Charities, Non-Profits, and other Third Sector Organisations are important elements of our civic society; operating in areas where the government (both Local and Central) have either under-served or are not trusted to operate. They are often funded through combinations of private or public grants and have legal protections excusing them from tax obligations. Due to their tendency to work with vulnerable and marginalised groups, and their financial status they are often required to be ‘Transparent and Accountable’ in both their work and spending.
This thesis presents a workplace study account of over three years’ embedded research within a charitable organisation in North East England, with details of additional engagements with other charity sector actors. In the thesis, I outline how ‘Transparency and Accountability’ are accomplished in everyday work practice and I chronicle a design process leading to the development of novel, inter-operable, accountability tools within this setting. These tools were trialled across two charities and then discussed with key financial stakeholders to critically evaluate their efficacy. I then present further implications for designing for ‘Transparency and Accountability’ in charities.
I provide the following contributions. Firstly; an understanding of ‘Accountability Work’ in workplace practice and design requirements for digital systems in these environments. Secondly, a model for the structured representation of everyday charity activities, first as the Qualitative Accounting Data Standard and then, through the implications of its deployment, in modelling commitments and actions. Thirdly; a set of design requirements for systems and interfaces to support the collection and curation of, and interactions with, this data in charities. Finally, I present Vanguard Design as an implementation and critique of participatory design principles in the environment of small front-line charities and contribute lessons for Digital Civics researchers in these contexts.
This thesis is dedicated to Andi, Carl, Dean, Lynne, Mick, Owen, Sonia, Sydney, and the young people of the West End of Newcastle upon Tyne.
In loving memory of Mick, who did so much for so many and asked for so little in return.
Deyr fé deyja frændr deyr sjálfr it sama en orðstírr deyr aldregi hveim er sér góðan getr
Deyr fé deyja frændr deyr sjálfr it sama ek veit einn at aldri deyr dómr um dauðan hvern
It goes without saying that thesis-writing does not occur in a vacuum. Despite a few substantial bumps in the road, I am very glad to be in a position to submit this work and the only reason I am here now is because of the collective efforts of many in helping me. It is impossible to capture in words the deep well of gratitude I have for all mentioned and beyond.
First and foremost; special thanks to my collaborators and participants who took part in this work. Working within the context of The Patchwork Project made me a better researcher, and ultimately made me a better man. I started working there when I was 24 and thus the same age as many of the service users. I am not sure whether Patchwork intended to “do Youth Work” on me, but they did. They made me more collaborative, less anxious about how I appeared to others, and gave me more support than any other single institution involved in this thesis. This thesis is dedicated to them. If I named every young person who made me smile I’d never finish this work, but the 8 - 12 group at Patchy 2 formed some of the warmest and most treasured memories I own. Further thanks to Gateshead Older People’s Assembly and Edbert’s House for participating in the design and deployment. Especially to ‘Heather’, who furnished me with more tea and cake than I could handle during our visits. I cannot thank any of you enough, and I love you all dearly.
Next I wish to thank colleagues and collaborators within Open Lab. Dave Kirk’s herculean supervision efforts in getting this thesis even remotely close to submission cannot go understated. A true mentor and guide, thank you so much. My Digital Civics contemporaries, across the whole CDT, have provided immeasurable laughs and phenomenal guidance across the years. Special mention here must be given to Angelika Strohmayer, without whom I would not have made it through several key challenges. Thank you, Angelika, for being the best desk-mate in the world, helping me through it all, and for sharing my passion for tea. Rosanna Bellini must also not go unthanked. First in her capacity as colleague and Digital Civics researcher she has provided frankly stupendous inspiration and has set the bar very high, it’s truly been an honour to witness her work and share a lab with her. Her second capacity is as a confidante, flatmate, and surrogate sister. In this role she has provided a home for me in every sense of the word. This has involved unceasing support, patience, and familial care. Our kitchen table has been the site of many shared laughs, mutual care, and shared meals. If I had to thank a single person for helping me with this thesis, it’d be Rosanna Bellini.
My comrades in the Communist Party of Britain (Northern District) also need to be thanked; for embodying the importance of practice and disciplined militancy. This taught me much about sitting down and getting the work done. I especially wish to thank Martin Levy and Margaret Levy for the years of hard-learned lessons you manage to make enjoyable and accessible and for improving my reading of key texts and fundamentally making me a better Marxist. I must also thank Emma, alongside whom I’ve waved flags and clashed with fascists on many a rainy Saturday; and whose work as vanguard in the UCU stands as example to all.
My research ended in 2018 and the last two years, while writing, I have found a place and a home with my colleagues and co-operators at Open Data Services Co-operative, who’ve granted me the stability to finish this thesis and meaningful work alongside it. This small group of people have materially enriched the lives of so many, and given me the purpose, flexibility, and stability I needed to get well again and pick up this thesis to finish it. To mention one would be a disservice to all, but thank you all so, so, much.
I have also been lucky enough in the last few years to be surrounded by good friends, extended colleagues, and surrogate family, who have put up with me missing gatherings, and have fed both my body and soul in numerous ways to get me over the finish line. In no particular order thanks must be given to: Stacey McGeorge, Alice Adams, Karen Watson, and Jason Hussein at Goodspace Newcastle; Jack, Hannah, and Maia each of the family Arnstein; Kat da Silva Morgan and Feral Noir; Aga Czarny; Bernadine Fernz; and Alexandra Dent (who has been very patient with me and very supportive these last few months).
It would be wrong of me on many levels not to thank Bethany. You never stopped working to make me feel better, even when I couldn’t see it. I am eternally sorry and grateful, and you deserved so much better.
Finalmente, para Valentina gracias por la orientación, la paciencia eterna y por creer en mí. Te amo.
In August 2015 the charity Kids Company made headline news for coming under investigation for financial mismanagement (Grierson, 2015). Founded in 1996, it was one of the most recognised and celebrated charities in the UK at the time, and was set up to provide support to deprived children and its founder Camila Batmanghelidjh regularly featured in lists of influential people and her portrait hung in the national gallery (Renegade Inc, 2017). Its financial activities were widely publicised, and the organisation closed its doors soon afterwards (Elgot, 2015).
Kids Company was an incredibly wealthy charity, attracting ~£23m in 2013 (Charity Commission for England and Wales, n.d.; Bright, 2015), and the UK government had recently granted it a single grant worth £3m which it was now seeking to recover. The Guardian reported that Kids Company had burned through two financial directors in less than three years (Laville et al., 2015). The BBC reported that the organisation had received up to £46m of public funding, including 20% of the Department of Education’s grant programme in 2008 (BBC News, 2015). Camila Batmanghelidjh has since stated that the charity was actually audited 46 times since its inception, and that they were short of money because they’d built a solid reputation with the kids on the street that they helped which lead to surges in numbers (Renegade Inc, 2017). Kids Company itself was set up to address deprived inner-city children and the charity has claimed a high volume of direct beneficiaries within the region of 36,000 children per year, although that number was disputed (Ainsworth, 2015).
Kids Company serves as a very public example of contemporary opinions around charity and non-profit work and spending. Charities are asked to be “Transparent and Accountable” (Oliver, 2004; Dhanani, 2009) for both their actions and their spending. Charities find themselves playing an important role in society taking up the slack in areas where the private sector and government can either not be trusted or simply do not care to spend attention (Hansmann, 1980), and their actions are critical to generating and sustaining ‘Social Capital’ (King, 2004; Wang & Graddy, 2008); the shared skills, trust, and relationships within society which can determine its efficiency and character (Field, 2003). Operating in this space means that they are often trusted with grant money from both public bodies and philanthropic trusts, and often work with vulnerable people and groups in sensitive contexts. This can lead to things going wrong in ways that are potentially far worse than mis-spending project funds (Ratcliffe, 2019).
In the UK’s age of austerity the performance of this work is essential; Local Authority budgets have been continuously slashed and charities have stepped in to fill the gaps in service as the government withdraws its support. Any charity trusted with public funds has a hard job to do; making every penny count while trying to provide services on-the-cheap that have traditionally been the remit of Local Government. All of this places charities at an interesting, and precarious, intersection of being Accountable to large swathes of the population and a variety of stakeholders. Each of these stakeholders then demand their own forms of Transparency and Accountability (Koppell, 2005). Transparency and Accountability, however, are words that are often invoked but rarely defined (Hood, 2006) and these two seemingly simple terms each hide multifaceted, complex, shifting, and interrelated concepts that ultimately mean different things to different people. Charities, and similar Non-profit organisations across the world, thus find their daily work to consist of socially important (if not critical) tasks which they they then must work to account for in a variety of ways to a variety of people. They operate on limited resources as grant funding is increasingly difficult to come by and are increasingly forced to compete for shrinking funding pots (Radojev, 2018). This forces many to twist into new shapes and undergo transformations into ‘Social Enterprise’; a process which risks exposing them to market forces and losing their ability to generate Social Capital by cutting non-profitable services and transforming their beneficiaries into customers (Eikenberry & Kluver, 2004). It is thus the Sisyphean task of charities to perform crucial work on small budgets while wrestling with the hydra of being Transparent and Accountable for every action and every great-british-pound; one slip up could mean public outcry, defunding, and collapse which exacerbates the social conditions that gave rise to them in the first place.
It is during the collapse of Kids Company that I was part-way through the first year of my journey in the Digital Civics programme, and drawing up the plans for my Master’s dissertation study. I now turn to describe how this setting influenced my personal motivations for the study
My personal motivations for this research are the synthesis of the material conditions that were present during my year of MRes study immediately preceding my PhD. These were namely: the collapse of Kids Company and the questions it raised about the role of charities in civic society; and my growth from a Liberal idealist into a dedicated Socialist. I will discuss each of these in turn.
When I began on the Digital Civics programme as an MRes student in 2014/15 I went into the studies with an interest in HCI and Design processes, which were ignited from my undergraduate studies at Newcastle University. I also carried with me a personal dedication to concepts of “openness” which was born of my formative years engaging with the Free Software movement. Throughout the studies of the ‘MRes in Digital Civics’ these interests were refined through engagement with the course material and the contemporary literature. In one interaction my soon-to-be supervisor, David S. Kirk, recommended that I read The Open Source Everything Manifesto (Steele, 2012). I obliged and while I found it a bit new-age in places, I found it lent credence to the idea that open information and Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) could provide the foundation for a strong civic life. This seemed a natural fit for my passion for openness, participatory practices, and the arena of Digital Civics.
Stemming from this, my MRes dissertation originally focused on the consumption, analysis, and presentation of Local Authority data. This broadened my academic focus from the idea of “open” to that of Transparency and Accountability, as it pertained to government spending. By 2015 the citizens of the UK had experienced half a decade of Tory austerity politics which had slashed Local Authority budgets dramatically (Lowndes & Gardner, 2016), and I thought that developing systems to promote use of mandatory spending data to the otherwise-absent “armchair experts” (Cornford et al., 2013) would be a good way to flex my newly-acquired Digital Civics muscles. When Kids Company made the news its presence in the zeitgeist triggered conversations between myself and my supervisor around investigating people’s interactions with charity spending data. Charities are a prime example of a civic space, they do important work, and clearly people feel strongly about how they spend cash and perform work. We thus shifted the focus of the MRes dissertation and I sought participants from within the Charity sector in addition to those with a stake in Local Authorities.
The performance of that initial research made it clear that the local Charity sector were far more willing, and/or capable of engaging with me constructively than actors within the Local Authority. This presented me a much more interesting and fertile space for HCI and design research to effect real change in the lives of communities that had been so adversely affected by austerity. The paper stemming from that initial research (Marshall et al., 2016) showed a sector where various forms of Transparency and Accountability were at odds with each other; and there were opportunities to develop newer, more effective, interfaces and practices around communicating that I was keen to explore.
Throughout this year and study I was also developing my own citizenhood, and growing in my understanding of political economy and democracy. As I hope to have made apparent throughout this section; both the collapse of Kids Company as well as my induction into Digital Civics are events that were set against the backdrop of austerity. I either saw about me or continued to read about the continued effects of austerity in the UK: people not being able to eat (Dowler & Lambie-Mumford, 2015) and the subsequent rise of food-banks (Loopstra et al., 2015; Garthwaite, 2016; Garthwaite et al., 2015);1 devastatingly widening inequality in already neglected areas (Greer Murphy, 2017); and the worsening health of the UK population (Stuckler et al., 2017). At the same time the climate crisis rages on (Chakrabarty, 2014; Dawson, 2010; Frank, 2009; Guerrero, 2018), and the disproportionately wealthy increase their share of our wealth with each new crisis (Woods, 2020; Kentish, 2017; Davies et al., 2017; Zucman, 2019). Through engaging with the works and analyses of political economy by writers such as Marx (Marx et al., 1974) and Lenin (Lenin, 1917) I could make sense of these systems and saw them not as disconnected, chaotic, results of a system gone awry; but the natural effects of capitalism.
