The entire ASIS&T executive team was able to attend the ASIS&T annual conference this year and we were so grateful for the opportunity. It was wonderful to see so many people from around the world as interested and passionate in the information field as we are. We were lucky enough to attend the sessions and even add on extra workshops. Below you will see our reflections form the virtual 2020 ASIS&T annual conference.
This year ASIS&T held its 83rd annual conference. The theme was: “Information for a Sustainable World: Addressing Society’s Grand Challenges.” Therefore, a large portion of the presentations were devoted to sustainability, global development, and research and information about improving our world. This meeting is a call to action for all members of the information professional community. Every talk began with an acknowledgment of the Indigenous land the speaker was on. This was significant not only because of how valuable it is but also because information professionals understand the importance of awareness and acknowledgment and how although it may not be everything, awareness of information brings people closer to understanding and acceptance.
It was a very humbling experience to watch Houman Haddad as the guest speaker. He is the Head of Emerging Technologies at the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and just recently won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. In his discussion, he focused on what he learned from communities to provide resources and projects to those who need them most and the best resources.
Throughout the conference, there were many opportunities to learn about powerful research methods and learn how to take accountability for our actions and how our resources impact others. One lecture I attended titled “I Don’t See Color,” discussed how it is okay to make mistakes, but it is not okay to ignore issues when they arise and allow them to keep happening. A class I took at SJSU once used a quote by William Wilberforce, a British politician, philanthropist, and leader of the movement to abolish slavery once said: “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” I think that it is our role as information professionals to know what is happening and use that information to guide us to do better.
Change Agents: ICTs, Sustainability, and Global Challenges was one of the extra workshops I was lucky enough to attend. I wish going into it I had been better prepared. I think it was more specifically made for people already focusing on research; however, the break-out room did allow us to delve deeper. One of the participants discussed PIT-UN (Public Interest Technology University Network), which focuses on understanding technology and its implications for a more equitable future. It primarily focuses on how to serve the public with technology better. We discussed accessibility issues, digital literacy, helping people understand the benefits of technology, and how we as information professionals can do our part to provide information PIT-UN has a partnership with colleges and universities. Members commit to field building on campus, including establishing public interest technology on campus. SJSU is not currently a member but maybe should consider it as it seems to be a program that emphasizes bringing digital literacy and accessibility to an ever growing world.
The closing ceremony brought together individuals from several different ASIS&T chapters around the world, including Europe and Africa, to talk about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. I grew up in the Model UN club, so I hold the UN’s SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) very close to my heart. I enjoyed that this conference showed the relationship between research, information, and technology and making the work a more equitable and sustainable world. The talks focused on very prevalent issues such as sustainability, racism, resources, and creating a more knowledgeable and less misinformed society. It was impactful as it honed in on the notion that we, as information professionals, have the resources to impact the world. In it, one individual even quoted, Great things are done when a series of small things are brought together.” -Vincent Van Gough. This was making the connection that conferences like ASIS&T not only bring people together from all over the world but it also brings together thoughts, conversations, and ideas. Learning and sharing concepts allow individuals to learn more, which will enable them to do more extraordinary things. Successful people build each other up, and these conferences allow people to be inspired, encouraged, and successful.
There were many interesting topics and great presenters all around the 83rd ASIS&T conference. I would like to focus on few of them, and one specifically that I believe has beneficial information for our community.
Conceptual models in socio-technical issues included various topics. Joseph Tennis from the University of Washington in his studies on Conceptual Models in Census Data, talked about the classification of ethnicities on different platforms and how this depends mostly on the motivation for doing so. Much of this information was drawn from the US Census and all over the world conceptions. Even though they all come from the same origin, power and motivation can be strongly influenced and divided. There are robust conversations in governments on how to perform it and what we understand of that process. Many of us have to choose what race we belong to as there are only generalizations of races and ethnicities. Tennis talks about how the ethnic structuration is historicized. It is based on the perception of the population base at the time of conception—creating a distinction between aboriginal, tribal, and indigenous or including Koreans in the census as Asians as an example. Furthermore, the impact these categorizations have on the people that are categorized.
Thomas Froehlich, on Ten Lessons in the Age of Disinformation, talks about the influence of information in all its varieties: disinformation, misinformation, doxing, calumny, etc., and how it creates a tremendous polarization because of its effect it has on the public. My takeaway on this topic is the importance of our role as information professionals, as the receiver of these kinds of information, and the responsibility we have as a conduit. In his studies, he emphasizes how the receiver of information’s psychology plays an important role, how the receiver accepts and digests. It decides how and what to do with it. What makes it believe in it, what makes it act on it and decides on the “destiny” of that information.
And my favorite: Best Practices for Grant Proposals Development. Having to apply for funding, either from private or public organizations, had become a skill on its own. Seven presenters from the School of Information of their academic institution spoke on Best Practices for Grant Proposals Development: NIH, NSF, NEH, IMLS, IARPA, as well as prominent private corporations. Here are the common themes on what to keep in mind when writing your proposal and tips they shared:
– Be very clear with your purpose. One presenter suggested having it framed highlighted in a rectangle at the top. There is no need for fancy technical wording: short sentences and straightforward intentions.
– Make sure that your research includes different disciplines. While research teams are interdisciplinary, some researchers prefer to work on silos. However, funders usually lean towards interdisciplinary projects and look for comprehensive collaboration plans. They suggest inviting faculty members of different schools to “collaborate” on your research.
– Be concise and clear of public contributions—emphasis on the impact on the community, institution, and the academic body.
– They look for creativity and originality and how it is “potentially transformative.”
-If you can, participate in a review board. This would give you an insight into how things work on the other side.
It was an excellent opportunity to participate in the ASIS&T annual conference this year by attending a few virtual workshops. One of the workshops I attended and will highlight was the ICT for Development, Empowerment for Growth: How Can the Information Field Contribute? This workshop included speakers who presented their research on various global communities facing challenges in their developmental growth and inequalities due to many factors, like large populations, wealth/education/health gaps, and inequitable digital access.
One speaker was Gillian Oliver, a researcher and associate professor based out of Australia, who studies the impacts of digital transformation on disadvantaged communities. Some of her research focuses on groups in Bangladesh and their information needs/challenges and how the information field can contribute. With the partnerships of universities and non-government organizations, Gillian discussed how their research aims to develop resilience and skills against natural disasters and climate change via mobile technologies among women farmers in remote areas of Bangladesh. Access to technology and the social, educational, and institutional relationships in building those skills can provide vital information to these communities. As part of their research, Gillian and her team provided 300 women with mobile phones to observe their impacts. One notable case included positive effects on small businesses. With access to this small piece of technology, there were still socio-economic challenges worth noting.
The next speaker was Dr. Javed Mostafa, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Mostafa spoke about the importance of retaining and expanding the connection between information communication technologies and development (STDs) and the information field. He discussed the intersections between ICTDs and the field, including some potential challenges and opportunities for the future. Some of the promises he mentioned included human-centric info needs assessment and the methods for info system design. On the other side, some of the “perils” he mentioned included the fear of using business models and pragmatic thinking to deploy research projects. It was very insightful to hear Dr. Mostafa speak on ways to continue to bridge ICTDs and the information field, especially in publishing and discovering pertinent research.
This workshop reminded me of the work of INASP and other information organizations I have learned about in this program that aims to provide research resources and opportunities for marginalized communities throughout the world. As growing information professionals, it is essential to hear about how we can contribute to the global development of information access and literacy. This is a topic I am grateful to gain further insight on, and I am happy to have access to the ASIS&T research and information professional community, including these workshops!