Researcher (Contract)

Mapping stories of data impact: collective narratives scan

We are seeking a Researcher for a short-term contract between August and October 2022, to support the creation of a collection of data-focussed case studies and media stories that adopt a collective or community-centred lens.

Apply via this form by 31st July 2022.

Background

Connected by Data is a campaign, founded in early 2022, to ensure the data from our lives is governed and used to create a more just, sustainable and equitable world, for all of us.

We exist to bring change to a status quo in which people are overly surveilled, where our societies, environment and economies are harmed by monopolist and unaccountable data practices, and where many public benefits of data are being lost.

Our working assumption is that current media, research and policy narratives about the benefits and harms of data, and the ways to better govern data in future, predominantly adopt an individualistic lens. We believe that, in order to change data governance for the better and support more collective models of governance, greater attention needs to be given to collective and community-centred framing of data opportunities and challenges.

We want to collate a set of data focussed case studies or stories with a collective or community-centred lens. These may:

  • Describe where individuals or communities are affected (positively or negatively) by data about other people (or where data about individuals or communities is used to help or harm other people like them);
  • Describe where non-personal data collected about a community (such as satellite or sensor data) then has an impact on that community and individuals in it;
  • Highlight the role of individuals or groups in stewarding data _on behalf of _a wider community, or the public interest (e.g. environmental protection);
  • Describe the impact of data on an individual, and then put this in context of how data has differential effects on different groups or communities;
  • Place emphasis on how people are ‘connected by data’, showing the role of data in linking or creating groups from otherwise disparate individuals;
  • Describe effects on higher-order institutions such as our societies, democracies, economies or environment;
  • Use the narrative structure or framing of the story to highlight collective issues.

By case study, we are focussed on examples written up on websites, in policy documents or other spaces that are suited for lay consumption, rather than detailed academic case studies found in journal papers or the like.

Whereas individualistic framings of data challenges drive towards solutions based around greater individual control and data sovereignty, our working assumption is that collective and community-centred narratives can better point the way towards solutions based on greater community and collective control of data systems.

Over the coming year, we plan to commission a number of our own stories that apply a collective lens to data governance, with the goal of using these stories to support policy engagement, advocacy and outreach through mainstream media. The mapping assignment described in this CfP will provide important groundwork for this, both identifying approaches to story development, and highlighting issues or cases that could be the focus of that work.

To help focus our work, we have selected three focus sectors: housing, debt and education. In addition, we believe there are likely to be a number of relevant stories that already adopt a collective lens in the health domain, and so have included this in the CfP as a good starting point to pilot the data collection and case coding methodology.

The brief

Overall research question(s): What are the existing stories about data that adopt a collective lens to describe benefits and harms? What makes for an effective story on collective data governance? Where are the promising leads for stories to seek out, amplify or develop further?

We are seeking a contract researcher to work with us to identify, collate and analyse a collection of stories and case studies from media, online and grey literature publications that address data governance as a collective issue in relation to health, housing, education and debt.

Key activities

The researcher will:

  • Have a primary focus on stories related to our priority sectors: health, education, debt and housing (with a rough balance of focus across these four).
  • Identify potential stories or cases through a broad research strategy (primarily desk research, though could include interviews, outreach or a crowdsourcing component), and enter them into a lightweight database (AirTable).
  • In collaboration with the Connected by Data team, develop a coding framework to annotate the stories/cases.
  • Present a short summary of findings responding to our overall research question.
  • Suggest candidate cases or stories from those identified that could be amplified, further developed, or replicated in other contexts as part of future Connected by Data work to build collective narratives, and/or highlight promising areas for new story development (i.e. settings where there is collective data governance issue, but where no existing collectively focussed or framed narrative could be found).

Constraints

At least 50% of the stories (and at least 5 stories for each sector) gathered should either come from, or be directly relevant to, the United Kingdom. This reflects our current focus on the UK policy process and the need to build a library of UK relevant case studies and stories to support our UK campaigning and political advocacy work

Timelines & budget

The selected researcher will be expected to join regular check-in calls (at least bi-weekly) and to interact through our Discord channel during the project. Our Research Director (Tim) and Advocacy & Campaign Director (Jonathan) will be on hand to support, share ideas and offer feedback on request throughout the project. The timeline also reflects our need for an initial scoping in this area to support campaign and influence around the forthcoming UK Data Reform Bill and any manifesto development by the leading political parties in the build up to the next UK general election likely in May 2024.

  • July 11th: Call for proposals shared
  • July 25th: Q&A Period closes
  • July 31st: Proposals deadline. Short-listed applicants invited to short interviews that week.
  • August 8th: Contract start & kick-off workshop to refine plan1.
  • September 6th: At least 10 example cases/stories identified and entered into the cases database. ‘Alpha’ draft of coding framework.*
  • September 30th: At least 20 example cases/stories identified and coded against ‘beta’ framework.*
  • October 28th: At least 40 examples/cases identified and coded against the finalised framework. Interim presentation of observations & potential cases to develop further.
  • November 25th: Final presentation of findings & project wrap-up.