The conditions of austerity and my subsequent readings of political economy coupled comfortably with my newfound academic interest in the Transparency and Accountability of charities and other ‘Third Sector’ organisations. I saw further evidence of the appropriateness of a focus on the third sector, as Marxist analyses of the sector (Livingstone, 2013; Bhai, 2005) gelled with the academic literature that the entire existence of these organisations was a result of the systemic failures of a political an economic mode that neglected or could not be trusted with key activities (Hansmann, 1980; Salamon, 1994). This solidified in my mind the notion of front-line charities as sites of struggle, and the appropriateness of following the thread this of working within charities in my research in order to lend my resources and (hopefully) insight into how to improve their efficacy or make their lives easier.
With the above in mind the aim of my research in this thesis is to explore how digital technologies may be designed with, within, and for charities (and related Third Sector organisations) in order to assist them with becoming more Transparent and Accountable. In doing this I hope that I may help them find ways to not only address their critics’ concerns over their work and spending, but better account for their impact on civic life in attending to the matters ignored by the state or exploited by the private sector.
This will, necessarily, cover an exploration of what it means to be transparent and accountable as or within such an organisation. Or more accurately, what it takes to do Transparency and Accountability. From this I wish to explore what the system and interface requirements are for supporting this work and making it more straightforward for a charity to demonstrate the appropriateness of its work and spending to its stakeholders, as well as civil society at large.
Owing to this research’s performance as part of the Digital Civics programme, and the fact that the on-the-ground work of charities is labour performed by members of the working class; I will also be reflecting on design practices in this space. Charities and their related organisations are an inherently civic space, and one with particular characteristics. Any act of designing technologies in, with, or for the workers in this space will need to attend to ensuring that the members of that setting have an adequate stake in design. Therefore, it is also an aim of this research to explore the performance of design work in this space both as it relates to designing tools for Transparency and Accountability, as well as how design may operate in charities as a matter of concern for Digital Civics work. This aim also aligns with a history of workplace studies within HCI and CSCW (Anderson, 1994); which have by their nature of forefronting work practice made matters of ‘accountability’ within the workplace a matter of study (Button & Sharrock, 1998). This traditional notion of accountability of work (or account-ability, as it is sometimes conceived) within ethnomethodological studies of work practice should be leveraged to frame the design of technologies which in turn provide the foundation for new forms of Transparent and Accountable practices beyond the immediate workplace and thus underpin the relationships between charities, their workers, and their stakeholders.
I now turn to forefronting the nature and contributions of this thesis and make explicit the research questions that, in answering, achieve the aims of purpose of this research. I also explicitly state and label the individual contributions that this thesis makes in answering these questions.
This section delineates the areas of work which this thesis sits at the intersection of and makes explicit the research questions that I am seeking to answer in this research in each case. I also highlight and explicitly label the contributions of the thesis in resulting from answering each question.
R1: How are the financial practices and Transparency obligations of a charity manifested in daily workplace practices?
As readers will discover in Chapter 2 there is a multitude of writing around the nature of Transparency and Accountability and how these interact in charities and the Third Sector. This does not account for how these obligations are present in the ground and experienced by the community surrounding organisations such as charities.
In order to begin designing for conceptual goals such as Transparency and Accountability there must be a study of how these concepts affect the daily work practices within organisations and settings where they’re important. Any systems designed to be used must consider the daily performance of workplace activity and how Accountability Work is organised as a result of this.
I address this question in Chapter 4 where I present my account of a field study of work practice inside a small charity. In this chapter I explicitly outline how Accountability Work is organised and performed, and put forward design recommendations based on this. In Chapter 6 I expand on this and illustrate how Accountability Work is underpinned by interactions with Accountable Objects.
R2: How may data be structured to represent the work and financial life of a charity?
This thesis is concerned in part with the design and implementation of Open Data systems as a means to support Transparency and Accountability in charities. This requires attention on what is captured, how that is structured, and how well this represents the work of charities for achieving their aims in being Transparent and Accountable. In the realm of Open Data standards there has been work to model both government procurement (Open Contracting Partnership, 2021) and grants given to charitable organisations (360Giving, 2020a). My research seeks to add another piece to the puzzle around representing both work and financial practices on the ground in charities.
I address this question in two places. My first attempt at a model to capture and represent charity work and spending is documented in Chapter 5 where the first draft of the Qualitative Accounting data standard is designed with participants. The systems using the standard are then put to the test in Chapter 6 where I then further elaborate on these requirements based on lessons gathered from the field tests.
R3: What are the interface requirements for systems that interact with data concerning the work and financial life of a charity, such that it is simple to capture, curate, and make use of this data?
Building from R2, R3 explores the requirements for interfaces that support interactions with data as they pertain to charity work and spending. This question is situated in existing research into Human-Data Interaction (HDI) which has explored the use of data as a boundary object (Mortier et al., 2014) as well as interesting ways of engaging with personal data (Elsden & Kirk, 2014). If a model for representing charity work and spending is produced then it will require interfaces that allow people to capture this data, curate it, and engage with it in some way. I therefore contribute to this work by explicitly addressing the requirements of interfaces that interact with data with notions of Accountability and Transparency
Similar to R2, I address this question in both Chapter 5 and Chapter-6. In the former I engage in a design process that results in several systems for collecting, curating, and presenting data whereas the latter chapter field tests these and I evaluate their effectiveness and forefront lessons learned from this.
R4: How should design work be performed in civic organisations such as charities so that they can participate in design while operating with limited resources?
Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 each discuss this thesis as being performed within the context of the Digital Civics programme of work within HCI. Within Digital Civics, HCI, and related fields such as CSCW there is often reflections and research on the subject of design’s application within given settings e.g (Strohmayer et al., 2019) and (Bellini, Strohmayer, et al., 2019). The research performed in this thesis took place within small, front-line, charities in the UK; of which there are many. Lessons from this experience are also applicable to settings which experience similar struggles and where the relationship between the researcher/designer and the members of the setting is not necessarily clear-cut.
I begin addressing this in Chapter 5 where I discuss the challenges of performing design work in charities and conceptualise Vanguard Design as a model for dealing with these challenges. Chapter 7 continues this reflection based off of experience performing the research as a whole and contributes lessons for HCI and Digital Civics researchers seeking to engage with charities and other Third Sector organisations.
This research has directly resulted in two publications to date, of which I am the primary author of both. The first of these is was “Accountable: Exploring the Inadequacies of Transparent Financial Practice in the Non-Profit Sector” (Marshall et al., 2016), published at SIGCHI in 2016. This was an output from the first year of the Digital Civics programme as a result of my MRes research project, which I then transformed into a publication with additional guidance from the other named authors. I have included it here because it motivates the work encapsulated in this thesis and I draw upon it early on for directing my early investigations.
The second of these is “Accountability Work: Examining the Values, Technologies and Work Practices that Facilitate Transparency in Charities” (Marshall et al., 2018), which represents a publication directly related to Chapter 4 of this thesis and thus R1, C1a, and C1b. Thus my contributions to this paper are of the research material, the analysis, and discussion as well as the writing of the paper. David S. Kirk provided feedback and suggested edits to the paper, while he other named authors provided light feedback on earlier versions
I have not yet made attempts to publish any further papers from this research but it is my intent to do so after this thesis has been appropriately examined and amended.
This thesis is structured to account for a research project that had the shape of a single long-term engagement or case study, which sought to design for and explore the implications of digital technologies in the realm of charity Transparency and Accountability. It starts with situating my research, outlining my methods and practices used to organise the research itself, provides empirical accounts of findings from fieldwork, design processes, and evaluations of technologies and presents a series of findings from each of these stages of the research. Finally I draw together these findings along with final reflections on the performance of the research in order to present contributions in the form of answers to the research questions outlined in section 1.3 of this thesis.
Chapter 2 provides the necessary background and academic literature necessary to engage with the remainder of the thesis. I first situate this research as being performed within the context of the Digital Civics programme of research (Olivier & Wright, 2015), particularly as it was conceived within Open Lab (Open Lab Newcastle University, 2021) at Newcastle University in the UK and elaborate on my place within that space. This chapter then introduces Third Sector Organisations (e.g. Charities, Non-Profits etc.) and explores their unique place within civic life, their importance to society as a whole, and their unique organisational challenges and pressures. Chapter 2 continues by exploring the challenge of Transparency and Accountability experienced by charities; and unpicks the dimensions of these terms so that this understanding may be applied to my research questions and analysis throughout the thesis. This chapter then explores existing research that explores the use of digital technologies in this space touching on notions of Open Data and Open Source technologies as a form of accountability, and interactions with data and finances that are supported through digital interfaces. Finally, I explicate the opportunities for research in this space at the intersection of digital technologies, the Third Sector, and Transparency and Accountability.
Chapter 3 outlines in detail the methodology and analytical heritage of the research that is presented in the thesis’ remaining chapters. I first outline this thesis as sitting within a tradition of Workplace studies and state how the setting and performance of the research fit within this tradition, as well as elaborate on how this framing is particularly appropriate for the research’s aims and objectives. Following this, I discuss the analytical orientations that were taken in this work: namely an approach inspired by Ethnomethodology to fieldwork and the study of work practice. I then present an overview and timeline of the research to situate it in the reader’s mind, and discuss the practical methods that were applied for the performance of fieldwork, design work, and the later evaluation of systems.
Chapter 4 presents the first empirical findings of the research as a study of work practice in a small charity. I first introduce the physical setting of The Patchwork Project (The Patchwork Project, 2021b) (Patchwork) as well as the staff who made up my collaborators during the bulk of this research. As part of my reporting on the setting and work practice I ensure readers of this thesis are aware of Patchwork’s broader aims, activities, and organisational structure in addition to their local setting within the West End Newcastle upon Tyne. The chapter then turns to reporting the work practices that make up Transparency and Accountability as it is manifested on-the-ground in the organisation. These are then used to derive early insights into the design requirements and characteristics of systems that operate in this space, describing the values that need to be embedded in their design as well as the architecture and characteristics they require to better enable Transparency and Accountability.
Chapter 5 provides a description the second empirical section of the research. This chapter covers the practice and output of the design work that immediately follows the fieldwork covered in the previous chapter. First I present an overview of the performance of the design work, going into detail about the activities that made up this phase of work such as the performance of design workshops, followed by a cycle of user-centred design. The chapter then goes into detail to convey the design and development of digital systems that were built to embody the lessons from Chapter 4 and address the challenges of the design space. I take care to present the design rationale for each major feature or design decision “in-situ” throughout this chapter so that it is clear where contributions of participants as well as insights from Chapter 4 were applied to the design. This chapter finishes with reflections on the performance of this design work; proffering lessons for the design of open data standards and infrastructure, as well as proposing a practical configuration of how to frame perform design work in a participatory and radical way in settings where participatory approaches may otherwise struggle to be applied.
Chapter 6 details an empirical study where evaluate the systems that were designed and built Chapter 5 are evaluated to determine their appropriateness and illuminate further design considerations. First I present an overview of how the evaluation was conducted across several stages in order to adapt to the material conditions of the participant organisations, as well as several new stakeholders that were approached for additional perspectives. I then present a series of grouped findings that illuminate the experiences and commentary of the participants who used the tools, and the stakeholders who reflected on the designs separately. Finally, I discuss future implications for system design in this space, demonstrating that data needs to strike a middle-ground between flexibility and openness and a need to tie actions to commitments as well as the implications for the interfaces that make use of this data, and how different forms of Transparency may benefit from this.
Chapter 7 accounts for all of the work collected in the previous chapters of this thesis. First I account for each of the research questions that were outlined in Chapter 1 and answer each of them using examples from the research. In doing so I demonstrate a contribution of knowledge in each case. Following this I then discuss the broader implications of the research in this thesis as situated within both the Digital Civics programme and within the context of Open Data, Transparency, and Charities. I draw on the issues faced by both myself and my contemporaries at Open Lab and provide a critique of Digital Civics’ initial framing and motivations. In doing so I highlight ways in which the performance of HCI research within civic spaces, especially the Third Sector, may contribute more impactfully to civic life.
Chapter 8 concludes the thesis. In this chapter I summarise research as well as and insights that have been contributed throughout the rest of the thesis. I use these contributions to frame the importance of doing additional work and suggest the immediate concerns that should be forefronted in successive research.
This chapter discusses the background and literature of the various fields that inform this research. Given the interdisciplinary history of HCI research, and the socio-economic domain of non-profit enterprise, it should come of no surprise that this results in a rich and diverse nexus of perspectives which needs to be accounted for.
The chapter begins with grounding this focus within the space of Digital Civics before beginning an exploration of Charities and other forms of Third-Sector and Community Organisations in order to reach a workable definition of the term and ground the importance of these organisations to society as well as the challenges they face. Having reviewed these challenges the chapter then focuses on the Transparency and Accountability of these organisations and reviews the often ambiguous use of these terms and the challenges of producing Transparency and Accountability within an organisation. Next, the chapter explores the use of digital technologies as means to address these challenges through considering intersecting strands of research in interacting with data and finances through digital technologies.
Finally, the chapter ends by discussing the opportunities for research in this space that the thesis will explore in following chapters.
