New Paper Alert: “It would be pretty immoral to choose a random algorithm”

We have a new paper out this week in the Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society: “It would be pretty immoral to choose a random algorithm”: Opening up algorithmic interpretability and transparency. It is an output from the UnBias project which ran from 2016 to 2018, as a collaboration between The Universities of Nottingham, Oxford, and Edinburgh. This paper reports on work examining how people reason about and choose which algorithms provide the most ‘fair’ results within a particular context. It is currently available through the journal’s EarlyCite process, and the open access full-text can be found here. It is due to be part of a special issue on “Creating, Changing, and Coalescing Ways of Life with Technologies” and published as Volume 17 Issue 2.

This work, combined with studies that focused on the understanding and opinions of young people with regards bias caused by online algorithms, and work with a varied group of stakeholders including industry representatives, policy makers, and educators, allowed the UnBias project to approach the issues surrounding transparency and fairness in the use of algorithms.

“The purpose of this paper is to report on empirical work conducted to open up algorithmic interpretability and transparency. In recent years, significant concerns have arisen regarding the increasing pervasiveness of algorithms and the impact of automated decision-making in our lives. Particularly problematic is the lack of transparency surrounding the development of these algorithmic systems and their use. It is often suggested that to make algorithms more fair, they should be made more transparent, but exactly how this can be achieved remains unclear. […] The study involved discussion-based experiments centred around a limited resource allocation scenario which required participants to select their most and least preferred algorithms in a particular context. In addition to collecting quantitative data about preferences, qualitative data captured participants’ expressed reasoning behind their selections. Even when provided with the same information about the scenario, participants made different algorithm preference selections and rationalised their selections differently. The study results revealed diversity in participant responses but consistency in the emphasis they placed on normative concerns and the importance of context when accounting for their selections. The issues raised by participants as important to their selections resonate closely with values that have come to the fore in current debates over algorithm prevalence. This work developed a novel empirical approach that demonstrates the value in pursuing algorithmic interpretability and transparency while also highlighting the complexities surrounding their accomplishment.”



How does trust affect your experience of the Internet?

*****The ReEnTrust project is recruiting*****


(cross-posted from the project blog)

We are running a series of 3 hour workshops to find out, and we want you to take part. If you regularly use the Internet to search for information, make bookings, or buy products, and are aged either 16 to 25 years old or 65 years old or older, we invite you to come and share your views and experiences with us, as well as your suggestions for change in relation to trust when using the Internet. The session will involve friendly discussion and interactive activities, some of which will be screen-based. Your participation will help us to explore new technological opportunities to enhance or rebuild trust in ways that are user-driven and responsible, and to examine how trust in the online world might impact well-being. Your contribution to this workshop will also provide you, researchers, regulatory bodies and society in general, a better understanding of what makes online platforms and services trustable.

The workshops will take place either in Nottingham or Oxford, on the following dates:

16-25 year olds

Over 65s

  • Thursday 16th May at 10:30am-1:30pm at The OERC Conference Room, Oxford e-Research Centre, 7 Keble Road, Oxford, OX1 3QG
  • Friday 17th May at 10:30am-1:30pm at The OERC Conference Room, Oxford e-Research Centre, 7 Keble Road, Oxford, OX1 3QG
  • Thursday 23rd May at 10:30am-1:30pm at B18+, Xu Yafen Building, Jubilee Campus, Triumph Road, Nottingham, NG8 1BB.
  • Friday 24th May at 10:30am-1:30pm at Cecil Roberts Room, Nottingham Central Library, Angel Row, Nottingham, NG1 6HP.
  • Friday 14th June at 10:30am-1:30pm at Cecil Roberts Room, Nottingham Central Library, Angel Row, Nottingham, NG1 6HP.

The sessions will also be a good opportunity to develop your team work and communication skills, and increase your confidence and critical thinking when making decisions online. You will also receive a £20 voucher as a thank you for your time.

Refreshments will be provided.

If you are interested, or would like to sign up for the workshops, please download the relevant flyer for more information, or contact the relevant person below:


New Paper Alert: Citizens’ Juries

We have a new paper out today in the journal Healthcare: Citizens’ Juries: When Older Adults Deliberate on the Benefits and Risks of Smart Health and Smart Homes. It is a a collaboration between colleagues in several departments across the University, looking at the attitudes of older adults towards technology-enabled healthcare. It is part of a special issue on Creating Age-friendly Communities: Housing and Technology which includes  four other papers covering virtual assistive technologies, robots, and other supportive technologies.

