Introducing The Collaborative Anthropology Network
This document presents a broad overview of design research conducted for the site as a reference for actionable insights by defining the problem space and identifying user’s motivations, needs, and pain points. Writings of anthropologists working in the field of digital anthropology are presented as a set of guiding principles for an anthropological social network of collaborative research.
Discovery – The Scholarly Publishing Ecosystem
The current state of scholarly publishing is essentially made up of five competing models that researchers have to contend with:
- Traditional publishers rely on their brand name and scholarly reputation to lure researchers to publish through them for free, then sell multi-million dollar subscriptions to governments and university systems or individual papers to the general public for a fee (ProtoHedgehog, 2017). Offering very little in return to the actual researchers apart from meeting the demands of their institution’s publishing requirements to gain or maintain tenure within university systems.
- Institutional repositories (IR’s) provide long-term archival and preservation services for researcher outputs, but are derived from traditional library information systems rather than social networks. These types of services require institutional membership or affiliations to make deposits into or even to gain access. Some repository platforms are also proprietary technologies of for-profit companies, including several that are owned by traditional publishers.
- Open Access Repositories are built on the same platforms and systems as traditional repositories, but are designed to allow research to move more freely and openly as human knowledge. Despite the rise of the open access movement, traditional publishers maintain a firm grip on the legitimization of research within institutional merit systems and often charge in excess of $4,000 in processing fees in order to be published as open access, creating a system in which only those privileged enough to have secure academic positions and money are able to afford to publish as open access or deposit into an institutional repository.
- Institutional profiles and professional profile services provide researchers with an online space to post resume-like pages of themselves on sites run by scholarly organizations, academic institutions, and internet companies – particularly LinkedIn. Institutional profiles are only available to approved members of an organization that meet certain criteria and pay membership fees, or at the graduate, PhD, and faculty level in academic institutions. While these institutions may or may not have affiliated repositories, integration is often very poor and even as community-based platforms, social networking features are almost non-existent. Services like LinkedIn offer free and open access to create an extended professional profile, with network connections, recent activities, profile views, social groups, and article posting capabilities geared towards career opportunities and professional development. However, LinkedIn does not host or integrate well with scholarly research and is poorly suited for intellectual and academic activities that take place outside of job market and career objectives.
- Personal Websites are an additional or alternative option for researchers to publicly post their professional profile and research. However, creating a website does require a certain level of technical know-how and investment for web development, presentation design, and related service fees. All-in-one website service providers such as wordpress.com, wix, and squarespace make it very easy for new users to establish a personal web presence but their available site templates are limited to certain genres of sites based on popular demand, and that does not include research sites. Even when researchers are able to meet all of these requirements, they often have to make compromises along the way in the design and presentation of their research all in order to create a site isolated from any community or institution. While some researchers have established reputations and networks where they can advertise their site, others are left with superficially linking their site to established social networking platforms to gain a more rounded web presence.
- For-profit social networking services like ResearchGate and Academia.edu are free, geared towards research communities, make no demands on author rights, and do not sell access to research. These types of sites have gained considerable popularity among researchers over time. However, they follow the same for-profit “user-as-product” and unscrupulous advertising business models as many other free services on the internet and are able to operate as they are today by taking advantage of the legal grey zone of user-generated content in the posting of published papers in violation of the licensing agreements of many journals. They have also acted unilaterally in other areas by imposing their will on established research standards. For instance, academia.edu offers premium features that provides additional information to users such as who is reading your work, what their academic role, geographic location and university are, as well as the source directing them to their work are. Researchers have argued that this promotes academic class politics and hierarchical stratification and that it does not, and should not, matter about the ‘rank’ of who is using their work. Instead it is argued that it is more important to know how and why others are using their work, a service that scholarly tools like Altmetric already provide for free to the research community (and have made available through a REST API).
Much like in college sports, we see very little first-order gain through any of the existing models for individual researchers or the fields that they are dedicated to, even while they provide the bread and butter of multi-billion dollar industries. The current models each serve very narrow purposes for the researchers and require them to plan, implement, and approach these services strategically, and those choices are often limited by traditional scholarly gatekeepers as well. While institutional repositories serve vital long-term archival functions, services that facilitate research-related activities and that greatly enable the dissemination of research to a wider audience are not part of the traditional repositories service offerings, even while there is a growing demand for such services. This explains the great appeal of current research-oriented social platforms in spite of widespread complaints of their for-profit motives and careless disregard for enabling violations of licensing agreements. These services meet researcher-user demands by offering a social platform that allows them to:
- reach a wider audience and gain a greater impact for their research
- share both traditional and non-traditional forms of research outputs
- provide a space for researchers who can’t afford to publish Open Access to widely disseminate their work
- provide a space for researchers who don’t have access to an institutional repository or have an institutional affiliation
- provide a space for researchers outside of academia who still want to preserve and share their research
Even so, many more researchers see these services merely as a social platform to host an online portfolio for the self-promotion of their research, rather than a legitimate place for preserving or publishing their work. We believe there is a need for an integrated model that preserves the scholarly standards that researchers and institutions have come to expect while also innovating outside of entrenched scholarly models to allow for greater collaboration amongst a dedicated community of cohorts. Given these concerns, any proposed social platform must also meet the following requirements:
- Respect the role and function of established research repositories as long-term archives
- Self-publishing capabilities of works that are compliant with research funding mandates and publisher policies
- Ethical and established processes for tracking research dissemination and impact (DOI, Altmetrics, ORCIDid, etc.)