We anticipate this project will require between 20 and 40 days effort, depending on researcher experience and approach. A budget of GBP £10,000 inclusive of tax and expenses is available for this work, and may be paid in instalments against the starred milestones above.

We are open to single researcher or collaborative/team proposals. We particularly welcome proposals from groups under-represented in the data policy and research world.

Outputs and follow up

The initial audience for this work is the Connected by Data team, and will be used to inform and support story and case-study development work with the goal of influencing, communications and media outputs.

We are committed to working in the open, and will publish (as far as is possible) the case study database and an edited summary of the work, under an open licence.

We are open to the researcher optionally using the results of this study in separate analysis, papers or dissemination. There is, however, no requirement or expectation of an academic paper resulting from this work.

By mutual agreement, and based on a further contract, we may be interested in collaborating with the researcher/research team on follow up work to this initial mapping.

Question & answer

If you have any questions about this CfP, please e-mail: tim@connectedbydata.org by July 25th 2022 with the subject line ‘Mapping stories of collective data impacts’. Anonymised questions and their answers will be added to this document, and the questioner notified when the answer is available.

Application process

To express interest, please complete the short application form by 31st July 2022 including:

  • A short covering note of no more than 1000 words outlining your understanding of the research task, how you would approach this project, the relevant skills and experience you bring, and the anticipated number of days of delivery;
  • A total budget requirement, and relevant day rates;
  • A CV for anyone who will be working on the project;
  • (Optionally) Links (or attachments: in confidence if required) to a maximum of three prior projects of yours that are relevant to this brief and that demonstrate your work.

Applications will be shortlisted based on:

  • The proposed approach and methodology - 40%
  • The demonstrated experience of the team, including ability to bring insight from commonly under-represented groups into the work - 30%
  • Ability to deliver against the timeline - 20%
  • The total budget and day rates - 10%

Questions and answers

The following section will be updated with a record of questions and answers in response to the brief. Last updated 25th July 2022.

Q: Is this only for individual researchers, or can teams put in a proposal?

A: We are happy to see proposals from both individuals or teams. In a team proposal, please clearly indicate who will be working on the project and their approximate levels of effort.

Q: The brief mentions primary research as an optional component: I’d like to estimate the complexity level and the amount of support from your team. Could you share with me what is the allocated budget for primary research (e.g. online in-depth interviews) if any, and whether I would have support (recruitment agency, organization, etc) to recruit the participants?

There is no additional allocated budget for primary, so any plans would need to incorporate interviews or other outreach approaches to identify cases and stories within the £10k overall budget.

Researchers will need to identify and contact any potential interviewees themselves.

We anticipate that where interviews or other outreach methods are used, these would be seeking to get suggestions from key informants for potential stories or cases to explore. The stories or cases entered into the case database should have already been written up and published somewhere, so the goal of primary research is not to generate new stories or cases.

Q: What precisely constitutes an individual case? Would two distinct write-ups of the same ‘event’ be considered distinct cases?

For the purpose of the number of ‘cases/stories’ we want to cover, two write-ups of the same ‘event’ would be counted as one case. But for the purposes of analysis, these could be analysed independently to draw learning from how different sources have presented the same underlying events/story.

Q: The CfP references ‘bi-weekly’ meetings: does this mean ‘twice a week’ or ‘fortnightly’?

Fortnightly.

Q: I’m interested to discuss perspectives around data and surveillance from a Global South perspective. Is that an angle that I may write the proposal from? Or do you expect the proposal to be written, considering case studies from the UK only?

For this project our focus is primarily on the UK. We hope to have future opportunities that will have a more global or specifically Global South angle, but in this instance, because of the planned use of this work in relation to the UK Data Reform Bill, we need a strong coverage of UK cases.

Q: Is an hourly time commitment required per week?

We anticipate the work will need between 1 - 2 days a week over the period of the work, depending on the researcher and method chosen - but it’s up to the researcher how to spread that time over the course of the assignment. (e.g. A researcher might choose to work intensive blocks of time, rather than spreading time equally each week).

Q: Is it required that the candidate need to be based out of the UK?

We are open to applicants from anywhere in the world, but they would need to be able to make regular check-in calls during UK working hours, and to be able to identify relevant content from the UK.

Q: How much will the work involve directly gathering new case studies from primary sources (e.g. affected community members)?

For this assignment the focus is on locating stories and cases of collective data impacts in already published sources (i.e. secondary sources) rather than researching and writing up new cases of collective data impact.

Notes

  1. This could lead to some adaptation of the following milestones by mutual agreement. 

Location

Fully remote
UK timezone