The research in this PhD thesis was performed alongside others and was framed as part of the Digital Civics program of work. As a term, Digital Civics is applied to a set of work addressing the roles, power, and potential of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) to explore, learn from, and shape civic life through digital technologies. The term Digital Civics encompasses a varied set of research with themes of: trust; civic participation; localism; engagement with civil society organisations; and citizen commissioning (among others). I elaborate on these below, but it is not the remit of this thesis to provide a single canonical definition of Digital Civics. I do, however, wish to explore the term through reviewing work that was performed either explicitly under a Digital Civics banner or is otherwise held up as an example of the space2.
It is my personal opinion that a definition of the term Digital Civics and its relationship to the work it represents is, complex and bi-directional. By this I mean that, by merely existing as a term, Digital Civics shapes and is in turn shaped by the work to which the term is applied. Therefore in lieu of a single, unchanging, definition with which I may boldly and confidently declare my work an example of, I instead wish to offer a short review of the space as I experienced it. First I consider broadly the use of the term Digital Civics before focusing on examples of research in the space that intersect or run parallel to my concerns – namely work that occurs at a local level and then specifically that which occurs within or is focused on charities and community organisations. Through this I hope both to establish this thesis as a work of Digital Civics, grounding its motivation and concerns, and open the space of Digital Civics itself to contributions from my research.
The term Digital Civics is not specific to a single stream of work coming out of Newcastle University but has been used internationally by researchers in the US, primarily in the Georgia Institute of Technology. Corbett and LeDantec explore the role of trust in technology, communities, and civic participation (Corbett & C. A. Le Dantec, 2018b, 2018a; Corbett & Le Dantec, 2019). Through collaborations with a municipal government in the US, Corbett and LeDantec explore how trust is operationalised in these settings through Trust Work and subsequently how trust may be designed for (Corbett & C. A. Le Dantec, 2018a). Further to this, they also discuss how technology may be used to design community engagement; asking the question whether Digital Civics interventions should be responding to user need or whether they should be designing for behaviour that is expected of the governance process (Corbett & C. A. Le Dantec, 2018b). Dickinson et al writes of the use of “civic technology” as a tool to support strengthen community assets, and how design may consider an asset-based approach to support building relationships between citizens and their governments; contrasting the “data-driven” agenda that conceptualises these interactions as purely transactional (Dickinson et al., 2019). In this vein Møller et al investigate citizen experiences of a social welfare system and highlight how the datafication of services shapes the experience of the system where data about a citizen is increasingly hard to access and contest by the very citizens it describes (Holten Møller et al., 2019). In the arena of public housing, Kozubaev et al demonstrate how smart home technology use in these spaces may be appropriated by residents as a form of self-organisation through tracking practices but demonstrates the blurring of the private and public that can arise as a result (Kozubaev et al., 2019), while Rumsey and LeDantec demonstrate that smart tracking technologies are now beginning to enter spaces such as the emergency services (Rumsey & Le Dantec, 2019).
The stream of work I am more familiar with is that coming out of Newcastle University where I was conducted my research as part of the centre for doctoral training in digital civics (Olivier & Wright, 2015). As noted by Olivier and Wright , the initial framing was to explore a more the ways digital technologies may support a more relational model of service delivery between local government and civil society. The early examples of these work (pre-dating the start of the doctoral training centre) are exemplified in projects such as PosterVote (Vlachokyriakos et al., 2014), Bootlegger (Schofield et al., 2015), Feed Finder (Balaam et al., 2015), and the subsequent App Movement platform (Garbett et al., 2016). All of these projects share as a concern the community production of value as well as acts of commissioning which are mediated or enabled through a digital platform.
The theme of platforms and commissioning influenced the “flavour” of some of the later work that was performed under the Digital Civics banner at Newcastle. Dow et al explore a platform for care organisations to commission feedback (Dow et al., 2016) while Johnson et al explored platforms for community decision making (Johnson et al., 2016). The value of this work both in its contributions to framing Digital Civics as well as their contributions to HCI and Design can not go under-stated, but Digital Civics expanded its reach to consider other forms of both local engagement and internationalist areas of work. The Parklearn project engaged in field studies to understand the role of technology in community-lead learning (Richardson et al., 2017, 2018) and WhatFutures considered the role of utilising existing platforms to design large-scale engagements rather than designing a new, bespoke, platform (Lambton-Howard et al., 2019). Prost et al consider technology’s role in Food Democracy (Prost et al., 2018, 2019) where Talk et al discuss the role of HCI and design in working within the contexts of a humanitarian crisis (Talhouk et al., 2018; Talhouk, Balaam, et al., 2019)
This is by far an exhaustive account of Digital Civics research but I hope serves simply to illustrate the breadth of concerns that fall under this umbrella. These researchers worked in a very diverse set of spaces in a diverse set of ways. Critically, they not only explored technology and design’s role in these spaces but drew insight from their engagements that helped to shape the way Digital Civics and HCI research at large is performed. Taking this into account, I feel that Digital Civics is less of a focus than a nexus of research and one that my work sits within. Where some work takes on a more explicitly internationalist set of concerns (e.g. (Talhouk et al., 2018; Lambton-Howard et al., 2019)), my work sits more closely in the sphere of local-scale engagements; particularly around charities and non-profit organisations. This review now turns to briefly highlight some work more closely aligned to mine in terms of both local engagements and charities.
A distinct theme within Digital Civics research as it was performed in Newcastle was that of localism – that is the local engagement of citizens, local politics, and other local civic matters. This took several forms within Digital Civics which I will briefly highlight examples of here.
The work of Johnson et al was mentioned briefly earlier in this section, where I cited it as an example of a technology that investigated community decision making (Johnson et al., 2016). Johnson et al’s work also contributes considerations into the role of the researcher as agent in civic technology deployments, and how the social capital of the researcher was important at a various points during the research (Johnson et al., 2016). Johnson et al expand their work around communities to explore and capture reflections on “deliberative talk” in consultative processes, and raise the implications of data systems’ supposed impartiality in supporting local deliberation (Johnson et al., 2017). Puussaar et al similarly examines how groups may make sense and share data (Puussaar et al., 2017), but also, working with Johnson, Johnson a critique of how Open Data may be made more useful for civic advocacy through deployment of a data platform that supports citizen interrogation, and (Puussaar et al., 2018). Additionally, Johnson et al further explore the role of data technologies in policy making and contribute considerations for building democratic and epistemic capacity through data as a participatory process (Johnson et al., 2018).
Richardson et al also consider local space and engagement in Digital Civics. They highlight how mobile technologies (through the Parklearn platform) may be used for civic M-learning, but also provide implications for harnessing existing social and civic infrastructures within design (Richardson et al., 2017). Richardson et al then expand on this with field studies of Parklearn to complement classroom activities and present discussion of how these deployments lead to participants having increased senses of ownership of their civic spaces (Richardson et al., 2018). Wilson et al have similarly feature community ownership discussion through their work with Change Explorer; a platform which leveraged smart watches to promote citizen engagement in planning processes which was shown to support participants in thinking critically about the areas they inhabit (Wilson et al., 2017).
The civic and often local nature of charities and similar organisations lends them to alignment with the goals and areas of Digital Civics research. Many of my colleagues have been been engaged in collaborations with charities in their work, often as the spaces they operate in are also the concern of charities and charitable work.
Dow et al, explored the role of feedback technologies (ThoughtCloud, mentioned above) in care organisations that were charities (Dow et al., 2016). Throughout an extended engagement with these partners Dow not only had insights pertaining to the design of feedback technologies throughout the project (Dow et al., 2017), but also at later stages of the research drew important reflections on the material concerns of working within the space and the contradictions between grassroots desire for change and institutional rigidity (Dow et al., 2018). A similar set of extended engagements is that of Bellini et al, working within charities most notably in the arena of domestic violence perpetrator programmes. This extended collaboration has involved delivering such a programme alongside Bellini’s collaborators as part of her research, and therefore has incredibly important lessons to draw on ensuring design work does not undermine the trust of the service-providers-cum-collaborators (Bellini, Strohmayer, et al., 2019; Bellini, Rainey, et al., 2019)
Another good example of Digital Civics work within charities is the work of Strohmayer (Strohmayer, 2021); which also involves prolonged engagements utilising methods deriving from feminist and social justice methodologies. The first of these examples was through a partnership with the UK organisation National Ugly Mugs (NUM) (National Ugly Mugs, 2021), and draws attention to the potential of carefully considered technologies and design to feed into the critical work of sex work support services; even through the use of technologies most HCI researcher may consider mundane (Strohmayer et al., 2017). A later collaboration with a Canadian non-profit expands this work to an international space and highlights the pressing need for contextualisation in technology design and to cater to multiple formats (Strohmayer et al., 2019). In doing this, Strohmayer et al also bring to the fore the need to understand contexts not from the position of researchers and designers but from the position one is designing from. An important consideration for any piece of work calling itself Digital Civics and one that exemplifies the dialectical nature of the term.
Finally, it should be acknowledged that this practice, space, or context of working within, alongside, or through charities and community organisations has been explored more explicitly through a previous collaboration between myself and Strohmayer at Newcastle but also international colleagues Verma and Bopp, as well as McNaney who was operating out of Lancaster at the time (Strohmayer et al., 2018). Although reflections on the performance of HCI and Design research within the “Third Sector” is still emerging as a scope of study, this work should be acknowledged as one that is both born of and contributes to Digital Civics research.
This section has considered the positioning, concerns, and shape of Digital Civics research as a field as well as individual work within it. I hope both to have showcased the variety of approaches and foci of work that is performed under the banner of Digital Civics and to have demonstrated that there exists a convergence of engagements that primarily centre local engagements as well as engagements with civic organisations such as charities and other forms of non-profit.
With this established, it may be demonstrated that my work sits within this programme of research and thus exists as a work of Digital Civics. This review now turns to exploring some the background of my more direct concerns around Charities and their role in civic life to ground the focus of my research in this space.
This section explores Charities and Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs); how they are defined, and what role they play in society. This is done for two reasons: firstly, to explore the ecosystems, landscapes, and settings within which these organisations operate so that the research is effective; and secondly, to ground the work’s relevance as playing a part in the everyday activities of the world.
Given that this thesis revolves around the design of digital technologies to support the work of charities, it is important to set forward a definition of a charity what its work may be. However, defining what constitutes a charity can be problematic because it is a specific form of organisation that belongs to an entire sector or family of organisations which have historically resisted definition (Salamon & Anheier, 1992b; Morris, 2000). This is largely due to the sheer diversity of both the organisations themselves as well as the legal and social frameworks in which they operate (Salamon & Anheier, 1992b). Even choosing which term to use is problematic not only because any given term can emphasise particular traits of organisations or exclude some organisations entirely, but choosing what term to use will give any discussion a particular national flavour. For example, the term ‘Charity Sector’ is often used in the UK whereas framing this discussion using the term of ‘Non-Profit Organisations’ (NPOs) makes it feel distinctly relevant to the USA (Frumkin, 2009). However, as noted, these organisations all share a genealogy, which means utilising literature that in turn uses a variety of terms to describe this group of organisations. A working definition of ‘a charity’ will be outlined at the end of this section.
Charities are a form of Non-Profit Organisation (NPO) which operate within what is often known as the “Third Sector” of the economy; emphasising their separation for public or state-owned operations as well as private for-profit enterprise (Salamon & Anheier, 1992b). The term ‘Third Sector’, however, is often used interchangeably with others such as “Voluntary Sector”, “Independent Sector”, “Charitable Sector”, or many others. Salamon and Anheier claim that this abundance of definitions often poses a problem, as each term emphasises a particular characteristic of these organisations whilst downplaying others – which can be misleading when attempting to describe them (Salamon & Anheier, 1992b). An example of this would be how the term “Voluntary Sector” emphasises the contributions of volunteers in the operation of the organisations, at the expense of organisations or activities that are performed by paid employees. Frumkin prefers the term “Non-Profit and Voluntary Sector” for this reason (Frumkin, 2009).
This diversity of organisations within the “Third Sector” means that a general definition is difficult to generate, however Salamon and Anheier go some way to provide one based off of the structural or operational characteristics of the organisations; which would therefore allow their definition to cater for the sector’s diversity of legal structures, funding mechanisms, and function. Their definition identifies five base characteristics common to the organisations (they use the term NPOs). These organisations are: “Formal”, having been constituted or institutionalised legally to some extent; “Private”, meaning they are institutionally separate from government; “Non-Profit distributing”, where any profits generated by activities are reinvested directly into the ‘basic mission of the agency’ instead of being distributed to owners or directors; “Self-governing”, with their own internal protocols or procedures as opposed to being controlled directly by external entities; and “Voluntary”, where the organisation’s activities or management involves a meaningful degree of voluntary participation (Salamon & Anheier, 1992b).
Frumkin gives three characteristics of these organisations which align with Salamon and Anheier’s framework. The organisations: do not coerce participation (ie they do not have a monopoly and interacting with them is optional); their profits are not given to stakeholders; and they lack clear lines of ownership and Accountability (Frumkin, 2009). These definitions are not without issue, as they notably exclude various quasi-commercial entities such as those found in the UK – ie Building Societies and Cooperatives.
