The research process in the Studio

Three modes of enquiry are central in the Studio: thinking, observing and playing. These three metaphors capture the interplay we expect between thorough analysis and more experimental, playful design of new tools and practices. The design of new tools is never only a technical job. Opening up new possibilities for humanities and social science scholars with the help of advanced networked information and communication technologies implicates the rethinking of old research questions, questioning established research methods and techniques, and asks for the intellectual courage to try out new forms of scholarly work. This is why we emphasise that the Studio will not in the first place help design new tools but rather new scholarly practices.

To realise its dual mission of increasing our understanding of e-humanities and e-social science, and of supporting scholars to make use of e-research, the Studio has two interrelated modules: the Analytic Centre (AC) and the Construction Platform (CP). These facilitate long-term research based on a clear intellectual agenda (AC) combined with flexible short-term projects created in response to the changing needs of researchers at universities and research institutes (CP). For this reason, all Studio research projects will have a complex blend of curiosity-driven and application oriented goals (Ang and Cassity 2004). All projects in the CP result from, and are led by, partnerships with external research groups. Whereas the CP helps create new epistemic objects and practices in the humanities and social sciences, both inside and outside of the Studio, the AC studies this process. To facilitate this, the AC is responsible for the creation and maintenance of the Studio¥s inhouse knowledge database. The structure of the Studio is presented in Figure 1 The structure of the Studio.

For the scholars who are the client-partners of the Studio, the design work must lead to useful insights in the form of concrete deliverables, such as new protocols, best practice manuals, new software tools, perspectives on new analytical techniques to answer old questions, and new research questions in their fields. For the researchers at the Studio, this design work is also a mode of enquiry into the process of knowledge creation. In other words, the Construction Platform is a field laboratory in which different scholarly practices and configurations are tried out and assessed on their consequences. This will, we hope, lead to a better understanding of the characteristics of knowledge creation as a cultural and social process. The researchers in the Analytic Centre have a special responsibility to link up the results of the CP to the scientific and scholarly literature in the fields of information science, science & technology studies, and communication sciences. To facilitate the management of this type of research, the AC reviews the research in the Studio on its contribution to basic knowledge about the process of knowledge creation. The CP will specifically examine the utility of the Studio research for scholars in the humanities and social sciences based in universities and research institutes in the Netherlands.

Observation, with all the advanced observation tools available in social and cultural analysis, is central to the Studio. This may involve the participant observation of prototypes of new infrastructures (such as collaboratories or Grid computing for social science), but may also entail the systematic observation of mundane processes in research in the social sciences and humanities. This is important to counteract the danger of bias in favour of “the new new thing” (Lewis 2000; Woolgar 2002). We can only put the promise and practice of e-research into perspective by taking distance from the claims and critically interrogate both the promise and the practice (cf. Wouters and Schrˆder 2003). This also holds for the innovative projects that are conducted within the Studio itself. Since these are oriented to the exploration of new modes of inquiry, they run the danger of biasing the novel over the traditional. Reflexive self-observation in different forms is therefore an important element of the research cycle in the Studio.

A drawing by Bruce Goff may make this more clear (Figure 2). This drawing shows a studio that resembles a bit what the proposal aims to accomplish. Although the Studio exists of different workspaces, each can operate at different levels, and they are strongly interrelated and mutually embedded. There is no great divide between the Construction Platform (the elevated platforms in the middle) and the Analytic Centre (the spaces around the platforms from which one can look both at the platforms and through the windows to the world outside). We need different workspaces to get the work done on time: the emphasis is different (on building in the CP, on understanding in the AC); and part of the staff will have different skills; but the goals are the same and the research in the CP builds upon the results and experiences from the AC and vice versa.

The Construction Platform

The Construction Platform (CP) will tune the research of the Studio to the needs of scholars in the humanities and social sciences in universities and research institutes, the client-partners of the Studio. All projects in the Construction Platform are the result of partnerships with external research groups. This will usually mean that projects are run under a dual scientific management. Each project is led by a Studio researcher who is responsible for the project management and the dissemination of its results.

The research infrastructure of the Platform is based on the needs of the research projects and is also the result of these projects. The Studio will start with a modest computer network in which two different operating systems can seamlessly work together: MS Windows and Unix/Mac OS X. The latter operating system will be used for development and design tasks, data visualisation and data mining. The intellectual infrastructure is the combination of knowledge provided by the external partners and by the Analytic Centre. This infrastructure is dynamic: each project can draw upon it and affect it by its specific needs, and its results will be added as a new layer or set of skills to the infrastructure. We expect that this layered-growth model will lead to the gradual rise of the Studio as a centre of expertise in a number of areas. This may mean that more intense requirements need to be fulfilled by the technological infrastructure of the Studio. To anticipate this, we will prepare an application to NWO Groot for a Humanities & Social Science Grid Application in coordination with the Dutch Grid Forum organisation.

