Digital Data Analysis

Digital data analysis, public engagement and the social life of methods

“Bold epistemological claims are currently being made, in both academic and commercial contexts, about what the analysis of digital, social media or ’big’ data might tell us. People’s web and social media use generates a vast new source of data which, it is suggested, can be used to provide new insights into social networks and relationships, analyse public opinion in real time and on a large scale, and capture people’s actual behaviour as well as their stated attitudes. At the same time, critics argue that the methods of digital data analysis (such as sentiment analysis, social-network analysis, machine learning and natural language processing) represent yet another form of capitalist value extraction (Hearn 2010) or surveillance and control (Andrejevic 2011). Despite these claims, very little is actually known about what happens to the data that is produced through such methods. Our research aims to investigate these claims by examining what is happening on the ground: in particular, how data and the methods by which they are generated operate within specific organisational contexts. Given that a range of organisations use these methods, not just commercial companies, and given the shared interest of the investigators and the Network+ in public engagement, we will work closely with  public sector organisations (councils and museums) to analyse their use of digital data and the potential application of novel forms of digital data analysis for understanding and engaging their publics.”

(Kennedy & Moss, ‘Case for Support’)




Key Participants:

helen-kennedy-1 Dr Helen Kennedy (Principal Investigator) has been researching new media since the mid-1990s, focusing on inclusions and exclusions, and carrying out action research projects which aim to enhance the quality of life of usually disadvantaged stakeholders. She has worked (as a principal investigator and co-investigator) on large projects exploring web inclusion and disability, funded by the AHRC and ESRC, and has examined questions of race, gender and class in relation to new media exclusion. Helen has researched (different kinds of) new media work extensively, including social media monitoring and is also a web designer/web design project manager. She is currently researching the social media monitoring industries; the project proposed here forms part of this overarching research.
giles-moss-3 Dr Giles Moss (Co-Investigator) has a background in political science and media and communications studies and a particular research interest in the relationship between new forms of media and democratic engagement. He has published widely on political uses of new media and the potential of new media to support political communication and public engagement. He has experience of communicating research to different audiences, having contributed to official government reports, evaluations and consultations as well as to scholarly publications. He has worked on a number of collaborative research projects, including most recently as a co-investigator on an ESRC-funded research project on digital copyright.
Chris Birchall Chris Birchall has a background in professional software and web development, and has worked in a variety of positions in IT companies, as a freelancer, in the voluntary sector, the NHS and within Higher Education. He is currently undertaking a PhD through which he is investigating the role of platform design in the behaviour of participants in online political discussion. Through his PhD he aims to shed light on how current and emerging technologies may be used, within specific niches on the web, to promote productive “cross-cutting” political discussion. Chris has contributed to several research projects which have involved the use and investigation of tools for textual analysis of online conversation, such as those that will be used here. He brings extensive and relevant technical skills to this project.