It is the exclusion of such entities that presents an issue for achieving a working definition. Lohmann calls for a more expansive view of the “Nonprofit Organisation” since definitions often account only for those legally bound by particular legislation and that if academics work only within these confines then they are limited in their attention (Lohmann, 2007). Lohmann also takes issue with the term “Third Sector” as it often is not presented in context of what it is a sector of. Lohmann argues that the organisations generally included in definitions of the “Third Sector” are actually simply a part of a broader grouping termed the “Social Economy” which would include NPOs and Charities but also others such as cooperatives and member organisations (Lohmann, 2007). Moualert and Ailenei elaborate that the term “Social Economy” is tied with notions of economic redistribution and reciprocity, and argue that a “one-for-all” definition is not useful to produce, as the organisations within the Social Economy are driven by local contexts (Moulaert & Ailenei, 2005). They put forward that the Social Economy as a practice, as well as the institutions that make it up, are linked to periods of crisis – and that the Social Economy is a method to respond to the alienation and dissatisfaction of people’s needs by the For-Profit and State sectors at any given time (Moulaert & Ailenei, 2005). Monzon and Chaves go into detail about defining the characteristics of organisations that make up the Social Economy, largely echoing the definitions for the US-centric “NPOs” discussed earlier (Monzon & Chaves, 2008). In addition to this is their elaboration that “[the organisations] pursue an activity in its own right, to meet the needs of persons, households, or families … [They] are said to be organisations of people, not of capital … They work with capital and other non-monetary resources but not for capital.” This indicates that the unifying characteristic of these organisations is their concern for people, and begins to define them based on what they are rather than the via negativa of “Third Sector” (Monzon & Chaves, 2008).
In the UK, the term ‘Charity’ is protected and has a specific definition enshrined in law. According to the Charities Act 2011, a Charity is an organisation that is “established for charitable purposes only”, where the Act then later defines a list of charitable purposes to ensure that the organisation is acting for the public benefit (UK Government, 2011). These cover a wide variety of purposes and such as “the prevention or relief of poverty” and “the advancement of citizenship or community development”. Whilst this mirrors the Monzon and Chaves assertion that organisations pursue activity to “meet the needs of persons…”, it is the opinion of this thesis that enshrinement in law is not necessary treat an organisation as a charity for the purposes of research. This is so that any outcomes of the research can be applied to international contexts – where different legal definitions of the word “Charity” may exist. To that end, our definition of a charity going forward takes the common threads discussed in this section that Charities are: not-for-profit organisations that are legally distinct from government; are set up towards a charitable purpose (regardless of whether that purpose is enshrined in law); and that a citizen’s interactions with the organisation are voluntary. This definition will allow the remainder of this chapter (and subsequent research) to consider multiple types of legal entity within the UK and internationally to explore this space.
Charities are seemingly inherently valued by most individuals in civil society. The social motivations behind Charities and the wide variety of activities in which they involve themselves, as well as the manner of their involvement often means that the health of Charities, and the Social Economy more broadly, are often used as barometers for the health of civic society (Moulaert & Ailenei, 2005). I therefore wish to to explore the importance of Charities to society in order to understand better the world in which they operate.
Hannsman writes on the role of Charities that they often emerge from a “contract failure” of the market to police the producers of services, and that it is very rare to find Charities operating in industrial sectors (Hansmann, 1980). According to Hansmann, economic theory dictates that the failure is in accordance with consumers (as a group rather than individuals) to do one of the following: accurately compare providers; reach agreement as to the price and quality of services to be exchanged; and to assess the compliance of the organisation to their part of the deal, obtaining redress if the organisation is seen to have not complied. Charities emerge, therefore, when this process has failed to regulate For-Profit actors in any given economic activity: “The reason is simply that contributors [to a for-profit business] would have little or no assurance that their payments … were actually needed to pay for the service they received” (Hansmann, 1980, p.850). As noted, it is uncommon to find Charities operating in industrial sectors, and as such the services offered by these organisations can often be those that involve a separation between the purchaser of a service and the eventual recipient; e.g. the purchase and transport of food aid overseas. The inability of Charities to distribute profits to shareholders thus removes the incentive and power of organisations to reduce direct spend on the service; reassuring the purchaser that their money is not for the direct profit of shareholders (Hansmann, 1980).
Salamon writes that Charities “deliver human services, promote grass-roots economic development, prevent environmental degradation, protect civil rights, and pursue a thousand other objectives formerly unattended or left to the state” (Salamon, 1994, p.109). This insight reinforces Hansmann’s view that the activities of these organisations are concerned primarily with provision of services unattended to by For-Profit sectors. Salamon’s statement also implies the presence of State actors in a given activity and that State-provided services would mean that there is no requirement for a Charity actor if the needs of the people were being met. Frumkin argues that a core part of the Third Sector and Social Economy (which would include this thesis’ definition of ‘Charity’) is that it is responsive to demand; specifically the demands of a public who have unmet needs (Frumkin, 2009). Not only does Frumkin’s argument add weight to both Hannsman and Salamon’s admonition that the For-Profit sector is either unconcerned or untrusted with particular activities, but also that the State is either an absentee actor or that the service provided is unsatisfactory in meeting the needs of the public.
The nature and scope of activities in which Charities are involved are incredibly diverse. Salamon and Anheir outline a classification system, the International Classification of Nonprofit Organisations (ICNPO), that divides and classifies organisations into 12 groups based on economic activity, with an additional 24 sub-groups (Salamon & Anheier, 1992a). Whilst this classification system generally only provides high-level descriptors of organisations, lacking detail on the nature of how activities are performed pragmatically on-the-ground, they offer a starting point from which to begin to understand the far-reaching and diverse nature of the sector’s activities. Examples range from “Nursing Homes” and “Mental Health and Crisis intervention”, to “Housing” and “Culture and Arts”.
The activities undertaken by Charities are also important to society because they are generally understood to produce and sustain Social Capital (King, 2004; Wang & Graddy, 2008; Swanson, 2013). Generally, Social Capital is the term used to refer resources and access to those resources as permitted by one’s social network (Field, 2003). Putnam defined Social Capital as “features of social organisation, such as trust, norms, and networks, that can improve the efficiency of society by facilitating coordinated actions” (Putnam et al., 1994, p.167). The ‘resources’ in Social Capital may be physical resources (ie tools) or more intangible types of resource such as possessing a skill or qualities that are valuable to society.
The amount of Social Capital an individual (or group) possess can have substantial effects on their day-to-day lives in a variety of areas. Field discusses how an increased amount of Social Capital has effects on personal health and happiness, as well as the educational prospects of one’s children, and the amount of “anti-social” behaviour present in their communities (Field, 2003). Conversely, low amounts of Social Capital within communities can manifest as poor socio-economic conditions such as higher crime rates and low employment. Field writes about two flavours of Social Capital: ‘bonding capital’, which strengthens bonds between sociologically similar groups such as close friends and family; and ‘bridging capital’ which connects members to existing networks originally distinct to their own (Field, 2003). Bourdieu discusses how the bonding capital can be a means to denote or sustain privilege in society (ie the Old Boys’ Clubs) (Nash, 1990), and Putnam similarly states that whilst bonding capital can get one by, bridging capital is required to ‘get ahead’ (Putnam et al., 1994; Woolcock, 1998).
With this in mind, it becomes easier to understand how the activities undertaken by charities are linked to the health of society. As discussed, their activities are generally grassroots in nature and as such can involve producing bonding capital between actors who are their beneficiaries in addition to providing opportunities for developing bridging capital that people would otherwise not be presented with. It is also worth noting that Field discusses that there requires an investment in more than just network building in order for society to benefit from Social Capital – the individuals who form the network must also learn skills in order to benefit each other (Field, 2003). This is also an activity that is generally attended to by charities; organisations within this sector often concern themselves with benefiting others in the form of ‘skills development’ of either specialist forms or of a more generalised and transferable nature that were denied to them because of their existing sociological standing (Anheier et al., 1995).
Like any organisation, charities experience a set of pressures dependent on their circumstances, with the heterogeneity of the sector meaning that each individual organisation will be subject to unique pressures. Generally, however, it is understood that there are a range of pressures that operate on Charities across the board.
As of writing, in the UK we have experienced nearly a decade of austerity politics which has resulted in significant reduction of funding to national services as well as Local Government Organisations (known as Councils) (Reeves et al., 2013; Lowndes & Gardner, 2016). The result of this is that Charities are having to supply people with the services that they require either independently providing services that were once provided by the Councils, or working as a contracted official supplier of a service once provided “in-house” . At the same time, the change in national leadership associated with the austerity agenda has lead to uncertainty in UK charities securing adequate funding to meet their needs as government grants are reduced or disappear entirely .
In response to this shifting environment, many Charities organisations are switching their operational model to that of a Social Enterprise (SE) or Social Entrepreneurship in general (Borzaga & Defourny, 2004). SEs are, yet again, a diverse set of organisations — but one that specifically combines business-like elements, activities and structures from the For-Profit sector and applies them to activities that are intended for social betterment and benefit to society; much like traditional charity organisations (Defourny & Nyssens, 2008; Doherty et al., 2006). Dart broadly describes Social Enterprise as “significantly influenced by business thinking and by a primary focus on results and outcomes for client groups and communities” (Dart, 2004, p.413), and Dees states that Social Enterprise combines the passion of a social mission with an image of business-like discipline (Dees & others, 1998). In practice, this often includes activities and practices that include revenue-source diversification, fee-for-service programs, and partnerships with the private sector . Defourny and Nyssens describe the rise of SEs across the world, and that the UK has used the SE ‘brand’ within policy documents for years, and give as part of the working definition that the organisations profits are “principally reinvested for [a social mission] in the business or community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners” (Defourny & Nyssens, 2008, p.6). This definition shares similarities to that for Charities discussed earlier in the review – however distinctly does not include the requirement that profits cannot be distributed to shareholders, only that they principally are used primarily towards an organisation’s social mission.
SEs are often cited as a solution to the issues being experienced by Charities, but they are not without criticism. Eikenberry writes that organisations adopting a social enterprise model actually poses a threat to civil society (Eikenberry & Kluver, 2004). She argues that change in model leads to a focus on the bottom line and overhead expenditures, and exposes them to market forces that they would otherwise be sheltered from. Aside from the effects on the organisation itself, this exposure means organisations can often adopt “market values” and “entrepreneurial attitudes” which means that the change in their operational model is detrimental to society (Eikenberry & Kluver, 2004). Dart elaborates that SEs differ from traditional NPOs as they generally blur boundaries between nonprofit and for-profit activities, and even enact “hybrid” activities (Dart, 2004). This could include activities such as engaging with marketing contracts as opposed to accepting donations, as well as behaviour such as cutting services that are not deemed to be cost-effective. Whilst there are large implications for organisations accepting funding from for-profit industries, a major implication of changing operational model is that the shift of effort from effective service delivery to financial strategy impacts negatively on the Social Capital that is generated (Eikenberry & Kluver, 2004). This is through less emphasis on building relationships with stakeholders (previously an essential survival strategy) as service users become framed as consumers, and through market pressures diverting resources towards skills such as project management and away from activities that build Social Capital. Doherty et al. echo this in their description of Social Enterprises, distinguishing them from traditional models of Charities by stating that the latter are “more likely to remain dependent on gifts and grants rather than developing true paying customers” (Doherty et al., 2006, p.362). Eikenberry’s concerns are manifested here, as the service user or “beneficiary” of an organisation becomes reframed as a “customer” due to the influence of market forces.
Social Capital plays a significant role in the success of a Charity organisation. As actors within social networks themselves, these organisations need to make use of Social Capital in addition to their pivotal role in producing and sustaining it for others. King writes that Charities were formed using Social Capital and part of their role is to “sustain and broaden” it in order to provide opportunities and make the mundane operation of an organisation smoother (King, 2004). She writes that those in leadership positions within an organisation draw upon techniques such as networking and skills development in order to allow the organisation to perform its work and meet its goals – calling Charities (she uses the term nonprofits) “the epitome of Social Capital in action” as the organisations can not only utilise but spread their Social Capital to others (King, 2004, p.483). Swanson shares these sentiments and explicates that strategic engagement of an organisation’s Social Capital should be a central tenant in its management and leadership, Fredette and Bradshaw echo this and discuss how bonding capital established between those in leadership roles allows them to collectively mobilise through the sharing of information and the building of trust (Swanson, 2013; Fredette & Bradshaw, 2012).