User Analysis – Anthropologists
Turning our attention to the target user group of anthropology researchers, we review the findings of “The Face of Anthropology One Decade Later,” a 2019 replication of the AAA/CoPAPIA 2009 Anthropology MA Career survey. The 2019 survey was conducted by graduate students of the applied anthropology program at the University of North Texas and sponsored by the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology in order to “understand how career paths, reflections on education, and views on professional organizations of anthropology master’s graduates had changed over the past decade” (Hawvermale et al., practicinganthropology.org).
Membership in professional anthropology organizations amongst respondents was consistent in the 10 years between the two surveys, but only one-third of those who were members said that the organizations fully met their needs (39). Networking at conferences was mentioned most often amongst respondents as the biggest benefit of professional organizations, but networking opportunities outside of conferences were viewed as sorely lacking. While the biggest complaint about professional organizations was that participants felt their interests didn’t line up well with the interests of the organizations, and that meetings and membership were tailored to an academic audience (45).
Around 70% of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed that membership costs are a major factor as well in their decision to join an organization – and this likely also implicates the cost of travel, attendance, and other expenses related to professional conferences for those working for employers that do not cover any expenses (37% of respondents, but there was a 28% non-response that, together, amount to a near parity with the response regarding membership cost). The most common national anthropology organizations amongst respondents were the American Anthropological Association with a membership cost based on annual income that starts at $49 per year and is as much as $356 per year, the Society for American Archaeology with a membership cost of $170 per year/$85 per year for students, and the Society for Applied Anthropology with a membership cost of $110 per year/$55 per year for students.
Fifty-Seven percent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed to the prompt, “I do not get enough value from my AAA membership” (42), and given the established importance of networking at conferences, “several indicated that they only paid for membership during years they intended to present” (45). However, the number of “N/A” and “Don’t Know” responses from participants about their attitudes towards AAA benefits and services suggests that the organization needs to do a better job at promoting the benefits of their membership as well (41). Sixty-Two percent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed to the prompt regarding the American Anthropological Association that “As a practitioner, I would like to see more services included in my membership” (42). The researchers asked an open-ended question in order to gain more insight into what services would persuade them to join a national anthropology organization. Forty-Five percent of respondents requested more networking opportunities, 21% requested more continuing education opportunities to keep up with current trends and knowledge in the field, while an additional 16% requested “Professional development opportunities, trainings and workshops, certification opportunities, career advancement” (44).
The research concludes, “despite the general feelings of discontent among applied anthropologists with current anthropological professional organizations, respondents tended to agree that networking was one of the greatest benefits that would lead participants to join a professional organization. This was followed by continuing education and professional development opportunities. This indicates that these areas may be important for organizations to focus on and expand in the future” (45).
This analysis demonstrates that must-have services and features that meet the user needs of researchers and anthropologists in particular include:
- An easy to use and freely available networking platform that meets their needs and expectations for a professional online presence as anthropologists
- An ability to self-organize groups as fully-formed social gathering places around research areas and topics of anthropology
- Continuing education and career advancement opportunities
- Additional tools to enable the collaboration of research
Applied anthropologists have to also contend with the current prevailing business perspective that views the exclusive purpose of ethnography as the production of straightforward, actionable insights that can inform near-term decision-making processes. Practitioners in applied settings are often obligated as a matter of professional relevance and survival to meet the expectations of business, working hard to deliver research findings that have been molded and forged to extract only what is deemed immediately useful. Thus, while the ethnographic toolkit has grown in popularity and use, its practices have been increasingly perceived as a straightforward and self-evident process that can easily be illustrated and learned using idealized notions derived from popular consumption of narrowed research findings that are often presented on request.
In their 2006 EPIC paper, “The Real Problem: Rhetorics of Knowing in Corporate Ethnographic Research,” Nafus and Anderson point out that by presenting pictures and quotes of ‘real’ people “as both data and performance of knowledge… a subtext of the presentation then became, take pictures because they show the real, which does not require interpretation or analysis. In this unanticipated way… we down play much of the ‘real’ work that goes into producing an ethnographic representation… as if it were butterfly collecting or train spotting” (Nafus and Anderson 2006:249). The misappropriation of ethnographic practices in this way undermines the purpose of the field and ultimately anthropology’s ability to live up to the true potential of its value-contribution outside of academia. Melissa Cefkin suggests that if anthropology’s analytical and interpretive paths are not vigorously advocated for, practitioners may be inadvertently presenting themselves as mere “technicians, problem solvers for addressing immediate issues, rather than holders of vital social and cultural knowledge worthy of broader strategic consideration” (Cefkin 2010:55). In this way, research processes designed as digital social events can be transformative for the users, the practice, and collective knowledge of anthropology itself.