The CP contributes to the development of informatics oriented to the humanities and social sciences. This entails both the fundamental question whether specific approaches within informatics need to be developed in order to address crucial problems in the humanities and social sciences as well as project-specific research questions. The distribution of projects over the three research themes of the Studio does not have to be equal, but is determined by the needs of the humanities and social science communities. Within the theme Data and Digital Information, specific attention will be paid to questions of data and source representation and data analytical tools. Within the theme Networked Research, the building and analysis of collaboratories and the development of collaborative Web based analytical tools has priority. Within the theme Virtual Institutions, the use of emerging institutional structures and new roles of the humanities and social sciences in governance and global markets will be given special attention. However, these priorities may change on the basis of the needs that emerge from the acquired projects.

The acquisition of new research projects may lead to the formation of new partnerships, for which the programme leader of the Studio carries the main responsibility. Research projects are brought in on a competitive basis by making use of the established quality control mechanisms that have been developed in the scholarly and scientific communities by universities and NWO. This way of project acquisition is meant to ensure that the work in the Studio is tuned to the core intellectual issues in the humanities and social sciences and does not start to live a life of its own. It may also help prevent capture of this program by vested interests in computer technology. In practice, this means that research groups are invited on the basis of their research performance. For example, winners of NWO prizes, new members of the KNAW, and research groups that have acquired prestigious international funding will be approached to discuss possible projects that may be of use for the further development of their research practice. Once a project has been selected, the project team may be housed in the Studio for the duration of the project, or the project researcher(s) may be located in the research group of the external partner.

The Studio organises a yearly Summer School about e-Research and workshops for PhD students and postdocs in collaboration with the Graduate Research Schools. This is oriented towards new generations of scholars and social scientists. The CP maintains a suite of Websites that can also be used as a repository for university based researchers where they can find tools and ideas for new interdisciplinary analytical and methodological approaches, and new ways to make use of the Web and the internet in scholarly research.

The Analytic Centre

The Analytic Centre (AC) studies the construction of new epistemic objects in the humanities and social sciences, both inside and outside of the Studio. The AC has a specific responsibility in the selection of research projects of the Studio: it reviews whether candidate projects fit in the overall research programme and to which themes and methodological foci they relate most strongly. To facilitate this, the AC is responsible for the creation and maintenance of the Studio?s inhouse knowledge database. The AC organises workshops and seminars to which the researchers of the CP are invited to explore and develop common theoretical, methodological and practical concerns.

The staff consists of (senior) researchers, PhD students, postdoctoral research fellows, and visiting scholars. Science & technology studies (including the history and philosophy of science) and information science are the core fields in the AC, although the team is thoroughly multidisciplinary. The AC makes use of the same technological infrastructure as the CP. If new tools are added to the AC¥s toolbox (such as advanced data visualisation and simulation tools), they will therefore also be available to the researchers in the CP. Researchers in the AC may also be member of project teams in the CP, depending on the goal of the projects. The AC is responsible for the organisation of the in-house Studio Seminar in which the progress of all Studio research projects is discussed. This seminar is organised once a week and discusses one research project at a time on the basis of a presentation by project leaders.

The research in the AC, like the work in the CP, is organised according to the research themes and the methodological foci of the Studio. The main output of the AC will consist of articles in refereed international and national scientific and scholarly journals, of academic books which have a synthesising role, and of professional publications aimed at a larger audience. These results are also aimed to provide background information for scholars in the humanities and social sciences in the Netherlands about e-research. Where available and relevant, annotated data sets are made available to established data archives and repositories after completion of the research projects.

The research staff of the AC are members of the relevant Graduate Research Schools, either at the local or at the national level. The researchers develop their theoretical and methodological work in cooperation with university-based researchers in science & technology studies, internet research and information science (see also the Campus Site below). Studio personnel policy promotes part-time dual appointments with universities to create opportunities for teaching by the research staff in the Studio at the level of Research Masters and PhD degrees.

To further this interaction, the Studio maintains the “Virtual Knowledge Studio Campus Site” at one or more universities. This is a low-cost reservation of a lecture theatre of one of the universities on a regular basis, for example once a month. This Campus Site (CS) aims to reduce the barrier for students and university scholars to communicate with the Studio staff. The CS will be used to present the regular Virtual Knowledge Studio Lecture Series, to hold scientific workshops, seminars and outreach programs, to organise an information market twice a year where university students can explore the possibility of doing thesis work in the Studio, and to present the work developed in the Studio. Also, visiting scholars may make use of the CS to present their work to the local academic communities.