Trust is inextricably tied to Social Capital, as Field discusses that a network with high trust levels operates more efficiently than one with comparably lower levels of trust (Field, 2003). This means that in order for a Charity actor to achieve its goals more effectively, it must be trusted. Whilst it is important to note that there is some disagreement as to the exact nature of Trust within Social Capital ie whether Trust is a product or instigator of Social Capital; it remains that high levels of Trust allows an organisation to operate more effectively, and continue the cycle of production and sustenance of Social Capital for their stakeholders (Field, 2003). Schneier writes on Trust that it is essential for society at large to function (e.g. we trust in our currency, we trust in our qualifications etc.), although on-the-ground Trust plays a key role in accessing resources in the social network, since a transaction between two trusting actors is less expensive (both in terms of emotional labour and financial capital) to facilitate than a similar transaction between two actors lacking trust (Schneier, 2012). Trust, therefore, is an important factor for Charities in the performance of their work as lack of Trust will impede an organisation as much as high Trust will aid them.
It can be said, then, that since Charities perform work that is important to society and needs to be performed, and that since high levels of Trust allows them to operate more effectively; that it is important to society that we trust our Charities organisations to perform the work that they do. However, recent media coverage (at least in the UK) has often portrayed Charities organisations as being irresponsible with funding, ineffective in achieving the outcomes they purport to desire, and in some cases unaccountable for their actions (Benedictus, 2015; Beresford, 2015; Bright, 2015; Laville et al., 2015; Letters, 2016; Smedley, 2015). This review now turns to examining the concepts and mechanisms to which Charities can often be subject to related to their Transparency and Accountability.
This section explores Transparency and Accountability in the context of Charities. This is done so that we may understand the mechanisms by which these organisations may become more trustworthy to their stakeholders, facilitating not only their daily operation (as discussed above) but in doing so; continue producing value for society at large. In understanding the roles that organisational Transparency and Accountability may play in this, we situate the research as operating within these spaces in order to provide a foundational understanding from which to begin working.
Transparency and Accountability are seen increasingly desirable in governments and organisations (Hood, 2010; Oliver, 2004; Heald, 2003). Oliver states that Transparency has “moved over the last several hundred years from an intellectual ideal to centre stage in a drama being played out across the globe in many forms and functions” (Oliver, 2004, p.ix). Corrêa et al. say Transparency and Open Government is “synonymous with efficient and collaborative government” (Correa et al., 2014, p.806), and Steele goes as far to say “Transparency is the new `app’ that launches civilization 2.0” (Steele, 2012, p.70). Non-Profit Organisations (NPOs) in the UK are held to stringent Transparency standards by an organisation known as the Charity Commission, which is responsible for registering and regulating charities in England and Wales “to ensure that the public can support charities with confidence” (UK Government, n.d.b). The development of trust is foundational in the relationship between an organisation and those invested in its activities or performance, known as stakeholders, which is compounded by the notion that a stakeholder in an NPO might not be in direct receipt of its services (MacMillan et al., 2005; Krashinsky, 1997). Beyond this, Accountability is seen as a way of building legitimacy as an organisation (Anheier & Hawkes, 2009). Watchdog organisations such as the Charity Commission and others therefore play an important role in developing stakeholder relationships with NPOs through Transparency measures, making them accountable to those invested in them. Oliver writes that NPO expenditure is often the most “emotional”, and a person’s decision to invest in a charity will be down to how comfortable and confident they are in its operation (Oliver, 2004).
Hood writes that “Transparency is more often preached than practised [and] more often invoked than defined” (Hood, 2006, p.3). This section considers various definitions of Transparency in relation to the UK Charity Commission, NPOs, and the measures that are taken to make them accountable to stakeholders. It also inspects Transparency’s synonymity with Accountability.
As noted, the attributes of Transparency and Accountability are viewed as traits which are increasingly important and attractive traits in governments and organisations, and have moved over the last century from intellectual ideas in the wings to playing a central role across the globe (Oliver, 2004). Corrêa et al say of Transparency and Open Government that it is “synonymous with efficient and collaborative government” (Correa et al., 2014, p.806), and Steele writes that “Transparency is the new app that launches civilization 2.0” Steele (2012). However, the terms are still ambiguous. Hood writes that Transparency is “more often preached than practiced [and] more often invoked than defined” (Hood, 2006, p.3). This section therefore aims to explore various definitions of ‘Transparency’.
According to Meijer, Transparency was historically inherent in the actions and interactions of everyday society since, in “traditional societies” (sic), the density of social networks made one’s actions highly visible (Meijer, 2009). Meijer contrasts this with modern societies where “people do not know each other – many people in cities do not even know their neighbours” and argues that societies which operate at a larger scale suffer a decline in social control, which calls for new forms of Transparency that match the scale of the society (Meijer, 2009, p.261). The term Transparency has been a watch-word for governance since the late 20th century, yet its roots stretch back much further. Hood identifies three ‘strains’ of pre-20th-century thought that are at least partial predecessors to Transparency’s modern doctrine: rule-governed administration; candid and open social communication; and ways of making organisation and society ‘knowable’ (Hood, 2006).
The first of these “strains” of thought, Rule-governed administration, is the idea that government should operate in accordance to fixed and predictable rules and Hood calls it the “one of the oldest ideas in political thought” (Hood, 2006, p.5). This notion may be summarised effectively with the platitude of “a government of laws and not men”, where the laws are stable and governing is thus not subject to the discretionary attitudes of individuals. The second strain, Candid and Open social communication, had its early proponents liken Transparency to one’s “natural state”, and it saw an implementation in the ‘town meeting’ method of governance where members of the town would deliberate in the presence of one another – making all deals transparent and ensuring all parties were mutually accountable (Hood, 2006). The third of form of proto-Transparency doctrines, is the notion the social world can be made ‘knowable’ through methods or techniques that act as counterparts to studying natural or physical phenomena. Hood describes an 18th-century “police science” which exposed the public to view through the introduction of street lighting or open spaces, as well as the publication of information (all of which designed to help prevent crime) (Hood, 2006).
When viewed in this historical context, from these different perspectives, it can be said that Transparency is inherently concerned with information; access to it, and effective use of it. Oliver describes Transparency as having three key components: something (or someone) to be observed; someone to observe it; and the means supporting such an observation (Oliver, 2004). Heald discusses how these first two components can manifest in modern Transparencies with a property of directionality; a direction being an indicator of who is visible to whom (Heald, 2006). Heald conceptualises four directions of Transparency that exist across two axis: Upwards and Downwards; Inwards and Outwards (Heald, 2006).
The ‘vertical’ axis (Upwards and Downwards) refers to position in a given hierarchy, such as found within an organisation or a nation. An Upwards Transparency would indicate that those higher in a hierarchy can observe the conduct, behaviour or actions of those below them, whilst Downwards Transparency would mean that those higher on the ladder are made observable by those below them (Heald, 2006). The ‘horizontal’ axis (Inwards and Outwards) refers to relative position to an organisation and whether one can observe or be observed by it (Heald, 2006). An Inwards Transparency would mean that those external to an organisation may see into it, and conversely an Outwards Transparency would denote situations wherein an organisation may peer ‘out’ and monitor its habitat or other actors.
These forms of Transparency can (and often do) coexist simultaneously in a given situation, and any combination. Further to this, operation of a direction across one axis does not preclude the existence of its counterpart. For example, there may be a situation which can be described as possessing both Upwards and Downwards Transparencies. When this occurs Heald describes that axis as having “symmetry” (Heald, 2006). Real world examples can be analysed in this manner; a government’s surveillance of its citizens (or a private company’s surveillance of its workers) can be described as a combination of Downwards and Outwards Transparencies. The inverse of this situation, Upwards and Inwards, has also been encapsulated with the term ‘Sousveillance’ – a term coined by Mann meaning “to watch from below” (Mann, 2004). Mann gives two possible interpretations of the term Sousveillance. The first, as discussed, is an inversion of Surveillance formed by Upwards and Inwards Transparencies allowing citizens to capture abuses of power by those in positions of authority such e.g. by police officers at street level (Mann, 2004). The second interpretation of Sousveillance specifically refers to the relative positions of cameras in physical space such as the proliferation of cameras attached to modern smartphones. It can be argued that this has enabled the first form of Sousveillance, and that abuses of power that have always occurred and that they are only now being witnessed en masse . However, with the advent of digital monitoring endorsed by governments and corporate bodies, and the possibilities of these actors utilising citizenry’s smartphones – this means that Sousveillance can also have implications for the Downwards and Outwards forms Transparency discussed in the context of traditional surveillance. In addition to this, Ganascia also discusses how an increased desire for access to public information has lead to aspirations for “total Transparency” (sic), which in the US has resulted in government endorsement of data sharing (Sometimes called ‘Open Government’ or ‘Government 2.0’) (Ganascia, 2010). There have been similar moves in the UK (e.g. data.gov.uk) which are designed to improve the delivery and Transparency of public services (Shadbolt et al., 2012).
As noted, the increased desire for public access to information from and about their governments has often lead to the provision of this information, theoretically allowing a concerned citizen to look Upwards and Inwards into the machinery of their state.
The sharing of information, however, does not constitute the entirety of Transparency. As discussed, the historical context of Transparency appears concerned with two aspects of information; access to it is indeed one of these, however the effective use of such data is also an important factor. Schauer writes of Transparency that it cannot be simply equated with knowledge, and at best facilitates it: for information or processes to be Transparent he defines the criteria of being “open and available for scrutiny” (Schauer, 2011, p.1343). This definition notably lacks an explanation how groups or individuals may make use of information, and the cost for them to access it. Hood also acknowledges this as a tension between the historical “Town Hall” forms of Transparency, related to Candid and Open Social Communication, and its distant cousin concerned with accounting and book-keeping (Hood, 2006).
It is this concern with accounting and book-keeping that is most often associated with Transparency in common parlance. In this context there are also distinct flavours of Transparency that must be acknowledged. In government and business, Transparency can take the form of releasing information concerned with accounts and expenditure on a regular or semi-regular basis. Oliver discusses how this is an older form of Transparency and almost purely reactive – often in response to a scandal (Oliver, 2004). Further to this, Oliver writes that the Old Transparency is giving way to what he calls the ‘New Transparency’, which is more proactive and the taking on a stance of “active disclosure” (Oliver, 2004). Similar to Oliver, Schauer provides a discussion on the dualistic nature of Transparency divided across the same lines of passiveness vs activity – to the point where he names the twin forms of Transparency “Passive Transparency” and “Active Transparency” (Schauer, 2011). From this point, Oliver and Schauer’s discussions converge along similar lines. Old and Passive Transparency is concerned only with information being made available “for others to see if they so choose, or perhaps think to look, or have the time, means and skills to look” (Oliver, 2004, p.3); which resembles the discussion that definitions of Transparency often don’t consider how stakeholders may access or understand information about an actor. New and Active Transparency is not only demanding, but concerned with information’s interpretation and access and should be thought of as of communication concerned with the organisation’s responsibilities. Heald discusses a very similar division of Transparency which he calls “Nominal Transparency” vs “Effective Transparency” (Heald, 2006). The term “Nominal Transparency” describes something similar to the Old and Passive Transparencies outlined by both Oliver and Schauer, but more ominous. Heald says that whilst Transparency of any given organisation may increase on an index, there is a divergence with Effective Transparency to the point where it is Transparency only in name – creating an illusion of Transparency. For Transparency to be effective, Heald writes that there must be receptors capable of receiving, processing, and utilising the information (Heald, 2006).
Heald’s dichotomy between Nominal and Effective Transparency sits alongside two other similar dichotomies that he describes as being important factors to discussion of the term: Real-Time vs Retrospective Transparencies; and Event vs Process Transparencies (Heald, 2006). The first dichotomy deals with the variable of time in the availability of information as a Real-Time Transparency would take a form of continuous surveillance such as that enabled by modern technologies such as CCTV or (a little less odious) open data APIs which may be continuously polled to retrieve fresh, up-to-date, data. Retrospective Transparency describes a reporting cycle during which an organisation operates and then prepares an account of activity. The second pairing of Event and Process Transparencies concerns the subject of the Transparency. Event Transparencies describe objects or states that that are more easily measurable than their counterparts, Processes, which are more likely to be described in attempt to be Transparent rather than reported on. Events and Processes are inherently linked, as it requires a Process to turn one Event into another form of Event, such as an Input into an Output via a Transformation process. A concrete example of this would be financial input being transformed via action or spending into an output, and then later linked into an outcome for reporting. Of these Events, Inputs are the easiest to measure and can be measured directly. Outputs can also be measured although such measurements are effectively proxies related to activities undertaken, and linking these to outcomes can be a difficult or impossible task (Heald, 2006).
