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Palen Receives NSF CAREER Award


January 2006

Assistant Professor Leysia Palen was recently awarded a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award by the National Science Foundation. The Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the NSF's most prestigious awards in support of the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization. Such activities build a firm foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions to research and education. Her work is titled Data in Disaster: Socio-technical Change in Response Agency & Public Communications. From the abstract:

Leysia Palen photo

This project will conduct interdisciplinary, socio-technical research and education that address the current and potential uses of information technology in disaster contexts. The research will examine how data generation and sharing activities by response agencies and the public place new demands on information dissemination processes between these two entities. The research design includes field studies of citizen-generated textual, visual, and digital communications, and of the incident intelligence and public information officer functions in natural hazards events such as wildfires and hurricanes. Results will be in the form of ethnographically-informed models of interaction, data-generation and data-sharing activity that in turn will be put in organizational and institutional context to formulate recommendations for innovators, emergency response practitioners and policy makers engaged in emergency response reform.

Attention to disaster warning, response and recovery is high and widespread, coming from the federal government, national agencies, the private sector and academia. Technological innovation and emergency response reform mean that the relationships between the public and response agencies are becoming more complex. People are natural information seekers and, in uncertain situations like disaster, will persist in integrating information from formal and informal sources to make sense of it. Increased access to camera phones, phone text and picture messaging, and personal Global Positioning System technology means that the communications the public naturally engages in following a disaster produce data that can be appropriated into the response effort. The challenge lies in how this new data pathway could and should be incorporated into response agency activity. For agencies, the rise of GPS capability coupled with geographic information systems is changing the kind and amount of data that incident intelligence can produce not only for incident command but also for an increasingly tech-knowledgeable public. Through these activities, the very interface between agencies and the public is changing. The older, completely linear model of authorities-to-public affairs-to-news media is outmoded and is being replaced by a much more complex model of information dissemination. How can the interface between response agencies and the public better organize and encourage two-way communication and participation?

An important educational goal of this project is to develop future practitioners and researchers who appreciate the complexities of designing policy, processes, and technologies for the highly dynamic situations of disaster. The success of the research relies on a vertically integrated education and training program that includes practitioner and other subject matter expert involvement and a partnership with the Natural Hazards Center. It leverages research to produce a database of modules for use in courses and outreach activities where either domain,methodological or theoretical instruction is needed. Partnership with the National Center for Women and Information Technology is intended to increase the participation of women in the future science and engineering workforce by using examples from this research to illustrate the changing face of information technology careers. The research, education, and results dissemination efforts are built on interdisciplinary partnerships with government agencies and academic institutions, and will launch activities that join fields of research and practice. Results will be disseminated to developers, practitioners, and policy makers in ways that are useful to them.

The approximately $600,000 award is expected to fund the research over a five-year period.

See also:
Department of Computer Science
College of Engineering and Applied Science
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309-0430 USA
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May 5, 2012 (13:46)