarship. I engage in the careful questioning of these relationships and of how the social and technical relate that social informatics encourages, avoiding a socially or technically deterministic view, but see technology and its roles as socially constructed by humans and information and communities as situated in complex sociotechnical and sociocultural contexts.
Theories and concepts of ICTs and information as boundary objects, people as boundary spanners, and communities as information worlds are central to many of my studies. I view these under a social informatics lens and as part of sociotechnical infrastructure, integrated into a rigorous theoretical and epistemological framework. My strongest interests and expertise are in the processes of translation of information and knowledge within and across boundaries; coherence of existing information-centric communities around common characteristics such as norms, values, or information behaviours; and potential convergence and emergence of new information-centric communities as users share, exchange, and interact in these spaces. Interdisciplinary research from information science, knowledge management, and community sociology also informs my understanding of and aim to learn more about the support and facilitation of successful information sharing through translation, how and why information is translated and shared, and how and why information-centric communities cohere and converge.
I also draw on the literature on information behaviour and information practices. While my initial education and influences were within the now-classical information behaviour tradition, over time I have learned and benefited from information practices literature and now prefer to use both “behaviour” and “practices” labels in my scholarship. I focus on socially constructed practices, but also consider cognitive and demographic differences that may have individual impacts on behaviours. The scholarship of Gary Burnett, Karen Fisher, and Pamela McKenzie has particularly influenced my approach to and intellectual interests in information behaviour and practices.
My work sometimes connects information sharing practices to knowledge sharing via the knowledge management literature, in particular that on boundary spanning. I also have connected to studies of data sharing through work by and collaborations with colleagues elsewhere, emerging out of common experiences in a US National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded scientific collaboration project and a follow-on study of sociotechnical data practices. Many of the same sociotechnical and community-based phenomena, concepts, and theories mutually inform and benefit scholarship on data, knowledge, and information practices, although my current and future research agenda nonetheless remains focused on information.
Under these influences, my choice of research methods often leans qualitative, as in much social informatics and everyday information behaviours and practices research. I often apply mixed methods research designs to combine qualitative and quantitative methods’ strengths; minimize their weaknesses; improve rigor, validity, reliability, and trustworthiness; and lead to a fuller understanding of sociotechnical contexts. Common methods include content analysis, surveys, and qualitative interviews; I have also employed observation and social network analysis.
Over time the focus of my intellectual curiosity has shifted from a tighter view of studying specific platforms and systems to a broader interest in information-centric communities; their users and their use of ICTs; and the sharing of data, information, and knowledge both within and beyond community boundaries. I conceptualize information-centric communities as emphasizing information and knowledge creation, sharing, and use as a primary activity, instead of as a by-product of social interaction (in comparison to e.g. Karen Fisher’s theory of information grounds). I emphasize the addition of social and emotional ties; emergent informational and organizational constructions; and sharing of users’ information, knowledge, and everyday lives that an information-centric community brings over many digital libraries and information systems. My research so far and more specifics of my plans for my future research agenda are documented in greater detail as part of my research statement.