The imposition of Transparency measures is generally seen as tantamount to ensuring the Accountability of institutions, organisations, or individuals in power; and often the terms are used interchangeably (Fox, 2007; Hood, 2010). The two terms, however, are separate and have their own (if somewhat malleable) definitions (Fox, 2007). Fox discusses Accountability in terms of “the capacity or right to demand answers” or the “capacity to sanction”, whereas Transparency concerns itself with the public’s right and ability to access information; and whilst common wisdom dictates that Transparency generates Accountability, this assumption is challenged when held to scrutiny (Fox, 2007). Fox’s analysis of Transparency divides it into two categories – Clear Transparency and Opaque or Fuzzy Transparency – which closely resemble Schauer and Oliver’s definitions of the Active or New Transparency and the Passive or Old Transparency (Schauer, 2011; Oliver, 2004; Fox, 2007). Fox argues the importance of this distinction lies in the fact that as Transparency becomes an increasingly desirable term, opponents will express their dissent through provision of fuzzy Transparency. This is data which lacks information that can reveal organisational behaviour and thus cannot be used to generate Accountability (Fox, 2007). The Clear Transparency alluded to by Fox is defined as “information-access policies [and] programmes that reveal reliable information about institutional performance, specifying officials’ responsibilities [and] where public funds go” (Fox, 2007, p.667). Importantly, though Clear Transparency is concerned with organisational behaviour, it is not sufficient to generate Accountability – which requires the intervention of other actors (Fox, 2007). Accountability is also explained by Fox as either Soft Accountability (the ability to demand answers) and Hard Accountability (the ability to issue sanctions).
Fox stipulates that appropriate levels of Clear Transparency gives the public the ability to perceive problems, and to demand answers – which is a form of Soft Accountability known as answerability (Fox, 2007). Further forms of Accountability are founded on the ability to not only reveal existing data, but to investigate and produce information about organisational behaviour (Fox, 2007).
Anheir and Hawkes reflect Fox’s sentiment in their discussion of Accountability, where they describe Accountability as a “multi-dimensional concept that needs unpacking before becoming a useful policy concept and management tool”, and note that in the case of trans-national organisations; Accountability itself is a problem, and not simply a solution (Anheier & Hawkes, 2009, p.132). This discussion, whilst focusing on the difficulty of regulating Accountability across national borders, has insight into the ways that Transparency mechanisms may not be adequate for generating true Accountability in NPOs. They highlight how it is often media companies that reveal ‘unethical behaviour’ to the public, rather than formal auditing bodies – an example from the UK would be how the NPO Kid’s Company experienced negative media coverage over their closure relating to alleged misuse of funds (Elgot, 2015; Anheier & Hawkes, 2009). Anheir and Hawkes also draw on Koppel’s ‘Five Dimensions of Accountability’ framework – which imbues Accountability with a five-part typology: Transparency; liability; controllability; responsibility; and responsiveness (Anheier & Hawkes, 2009; Koppell, 2005).
Koppel avoids trying to produce a definitive definition of Accountability, stating “[to layer] every imagined meaning of Accountability into a single definition would render the concept meaningless”, and the five-dimensional typology is instead designed to facilitate discussion of the term (Koppell, 2005, p.95). Transparency features prominently in the typology, with Koppell referring to it as one of “foundations, supporting notions that underpin Accountability in all of its manifestations” alongside liability (Koppell, 2005, p.96). Liability, according to Koppell, is the attachment of consequences to performance and culpability to Transparency – punishing organisations or individuals for failure, and rewarding them for successes (Koppell, 2005). In this, the ‘foundational’ dimensions of Koppell’s typology are aligned with Fox’s definitions of Accountability which covers the capacity of demanding answers and to sanction, with Transparency as the ability to access the information in the first place (Koppell, 2005; Fox, 2007).
The remaining three dimensions of Koppell’s typology: controllability; responsibility; and responsiveness are all built upon the foundations of Transparency and Liability. Controllability is a form of Accountability where if "X can induce the behaviour of Y [then] X controls Y [and] Y is accountable to X (Koppell, 2005). Koppell notes that Controllability can be difficult in organisations that have multiple stakeholders to whom the organisation is supposed to be controlled by (Koppell, 2005), though is also unclear when describing the physical mechanisms by which an organisation may be controlled by other stakeholders. Romzek and Dubnick’s description of systems such as internal Bureaucratic and external Legal systems, as well as Political responsiveness, being utilised to control an organisation (Romzek & Dubnick, 1987) would indicate that mechanisms which produce Controllability are situated within the Responsibility and Responsiveness areas of the typology. Responsibility denotes the constraint of behaviour through laws, rules, or norms such as legal frameworks or professional standards of conduct (Romzek & Dubnick, 1987; Koppell, 2005).
Romzek and Dubnick use the term Political Accountability here, describing the relationship between those in a political office and their constituents, but the term could be applied to an organisation required to meet the needs of beneficiaries and thus falls into Koppell’s typology under Responsiveness. Responsiveness in the typology describes organisation’s attention to the needs of its clients, as opposed to the following of hierarchical orders (Koppell, 2005).
In the context of this typology, Koppell also puts forward a state resultant from an organisation’s engagement with the various forms of Accountability. Multiple Accountability Disorder (MAD) is framed as a condition afflicting organisations which attempt to engage in multiple, conflicting, forms of Accountability simultaneously; negatively affecting their ability to operate and perform their work as an organisation and dissatisfying the actors whom they are expected to be accountable to (Koppell, 2005). This is because the various forms of Accountability are rarely ever differentiated in practice, and “Organizations are often expected to be accountable – explicitly or implicitly – in every sense” (Koppell, 2005, p.99). An organisation may experience MAD as a conflict between adhering to expected professional standards and responding directly to the orders of a stakeholder and in some cases, multiple stakeholders may issue contradictory directives to an organisation that are expected to be obeyed (Koppell, 2005).
This section has considered the nature and implications of various forms of Transparency and Accountability to Charities. By grounding this as both a concern for these civic organisations as well as a complex space which must be navigated, I hope to have set the scene for the potential of digital technologies to explore and support Charities organisations in becoming more transparent and accountable.
This review therefore now turns to examining the ways in which digital technologies may be designed to support this important part of life as a Charity organisation and therefore aid them in performing their important civic role.
Transparency and Accountability can be said to be ultimately concerned with the sharing of information and the creation of pathways or mechanisms that allows stakeholders to act in accordance to it. Meijer argues that “Modern Transparency is computer-mediated Transparency” (Meijer, 2009, p.258), and Oliver goes as far to posit that digital technologies have sparked a self-sustaining Information - Transparency Cycle which is “unstoppable” and that information is now a commodity which is cheap to collect, organise, analyse, and distribute; the result of which is a reaction to missing information and a return to the collection phase (Oliver, 2004). Similarly, Steele, in his Open Source Everything Manifesto reflects on the ways in which the Internet has enabled the public to overcome previous restrictions on access to information and states, in no unclear terms, “This bodes well for humanity” (Steele, 2012, p.85).
Broadly, there are several strands of research into digital technologies that support interacting with information and data in this way; primarily these can be encapsulated within the areas of Open Data, and Human-Data Interaction (HDI) although the inter-disciplinary nature of HCI as a whole means that the subject matter naturally intersects or otherwise touches upon other research within the field. Also pertinent to the focus of this thesis is the broader “open” culture online (Open Source Software, Open Data, Open-Source Intelligence etc), as it often intersects with Transparency and Accountability in various ways.
This section thus explores the potential and implications for how data may be produced and appropriated by charities and their stakeholders through a discussion first around examples of Open Source and Open Licensing online, grounding these as historical precedent for digital forms of Accountability, and then discusses the design implications of interacting with data through Open Data, Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) and Human-Data Interaction. It then turns to the pragmatic and investigates previous HCI research into previous examples pertaining to enabling interactions with finances.
Calls for greater Transparency from government often result in the production of information in the form of Open Data. Open Data is “data that anyone can access, use, or share” (Open Data Institute, 2017). It consists of organised data that is, generally, structured and placed online so that it may be consumed for use. Open Data can be produced, shared, and used by many people in many different contexts (e.g. scientific data sets, or government collection of environmental data). Often, it is parsed or processed in some way by digital technologies, and multiple datasets may also be combined in order to produce a desired insight for the stakeholder(s) consuming the data.
Of particular importance to Open Data is, almost ironically, licensing. Due to the presence of intellectual property laws in most legal jurisdictions; the reuse and redistribution of data is likely prohibited without explicit permission (Open Knowledge Foundation, n.d.). For this reason there exists a number of licenses online that guarantee these rights to stakeholders such as the Open Government License in the UK (UK Government, n.d.a) or the Creative Commons family of licenses (Creative Commons, n.d.). These licenses may trace their lineage back to the Free and Open Source software movements which have historically embedded values of openness and public access to information within their tools and distribution models.
Camp frames the access to source of a given piece of software as a form of Transparency and Accountability (Camp, 2006), a sentiment shared by various advocacy groups promoting end-user interaction with the software tools over proprietary alternatives (Pfaff & David, 1998; Balter, 2015). Camp outlines how that human-readable source code (specifically, source code that is not deliberately obfuscated) can be ‘audited’ similar to to an ‘open book’ form of Transparency. Camp then transposes these concepts into governance processes; where ‘open’ code could be compared to digitised versions of an organisation’s governance processes. With an open model, an organisation could be held to the same scrutiny as Open Source or Free Software source code (Camp, 2006).
Free Software in particular also demands a particular form of Accountability through specific use-cases, namely that of programmers deriving work from it. Free Software is often released under ‘restrictive’ or ‘copyleft’ licenses (e.g. the General Public License or GPL (Free Software Foundation, 2007)) which legally enforce that derivative software, or new software including Free-licensed code as a component, is also released holistically under the same license and thus under the same terms – enforcing access to the source. Stallman’s original GNU manifesto outlines the reasons why his GNU system employs a form of viral licensing: “Control over the use of one’s ideas’ really constitutes control over people’s lives; and it usually used to make their lives more difficult” (Stallman & others, 1985, p.9). In this, Stallman declares a unique form of Accountability that can almost be seen as paradoxical – one that explicitly controls the actions of a particular group (programmers) in order to dictate that they relinquish control over another group (end-users access to and subsequent use of software tools).
The rise of Open Data and digitally-mediated forms of Transparency brings about questions of how digital technologies may be designed to support people interacting with such data. Since the result of entities such as governments and charities trying to produce Transparency and Accountability is often information in the form of Open Data, interacting with data is ultimately how people will be interacting with these entities themselves. Therefore interactions with data, and how digital technologies may be designed to support these interactions must be considered.
Human Data Interaction (HDI) is a coalescing field that is concerned with the social world of how people interact with data about themselves and others. Whilst it considers technical infrastructure surrounding data (McAuley et al., 2011), HDI also brings data’s role as a ‘Boundary Object’ (Leigh Star & Griesemer, 1989) to the fore and considers its role as a pervasive aspect of everyday life in terms of how to enable citizens to interact with this data in a more explicit fashion (Mortier et al., 2014).
A ‘Boundary Object’ is anything which may be recognised across different social ‘worlds’, yet may be appropriated and adapted by the needs of individuals and groups in a manner that pertains to their specific needs and context. Star and Griesemer describe Boundary Objects as “both plastic enough to adapt to local needs … yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites” (Leigh Star & Griesemer, 1989, p.393) A good example of this is a receipt of purchase; it is unarguably a receipt, yet may be used by the bank to verify a purchase, by a store to prove that you own the items you’ve purchased, and proof that a transaction has occurred between your bank account and a store. Further to this, Crabtree and Mortier elaborate that Boundary Objects are “inherently social” and possess a “processual character” as part of the infrastructure of everyday life. To this end, they argue that Data is not so much an object in-and-of-itself but rather an object that is inherently embedded in human relationships (Crabtree & Mortier, 2015).
Data’s use as a Boundary Object is demonstrated effectively by the rise in personal informatics. In the Quantified Self movement, individuals collect and process various forms and sources of data about them as individuals, generally for the purposes of recording progress towards various goals (Swan, 2009, 2013). Contrasting the movement’s general use of data as a pragmatic, goal-oriented object, Elsden et al demonstrate that data can be experienced by people in many ways and can serve different purposes such as providing playful ways to engage with each other and one’s own data (Elsden & Kirk, 2014; Elsden, Nissen, et al., 2016). In particular, it is posited that data can offer an ‘alternative lens’ that other media does not, allowing people to view or represent an event in a different ways than originally envisioned and one that can be combined with other more traditional forms of documenting; and in doing so indicates that the record is always unfinalised and is continuously open to reinterpretation (Elsden et al., 2017).
Additionally, Data as a Boundary Object has place within an organisational context, offering opportunities to use and present data in an exploratory context in people’s shared worlds. In an academic context (most UK Universities possess charitable status and thus belong to the Third Sector), visualising research funding across the institution was found to act as a means of supporting members of staff in understanding the funding landscape of the organisation and in communicating narratives to the outside world around perceived successes. The system (and by extension, its data) was also found to support the review and contesting of data when multiple interpretations were available, and Elsden et al explicitly note its implications for organisational Transparency; with the caveat that a major design question raised by the research is whether contextualisation should occur merely through the data, or in conversation around it (Elsden, Mellor, et al., 2016).