- This analysis demonstrates the need for the foregrounding of processes of interpretation and analysis.
- The protection of research participants while presenting raw ethnographic notes is also of prime importance and needs to not only be a topic of consideration, but a priority.
User Analysis – Anthropology Organizations
While the technology is now there, anthropology is a small niche and anthropology organizations are not in a position to build and maintain advanced technology platforms. That being the case, many anthropology organizations have either chosen to use proprietary SaaS platforms owned by major corporations that offer technology solutions and customer support, or they choose to get by on open source platforms that quickly become outdated without the proper maintenance. Out-of-the-box SaaS platforms are often perceived as viable options for organizations with some amount of resources, but little technical know-how. However they come at significant annual expense and, as proprietary platforms, they offer very little opportunity to customize beyond their initial design. Open source technology on the other hand makes it relatively easy to set up a basic site and offers far more opportunities to customize. However, more advanced configurations demanded by organizations and their members require experienced designers and developers to build, and a dedicated IT staff to operate and maintain them. Even when investment is made to develop a large or advanced website platform, they are often handed over to inexperienced volunteers who do not have the skills to keep the platform design current, capitalize on newer technology, or fix issues as they arise. In these cases, what was an ambitious, well-funded project developed by professionals inevitably becomes a stale, buggy, outdated site within 5-10 years, and will require another major overhaul.
Slack is an instant messaging platform for organizational and professional communications with a freemium service offering that is very popular because it is easy to launch a “workspace” for free. However, while it has been widely adopted, it is actually poorly suited for an open community platform. Slack’s basic plan is functionally a free group messaging service with a 90-day window for viewing. That is great for small teams that need to communicate on a daily basis in a Slack workspace, but members who commit to starting and moderating channels on a Slack group operating as though it is a community forum will inevitably find that all of their content is gone for them and their peers unless they each individually upgrade to a premium plan.
Non-profit organizations are then left with the choice of:
- Being at the mercy of for-profit platforms and their development priorities (or lack thereof)
- Make large investments in web technology and a full-time IT staff
- Or – more often than not – trying to get by on basic or poorly configured installations of open source platforms run by part-time or inexperienced staffers and volunteers.
This analysis demonstrates that a successful platform will fulfill the following needs of anthropology organizations:
- Maintains the standards and professional online presence that they expect as anthropology organizations
- Allows them to promote membership and programs for their own organizations
- Reduces their technology requirements and overhead costs
- Exponentially increases and improves the services they can offer to their members
Main Features and Services of the Collaborative Anthropology Network
- Social Network
- Online Learning Marketplace (free and paid courses)
- Ethnographic Blogs in user profiles (as an affordable easy-to-user blogging solution)
- Annotation widget (site wide except in profiles)
- Annotation Aggregator in user profiles
- Discussion Boards in social groups
- Introduction and Resource tabs in social groups
- Private groups for cultural groups (also available as a paid subscription to others)
- Research Repository Search (coming soon!)
- Job Board (service fees)
- Social Service Directory (paid subscription)
- User Donation and Fundraising Management (tbd)
List of Possible Features for a Research-Based Social Network
- Interests (subjects)
- Groups (topics: cultural areas, practice, theory, methods, organizations, schools)
- Ethnographic Blogging
- Discussion Boards
- Private/Group Messaging
- Extended Document Metadata (Reflections, Context, Raw Data) – future proposal
- Saved Query Paths
- Social Events
- User Video Conferencing
- Recommend/Share/Bookmark User Blogs
- Relationships between social groups and Documents/Posts/Courses/Jobs/Services
- Peer Reviewing(?)
- Document Library in user profiles and groups
- Document-level tagging (topics)
- Sentence-level annotating w/commenting, tagging, and metadata (public and private)
Cefkin, Melissa. 2010. “Practice at the Crossroads: When Practice Meets Theory, A Rumination.” Proceedings of the 6th Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference 2010:46-58.
Hawvermale, Erica M, Shannon Cronin, Kayla Davis, Janice Byth, Brynn Torres, Gi Giamarqo, Sarah Stutts, Leyla Koyuncuoglu, and Ky Burke. 2021. “The Face of Anthropology One Decade Later: Anthropology Master’s Reflections on Education, Careers, and Professional Organizations Then and Now. 2019 American Anthropology Master’s Career Survey.” Arlington, VA: American Anthropological Association. https://practicinganthropology.org/practice/the-2019-american-anthropology-masters-career-survey/ (accessed May 9, 2021).
Nafus, Dawn, and Ken Anderson. 2006. “The Real Problem: Rhetorics of Knowing in Corporate Ethnographic Research.” Proceedings of the 2nd Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference 2006:244-258.
ProtoHedgehog. 2017. “ResearchGate, Academia.edu, and bigger problems with scholarly publishing.” Green Tea and Velociraptors. http://fossilsandshit.com/researchgate-academia-edu-and-bigger-problems-with-scholarly-publishing/ (accessed April 25, 2021).