We are 3C Informatics: Crisis, Community and Civic Informatics

We are an Applied Research Center housed inside the College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State University.

We are a confederation of loosely and tightly coupled faculty, graduate students and community organizations all aimed at studying and developing strategies for how technologies could improve and empower physical communities, their leaders and their organizations. We are concerned with the ways in which social, cultural, political, economic, and organizational structures impact and are impacted by information technologies.  We are highly interdisciplinary team drawing from several academic fields such as; information science, information systems, computer science, software engineering, social sciences, planning, development studies, and sociology, to answer our questions.

 

We are applied researchers who are directly engaged with the communities we serve. Our research problems originate from the expressed needs of the citizens of the communities or those that serve them.  Our research process begins with data from citizens, is often analyzed by citizens and returns results to citizens and those that serve them, completing the loop.

Our community partners are local government, neighborhood associations, police, fire,and emergency medical services. We also collaborate with the university, local and regional emergency management organizations.

We believe that our research has potential to help communities make use of large amounts of citizen-produced data, which in turn may improve the speed, quality, and efficiency of governmental and organizational response, leading to more lives saved.

People are at the center of our research. We feel comfortable taking a critical stance in our research, often seeing the world as stratified and conflicted.  We analyze both positive and negative effects of technology. We often gather data directly from human beings in naturalistic settings. We value the use of many methods to gather data from human beings. We begin and end all of our work with theory, or theoretical concepts.

Across all of our research we maintain a healthy skepticism of the quality and utility of big data analytics, enough to spur us on to address these topics directly. The science of social data analytics is concerned with improving the process by which human interactions are converted into data, transformed, converted into useful knowledge, and applied towards a scientific or social goal. Many improvements that are made to analytics are in terms of scale, but improving data quality is more difficult to address, and the utility of indirectly connected social data is often questioned. Human processing of data can meet the needs of communities and responders during a crisis in ways that computers cannot accomplish alone. Direct contributions from citizens via crowdsourcing and citizen science have offered opportunities to leverage layers of spatial, temporal, and social infrastructure to enhance event detection. However, there are concerns regarding the quality of citizen science and crowdsourcing methods for generating relevant and accurate information. Our research engages a method of quality control by introducing an iterative system of information curation that encourages citizen scientists to become stakeholders in the quality of the information that they create by utilizing human-centered data analytics.

We operate in three interconnected domains:

Disaster/Crisis Informatics is the study of the use of information and technology in the preparation, mitigation, response and recovery phases of disasters and other emergencies.  It is the field of study that bridges disciplines like information technology and emergency management in their efforts to explain how technology plays a key role in crisis communication.

Civic/Public Informatics scholarship focuses on problems faced by public and non-profit institutions and their work toward a public good. We are attracted to problems that are endemic to the public sphere: the lack of and management of scarce resources, sharing materials and information; and, increasingly the need to play competitively alongside private industry. ICTs play a role in both the creation of these problems and in potential solutions.

Development Informatics/ Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D)/ Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD) are fields of both research and practice focusing on the application of information systems in socio-economic development. ICT4D and ICTD refer to the application of information and communication technologies toward social, economic, and political development, with a particular emphasis on helping poor and marginalized people and communities. They all aim to help in international development by bridging the digital divide and providing equitable access to technologies.

Each of the Center’s informatics projects is collaborative and involves the expertise of community partners and applied researchers interested in enhancing the design of information systems. Through ongoing projects, 3C Informatics has established a close collaborative relationship with community partners and will maintain these collaborations through frequent communication and meetings.

This collaborative work engages many community partners in ongoing work to identify and address complex social and technical issues. This research addresses an opportunity and a need to uncover new mechanisms that encourage many members of the communities to become stakeholders in the quality and quantity of information that can be utilized during crisis events.