As discussed, the presentation of information is not enough to engage in more modern forms of transparent practice; and the use of data (however nicely it may be visualised) is no exception to this and risks simply rehashing the older forms of Transparency with faster production of data. Cornford et al write that the UK Government’s agenda of producing Open Government Data (OGD) fails to address the questions of how information is to be interpreted for local contexts; mirroring the concerns of Elsden et al around how data should be contextualised (Cornford et al., 2013). Cornford et al argue that a wealth of open and structured data merely provides a ‘view from nowhere’ and that the true challenge lies in developing the interpretive communities that will utilise the information effectively (Cornford et al., 2013). Supporting this, Puussaar et al write that, in addition to barriers around access and limitations, there are barriers around “effective use” of data within communities, and their research elaborates on a co-design process and platform to tackle this challenge in the civic context (Puussaar et al., 2018).
Sense making and engagement stemming from the use of Open Data draws upon the field known as ‘Open-Source Intelligence’ (OSINT). Generally, OSINT concerns itself with the gathering of intelligence for problem solving from various public information sources (Bradbury, 2011; Glassman & Kang, 2012). This places it in contrast to other forms of intelligence-gathering which are generally performed using specialist or secret sources of information. Traditionally, this would look like utilising sources such as newspapers and public records but in the modern era sources such as Open Data and Social Media profiles may be used as viable sources of information to begin making steps towards solving intelligence problems (Bizer, 2009).
The implications of an Open Data-fuelled OSINT for Transparency and Accountability are evident. As discussed, OSINT is concerned primarily with the application of information to solve issues or answer questions, so it stands to reason that an adequate data infrastructure would allow for (or even promote) engagement of stakeholders in OSINT for asking questions of charitable organisations (the ‘Habit of Engagement alluded to earlier (Gordon & Baldwin-Philippi, 2013)). At the very least, such an infrastructure would enable the organisations to produce effective and interactive responses to queries around the performance of their work and their spending.
Steele discusses the power of OSINT at length. Coming from a position that “the one unlimited resource in the world is the human brain” (Steele, 2012, p.146), Steele puts forward that the engendering of Transparency via the production of Open Data, and the resultant OSINT practices, would lead to a systematic practice of exchanging information openly (Steele, 2012). This would then allow societal actors and stakeholders to evaluate and respond to complex problems (Steele, 2012). Whilst Steele refers directly to engagement with Governmental processes, this could see use in the Third Sector as well; when a charity could present information about their work within the context of complexity. A pragmatic example that might be most interesting for charities is the example of a ‘True Cost’ calculation – wherein the True Cost of a white cotton T-Shirt is outlined in economic, societal, and environmental terms (Steele, 2012).
In the context of charities, Erete et al explore how NPOs use Open Data technologies to support their practice through practices resembling OSINT Erete et al. (2016). Data is largely used to create a narrative and engage in a story-telling practice around particular goals which differ in context – e.g. making grant applications, or internal management functions. Organisations are shown to combine multiple sources of data into a narrative, as well as being able to derive multiple narratives from a single data set Erete et al. (2016). Further to this, they discuss how NPOs operate with limited resources and as such may benefit from services such as Data Portals to enable them to acquire data easily to produce these valuable narratives, and put forward that additional value is created via such portals when they act to build or strengthen relationships between those seeking to use the data and those possessing skills or knowledge around its analysis. From the perspective of Transparency and Accountability, it stands to reason that systems can be developed that allows charities (NPOs) to engage actively in the data collection process, and allow them to construct multiple, and varied narratives from personal data sets that can be used in similar contexts to those described by Erete et al – ie supporting grant applications and internal management procedures, but also additional cases such as evidencing their work by retrieving and presenting information collected about it.
In summation, digital technologies surrounding Open Data and its use as a Boundary Object have strong implications for the support of Charities in terms of Transparency and Accountability. Use of data has in the past demonstrated a usefulness in civic and academic contexts, supporting processes that are integral to Transparency (review and contesting), as well as potentially acting as a vector to allowing stakeholders to explore the complexities orbiting particular topics such True Cost, and therefore spending. With this in mind the discussion now turns to previous HCI work in the area of interacting with finances.
HCI research has previously concerned itself with investigating the ways in which can facilitate people’s interactions around money. Work has largely been focused on small scale interactions such as those found at individual or family/small-group level. Examples include studies investigating how people manage personal finances in particular circumstances, as well as how people engaged with money on an experiential level (Vines et al., 2014, 2011). At larger scales, HCI has also taken into account the social world around financial transactions to theorise around the design of potential future payment systems (Ferreira et al., 2015); and alternative forms of capital such as cryptocurrencies and the surrounding Blockchain technologies have are said to have Accountability baked into the infrastructure of the systems themselves (Birch & Parulava, 2018). Previous HCI work demonstrates that people interact with money and their personal finances in a number of ways. Kaye et al discuss how interaction can play out at an emotional level; as individuals may make decisions that do not appear ‘rational’ from a purely financial perspective but are instead driven by other factors such as personal history or experience with debt (Kaye et al., 2014). A second facet is a form of management of ‘pots’ of money. In this context, money is not treated as a single entity but divided up along lines such as origin or intended use, and people use a variety of self-made or adaptable tools (both digital and analogue) in order to achieve this management; such as folders, notebooks, and spreadsheets (Kaye et al., 2014). This practice of dividing money semantically is notably also shown in the work of Vines et al when studying techniques people use to manage a low income (Vines et al., 2014). Finally, dealing with the unknown or ‘higher powers’ is an important facet of people’s relationships with money as they may lack important information held about them by other actors; such as their current Credit Scores (often used as a measure of financial health in the US), and they understand that their personal futures may contain events that they have not financially planned or accounted for (Kaye et al., 2014). Vines et al go on to describe how the systems people implement can give them a ‘confidence through awareness’ which may act as a ballast that partly allays their fears (Vines et al., 2014).
At the community Scale, Ferreira et al explored the social world surrounding money, specifically a community currency known as the Bristol Pound (Ferreira et al., 2015). Their work discusses how exchanges of money using the currency shared aspects of a conversation, as the transactors would engage in social interactions that were unbounded by the settings roles such as ‘shopkeeper’ and ‘customer’, prompted by the technology use required to pay with the currency. Further to this, the use of the shared currency (and the technological systems supporting it) gave the transactors an indication of shared values and interests (Ferreira et al., 2015).
Other instances of digital technologies supporting group use of money is the use of ‘Crowdfunding’ websites such as Kickstarter, or GoFundMe. In particular, the language and mechanisms of these sites share similarities with the process of donating to charities. These sites offer options wherein donors to a particular fund may have their donation returned if, for example, the total requested amount of donations has not been met. Beltran et al extend this concept further with their deployment of ‘Codo‘ which they describe as “Fundraising with Conditional Donations” (Beltran et al., 2015). In this deployment, Beltran et al describe how they developed a logical grammar which allows a donor on the system to more richly prescribe (or describe) the conditions of their donation, such as matching funds from other individuals or those within a defined group. Whilst this system does not proffer much in the way of exploring how organisations can report back on their expenditure, it presents the case that conditions may be put forward and codified as a means of providing a rudimentary Accountability; as an organisation may need to attract the support of more than disparate groups in order to receive their donations. This opens up the possibility that a system may be developed with an ’Accountability spin’, where conditions are put upon funds by Funding bodies that request reimbursement under the event that conditions that they set out are not adequately met.
It is also important to note that my previous work has explicitly explored how Transparency and Accountability are, as of writing, poorly supported by digital technologies (Marshall et al., 2016). This findings of this initial, exploratory, work highlights similarities between how individuals semantically divide money into ‘pots’ and how charities’ finances are often restricted to particular use-cases due to how charity funding operates. This study also indicated that it may be appropriate to shift focus from financial Transparency towards making organisations ‘visible’. This harks back to the historical roots of Transparency as a part-Science of making the social world knowable discussed earlier (Hood, 2006). The means to achieve this would be to produce a more qualitative form of accounting and supporting the interrogation of information collected by using standardised web technologies.
This review has introduced the research space of how digital technologies may be designed to support the Transparency and Accountability of Charities organisations, grounded these terms with explorations of both Transparency and Accountability as well as what the definitions and concerns of charitable organisations are. This has also been framed as a work of Digital Civics, where work within this sector sits within this particular research space and contributes to the continued development of Digital Civics research. This review now turns to the opportunities of pursuing research into these matters.
One of the key opportunities research in this space lay in the fact that despite there being a lot of work discussing what forms of Transparency and Accountability exist (Hood, 2010; Oliver, 2004; Heald, 2003), and what these may look like as modern digital initiatives around Open Data (Coleman et al., 2013; Gordon & Baldwin-Philippi, 2013; Bloom, 2013), and the shortcomings of these (Cornford et al., 2013; Puussaar et al., 2018; Marshall et al., 2016); there is as of yet no work discussing how these transparencies are produced on-the-ground. My previous work highlights how charities in the UK context are obligated to produce reports around work and spending (Marshall et al., 2016) yet this failed to produce the intended results in Kidz Company (Elgot, 2015; Bright, 2015) – therefore understanding and designing for front-line production of new forms of Transparency and Accountability in charities is not only an opportunity but also an imperative if Digital Civics is concerned with this space.
Related opportunities also include the design requirements for these interactions supporting Transparency and Accountability. Where there is existing work understanding people’s personal interactions with finances (Kaye et al., 2014; Vines et al., 2014; Beltran et al., 2015), and I call for more qualitative forms of accounting (Marshall et al., 2016) to make organisations visible; there has not been other work understanding what the requirements of such qualitative financial are or what interactions such data would support. Further to this we see how data and Open Data’s position as a boundary object lends itself to a multitude of possible human interactions (Elsden & Kirk, 2014; Elsden, Nissen, et al., 2016) however we have not specifically seen what the interfaces and interactions with data are that support Accountability and Transparency in this space. While I have produced an initial foray into the concerns of funders and stakeholders (Marshall et al., 2016) there is potential for understanding and designing for their needs further. Considering Digital Civics’ desire to reframe interactions into a relational context, there is also scope to explore newer and more relational forms of Transparency that may be enabled through the design of digital technologies.
In the context of Digital Civics, there are additional opportunities to explore the implications of working with and within Charities, in terms of how HCI and Design may affect civic life. Although I have cited a lot of recent Digital Civics work at the start of this review, a lot of it was performed concurrently to this research and has involved different methodologies, foci, and relationships with partners. Therefore research into this space is an important context for Digital Civics work more broadly to consider.
This chapter has discussed the background and literature of intersecting fields that inform this research. I began with grounding the topic of the research as one situated within the scope of Digital Civics research, one particularly focused on local engagements with charitable organisations. I then produced a workable definition of the types of organisation I was discussing as “Charities”, and explored their concerns focusing on the importance of Transparency and Accountability to these organisations and the challenges inherent in grappling with these.
I then turned to explore the use of digital technologies to begin addressing the challenges through intersecting strands of research into Open Data, interactions with data, and interactions with finances. Finally, I discussed the opportunities and imperatives for further research into this topic. This thesis therefore turns now to a review of the methodology that this research used to properly investigate the opportunities in this space.
This chapter discusses the investigative and analytical traditions of this thesis and how they were applied during the various stages of research that captures. As this research considers workplace settings its primary focus it is to be expected that the framing of the thesis, the analytical heritage, and practical application of methods all draw from established realms that centre the performance of work (and the implications thereof).
First the chapter considers the thesis’ place within the tradition of Workplace Studies. Setting out the characteristics of a workplace study; it outlines how these are useful and appropriate for the thesis’ focus and outlines how the subject matter and setting of the research within Digital Civics and HCI make it a natural fit for this framing. After establishing this I then turn to outline the thesis’ Orientations to Analysis wherein the analytical methods I described and justified. Alongside outlining my chosen analytical tools I spend some time along with some background to illustrate how the marriage of these frameworks is both appropriate and complementary given the subject of my investigations. After the investigation has been grounded in its traditions the chapter turns to the pragmatic and details how the research was actually enacted. I first present an Overview and Timeline of the research and delineate how each phase of the study was enacted and contributed to the investigation.
Finally, I end this chapter by recounting a Description of Methods used to perform fieldwork, design my interventions, and analyse data collected. These are situated within the traditions I outline in previous sections.
This section situates the thesis within the tradition of a workplace study. Workplace Studies are a form of research that concern themselves with how workplace activities are organised and, in particular, the roles in which technologies play in assisting workers organising mundane activities and collaborative tasks (Heath et al., 2000).
Workplace studies came to be established within HCI and closely related fields such as Computer Supported Co-operative Work (CSCW) and Information Systems (IS) as a result of these areas of study moving beyond the scope of examining a single user utilising a single interface to consider group settings, as well as important revelations by Suchman that more consideration needed to be paid to the nature of interactions as situated in settings and context (Suchman, 1987, 1995). Kuutti and Bannon discuss a “turn to practice” within the scope of HCI and related fields, that encompasses this shift in focus from laboratory studies to studying and designing for real-world practices as they occur (Kuutti & Bannon, 2014). Schmidt writes of the critical role workplace studies have in dismantling supposedly common-sense notions of cooperative work by uncovering how it is routinely accomplished (Schmidt, 2000).