Often certain groups are left out of debates surrounding technology and this can be highly detrimental to the uptake and usefulness of products and services. Using interactive workshops is a really effective way of engaging with all sorts of different groups, to understand their real-life concerns and experiences, and to allow researchers to make recommendations that benefit the communities they are aimed at. This paper looks at the concerns of older adults in relation to technology which is supposed to help them, highlighting a mismatch between their views and the way these systems are designed.

“Background: Technology-enabled healthcare or smart health has provided a wealth of products and services to enable older people to monitor and manage their own health conditions at home, thereby maintaining independence, whilst also reducing healthcare costs. However, despite the growing ubiquity of smart health, innovations are often technically driven, and the older user does not often have input into design. The purpose of the current study was to facilitate a debate about the positive and negative perceptions and attitudes towards digital health technologies. Methods: We conducted citizens’ juries to enable a deliberative inquiry into the benefits and risks of smart health technologies and systems. Transcriptions of group discussions were interpreted from a perspective of life-worlds versus systems-worlds. Results: Twenty-three participants of diverse demographics contributed to the debate. Views of older people were felt to be frequently ignored by organisations implementing systems and technologies. Participants demonstrated diverse levels of digital literacy and a range of concerns about misuse of technology. Conclusion: Our interpretation contrasted the life-world of experiences, hopes, and fears with the systems-world of surveillance, efficiencies, and risks. This interpretation offers new perspectives on involving older people in co-design and governance of smart health and smart homes.”

Nothing to see here

I am trying to get into the habit of updating my blog every week on a Friday, and have failed both times. I will get a post out this week, but to make up for missing last Friday I spent some time updating and rearranging my work tabs (I know, exciting). I split out the Publications into their very own tab, and updated the projects I’m working on and other things I’m doing. I’m thinking of adding an Engagement page too to list all the stuff I talked about last week.

Here, have a (vaguely related to some of my work) comic. Also, you should read SMBC.

New Paper Alert: Citizen Science and the Professional-Amateur Divide

I’ve just had my first paper of 2019 published online in the Journal of Science Communication: Citizen Science and the Professional-Amateur Divide: lessons from differing online practices. It is based on the work I did during the PhD with professionals and amateurs in the online creative industries, refocused to online citizen science. It is part of a special issue on User experience of digital technologies in citizen science which includes six other very interesting papers.

In the particular industry I studied, webcomics, creators are able to use online platforms to find audiences, publish their work, and improve their craft. They work in the same space and often there is very little separating the ‘amateur’ creator from the ‘professional’. Through a series of interviews with both types of creators I found three major areas that were particularly relevant to the blurring of this divide: mutual acknowledgement, infrastructural support, and platform specialisation.

As my interest in online crowd behaviour (my main research was on crowdfunding) lead me to look at online citizen science, James and I realised these three areas could apply to work in this community as well. Online citizen science allows amateurs to work and interact with professionals, again bridging the divide between the two. He carried out a second small study to investigate and this paper is the result. It was surprising to us how striking some of the similarities were in amongst the obvious differences. The paper is very exploratory and meant to provoke discussion on how these three factors are relevant (or not) to different online practices, and how domains that seem at first glance to have nothing in common may be able to offer each other insights. Have a look if it sounds like your thing.

“Online citizen science platforms increasingly provide types of infrastructural support previously only available to organisationally-based professional scientists. Other practices, such as creative arts, also exploit the freedom and accessibility afforded by the World Wide Web to shift the professional-amateur relationship. This paper compares communities from these two areas to show that disparate practices can learn from each other to better understand their users and their technology needs. Three major areas are discussed: mutual acknowledgement, infrastructural support, and platform specialisation. We discuss the advantages and disadvantages of differing practices, and lessons that can be learnt for online citizen science platforms.”

How do you think about your personal data?

AndertoonsOne day I will once more use this blog for something other than recruiting for participants, but today is not that day my friend. Today is not that day.

I need as many people from as many different backgrounds as possible to answer some questions about how they consider different types of personal data. We want to know which types of data people are willing to share with websites, and which factors are important to that decision.


The questionnaire should take at most 30 minutes, and at the end you will be entered into a draw for £50 worth of vouchers. Also, please once you have completed it, share with your friends, family, neighbours, enemies, pets, hairdressers, bus drivers, school teachers, and that weird guy on the corner. You know the one.

Many, many thanks.