Sociotechnical Design: Creating a Data Repository for the Study of Marine Ecosystems
Charlotte P. Lee, Andrew Neang
Simons Collaboration on Computational Biogeochemical Modeling of Marine Ecosystems (CBIOMES)
As a part of a larger effort funded by the Simons Foundation called Simons Collaboration on Computational Biogeochemical Modeling of Marine Ecosystems (CBIOMES), we are helping scientific stakeholders come together to design and develop shared understandings, priorities, practices, methods, software tools, and computer architectures that will lead to the development of a data repository. The project brings together a multi-disciplinary group of investigators from oceanography, statistics, data science, ecology, biogeochemistry and remote sensing among others.
We are undertaking “action research” which involves hands-on problem solving and intervention in the process. Drawing on participatory design methods we take time to identify a broad range of stakeholders and engage them in an interactive process of design. This mode of working enables us make use of our lab’s decade of experience studying scientific collaboration and the development of infrastructures for science, provides a direct way to contribute back to the scientific community, and also affords us a level of access that would otherwise be impossible.
One of the key challenges of human centered design and engineering (HCDE) is to understand and articulate what it can mean to do “sociotechnical” design. When looking at solving a problem or improving a situation, it is not enough to just consider technical issues and not just enough to consider social issues (e.g. norms, management structure, how people do things) but to study how social and technical concerns affect each other and inevitably become intertwined. Calls for sociotechnical design often also bring in other concerns that were once though of as “contextual” but are now understood to as integral, such as materiality and temporality.
The Simons data repository project is taking a truly sociotechnical approach to design. With social scientists, biologists, computer modelers, and computer scientists sitting at one table, our discussions necessarily range from how to identify and engage a broad but still practical range of stakeholders to current and future trends in computer architecture to the affects of real-time data analysis on the scientific process. This project will lead to a more community-driven system and will provide new insights on how to do sociotechnical design in to support of collaboration-dependent and data-intensive innovation.