Within CSCW and HCI Workplace Studies have been used to inform systems design at various stages of design research. Plowman et al note three phases of design where workplace studies have been used: Initial Research and Implications; Design and Change Phase; and the Evaluation and Development Phase (Plowman et al., 1995). The research encapsulated in this thesis covers all three of these phases situating it firmly within the tradition of Workplace Studies through its methods and narrative.
Workplace Studies have close ties with ethnography, particularly the analytical framing and studies of work practice (Nilsson, 2005). The value of findings from studying work places is core to one of the goals of this thesis to understand how financial practices and Transparency obligations of a charity manifest in daily workplace practices so that they may inform design. Heath et al demonstrate how a workplace study may be used to derive implications for systems that support work practice with their analysis of dealers in a London securities house (Heath et al., 1994). Through analysis of the systematic way that dealers organise and co-produce their trading they elicit how systems may be better designed to support this work such as “Pen-based” systems to capture gestures that make the actions of others obvious and visible. In addition to providing the implications for specific workplaces Heath et al demonstrate the generalisability of their findings; highlighting the broader moves towards seamlessness between individual and collaborative activities through systems that enable cooperative editing. This thesis works within this tradition both practically and theoretically with the first phase of research embodying the Initial Research and Implications phase described by Plowman. In Chapter 3 I describe the performance of an ethnographic study of work practice which elicited initial findings and implications for the design of systems produced and evaluated later in the research. These “Implications for Design” (Dourish, 2006) address the research’s request for empirical data on what is done (and how) to produce Transparency in a setting.
The Design and Change phase of a workplace study is concerned with the production of prototypes or change in working practices (Plowman et al., 1995), and this is detailed further in Chapter 5.
Lastly, the Evaluation and Deployment phase of a workplace study is presented in Chapter 6 of the thesis. In this phase I take the prototype systems that were implemented in the previous phase (and the design of which was informed by the first phase) and evaluate them over an extended period. This sits comfortably in the tradition of previous cases such as Sanderson’s case study of the implementation of a video conferencing system (Sanderson, 1992), Bowers’ work within the UK Central Government (Bowers, 1994), and Rogers’ evaluation of a multi-user system in a London workplace through field visits (Rogers, 1994).
This section describes how I went about collecting data for this thesis and describes my analytical orientations to the field site(s) and the data that I collected.
The goal of this research was to understand the ways in which Transparency and Accountability are “done” in charitable organisations with specific regard to the role which digital technologies may play in facilitating this, and to provide these understandings as insights that may be used for design workers and researchers in this space. Following the tradition of a Workplace Study, I needed to understand the setting, then design for it or intervene some way, and then evaluate my designs (Plowman et al., 1995). In order to understand the setting I employed fieldwork techniques that were oriented towards producing materials for design (Randall et al., 2007; Crabtree et al., 2012).
Fieldwork for Design (Randall et al., 2007) situates fieldwork and ethnographic materials as being valuable to design. It can be used to establish a corpus of data from which, through analysis, one can derive materials that are used to inform design (Randall et al., 2007, p.147). This has bearing not only on the immediate research presented in this thesis, but adds to a broader corpus of data about particular settings to support researchers and designers understanding the similarities and differences in them. This material can then be used to inform requirements when designing through the analytical process of structuring the data collected through fieldwork (Randall et al., 2007, p.148).
There are many different ways one can orient the performance of fieldwork when collecting data and performing analysis (Randall et al., 2007; Crabtree et al., 2012, 2009). My particular orientations to the analysis of a field setting were heavily inspired by Crabtree et al.’s Doing Design Ethnography (Crabtree et al., 2012) which provided a practical set of instructions for orienting oneself to the fieldsite and collecting fieldwork data. This manifested chiefly as an orientation to the ‘work practices’ of the settings so that they may be described and used as material for design (Crabtree et al., 2012). Here the term ‘work practices’ is used to refer to the methodical ways that tasks and work are accomplished at the fieldsite [(Button, 2012; Randall et al., 2007; Crabtree et al., 2012). This type of study has a history within HCI and CSCW venues, with notable examples being Suchman’s seminal Plans and Situated Actions (Suchman, 1987) and Harper’s Inside the IMF (Harper, 2009).
One of the key ways that I attuned myself to the work practices of the setting was to develop a Vulgar Competence in these matters (Crabtree et al., 2012). Crabtree et al. write that developing a Vulgar Competence involves attending to the practical actions and reasoning that members of a setting are employing and identifying the methodical ways that they accomplished their work practice so that it is seen by the researcher in the same way as the other members of the setting (Crabtree et al., 2012). As described in Section 3.5 and later in Chapter 4 this was accomplished by myself through participation and immersion in the everyday activities of my main research participants during the fieldwork stage of the research.
Developing a Vulgar Competence of a particular setting’s work was beneficial to the research in several ways. First, by developing Vulgar Competence in a setting I as a researcher-cum-designer developed an intimate understanding of its work which may be used to develop accounts and inform design (Crabtree et al., 2012); since the goal of this research was to actually design in this space as well as provide long-term design requirements to inform future work this is not only appropriate but imperative. Secondly, my fieldwork was oriented to is predicated on members’ engagement in work practices that makes their actions account-able to others in a setting by making them observable and understandable to all who care to look (Crabtree et al., 2012; Button et al., 2015). In summary, developing a Vulgar Comptence in the setting was beneficial to the research because it allowed me to understand the mundane acts of producing Transparency and Accountability in a charity; since the topic of this research concerns Transparency and Accountability, albeit in the grander sense of the terms, this makes it appropriate as an orientation to analysis as this orientation mirrors the subject of my attention as a designer and a researcher.
It is important as a researcher conducting this kind of qualitative, fieldwork-driven, research to acknowledge myself and my own positioning as to my orientations towards the data and the analysis (Anderson, 1991; Sultana, 2007; Delamont, 2009).
Academically and professionally I sit within a technological tradition. My undergraduate degree was in Computing Science and I entered the Digital Civics programme immediately following its completion. HCI is a multi/inter/trans-disciplinary space, and while I have attempted to shed my techno-solutionist tendancies; it must be acknowledged that HCI and CSCW as spaces are geared towards producing materials for designing — and it is largely for designing new interactive computing systems. One need only look at the tradition of ‘Implications for Design’ prominent at our targeted venues to see the pervasiveness of this (Dourish, 2006). My reflexivity here then presents itself as entering the fieldsite and being oriented towards collecting materials that were useful for design. This should, hopefully, be self-evident in the nature of this thesis. I did not enter to perform a sociological or anthropological study and make no claims to this; however it may be that the materials presented in this thesis have value beyond that which is useful for design and that, in my HCI/design tradition, I’ve not understood the full dimension of. Working in charities is an inherently political space (Hansmann, 1980; Feis-Bryce, 2015), especially during the era of UK austerity. Due to my choice of research partners I was often confronted daily with the realities of the economic imbalance between: myself as an academic whose lab could pay for taxis to fieldsites, webservers, and design materials; and the charities who were often struggling for grant income.
This economic imbalace affected how I thought about the work of designing. This is most evident in Chapter 5 and Chapter 7 in reflections on how design may be conducted in these settings. It also oriented me somewhat to pay attention to particular realities of work practices in charities, as it lined up with the way which I view the world socially and politically. Although it does not bear relevance to the analytical claims I make in this thesis, it must be said that my reality a dedicated Marxist-Leninist and literal card-carrying member of the Communist Party of Britain3 sensitised me in particular ways to the plight of workers in the charities and the economic relationships they held with others who operate within the charity ecosystem. Again it must be stressed that this thesis only presents data that was collected directly at fieldsites and through interviews, and makes no claim of particular theoretical frameworks. The data was analysed according to the steps of organising the ethnogaphic records into a narrative as described by Crabtree et al (Crabtree et al., 2012), however I was sensitised to the political economy of work and how it is alternatively seen as being ‘productive’ or ‘unproductive’ depending on the lens it is viewed through.
This research began in late February 2016 when I reached out to the Patchwork Project (Patchwork) as potential participants (the reasoning for approaching this group in particular is given in Chapter 4). Following a brief meeting with them at a restaurant in Newcastle I began fieldwork the following week. The research then ended in late August 2018, culminating full-circle in a meal at the same restaurant (and on the same table) as it began. The work in-between these two dates consisted of several “phases” of research within the context of the workplace study that addressed the material needs of the project: an initial in-depth phase of fieldwork to understand how the interactional work of Transparency and Accountability was organised within a charity; a phase of iterative user-centred design to produce responses to the initial findings; early and expanded deployments which involved multiple organisations to test initial assumptions in my design response and to potentially bring further insight into the design space from organisations which operated differently to Patchwork; and finally some additional evaluation designed to bring in perspectives of other workers within the ecosystem such as accountants and funders as well as gather field data on some final iterative improvements made to the systems. It should also be acknowledged here that while the definition of ‘Charities’ I gave in Section 2.2.1 remains important to encompass the variety of Third Sector Organisations in the world, that this research was therefore performed with small front-line organisations and participants in the UK Charity Sector.
In practice, the “phases” of research followed on naturally from each other and are not as cleanly delineated as Figure 3.1 implies. As the research progressed partners were added and my understanding of each facet of the research grew, the research and I needed to accommodate this growth despite perhaps having ostensibly “passed that phase of the research” previously. This was most prominent in the relationship between the “design phase” of the research and the “evaluation phase”. For example sometimes the addition of raw exposure through more time spent at Patchwork during deployments meant I partook in a conversation or observed something that lead to a new understanding of their work practice. Or a conversation with another partner organisation (e.g. Older People’s Charity) lent an important critique of the work so far. This is perfectly normal for evaluation, but notably lead to further iteration on tools and systems to incorporate the new knowledge. To do otherwise seemed unnatural and, frankly, unethical given the collaborative nature of the setting and the nature of each partner’s work. By this I mean that my presence in these organisations meant that my actions had an effect on them and their ability to delivery front-line work; and I viewed the purpose of this research (and Digital Civics more generally) as having the ultimate purpose of benefiting their ability to operate. I felt that not iterating on designs to respond to new insight would thus constitute a breach of my integrity both as a collaborator who was taking up the time of the organisations and as a researcher who was in genuine attempt to progress knowledge and practice.
As such the discussion of each phase of research in turn here denotes the dominant focus of the research as it progressed; but it should be acknowledged that in any given phase the activities of a previous phase continued. Field notes were always taken with a focus on work practice and the manifestation of Transparency work, and small bouts of user-centred design were performed to fix bugs or add features when needed.
Phase 1: Initial Fieldwork ran from February 2016 to late summer of the same year at Patchwork. The purpose of this dedicated block of fieldwork was to orient myself to the work practices of the field-site. This initially involved looking explicitly at the different ways Transparency and Accountability manifested themselves as everyday practices through: characterising the performance of work related to Youth Work and management; and creating extra work from perceived or legal obligations for more formal forms of Transparency and Accountability. This phase of work started with weekly field visits to Patchwork, which overtime became either more frequent or less frequent as my schedule was intertwined with that of the organisation and different fieldwork methods were employed. Often I would visit several times a week in order to work on the accounts with the workers, volunteer, and take part in a team meeting. Sometimes, such as during the summer, I may not have visited during a given week. As noted, a variety of standard fieldwork methods were employed during this phase to develop praxeological accounts through techniques such as field notes, interviews, and participating in the work of the organisation itself. As the research progressed I became integrated into the daily life of the charity (and they became integrated into my daily life as a PhD student). The nature of my field notes thus shifted from “all-encompassing” to focused on specific phenomena, as I relied less on them to describe broadly how the workers at Patchwork organised their social world.
Phase 2: User-Centred Design (UCD) was the main characteristic of the next phase of research as focus evolved to investigating, designing, and implementing potential interventions. Fieldwork began to shift into UCD in late August 2016 with the completion of a design workshop focused around future technologies. In September the field visits took a short pause mandated by both Patchwork’s need to deliver the final part of their summer programme, and Open Lab’s need to deliver CHI papers. This afforded me the space to reflect on the findings of the fieldwork to date which resulted in the analysis presented in Chapter 3 of this thesis. The work’s rhythm resumed in October with design work consisting of early prototyping and regular design crits (Goldschmidt et al., 2010) worked into field visits and discussions and captured through field notes and requirements documents where appropriate. Design discussions maintained a vision of the larger system, but focused on different components in turn. October to December mostly focused on producing designs and implementations for a mobile application which became Accounting Scrapbook. After the winter break, development on what became Rosemary Accounts began and design was directed towards this away from Accounting Scrapbook. Throughout the whole process, discussions around the needs of the data and tools fed into the development of the Qualitative Accounting data standard, although it should be noted that Patchwork were much more interested in how the tools could produce and process information rather than standards development required for the design. This phase of research did not have a tangible drive by either myself or Patchwork to put our designs to use, simply develop them, whereas later stages of the research contained small pockets of iterative design and development while the tools were (supposedly) in use. In late April Patchwork and I were getting ready to begin phasing in use of the tools as additional partners were added to the research in the form of Community Project Gateshead and Older People’s Charity (GOPA) (both organisations have been pseudonymised for reporting, as they did not request de-anonymisation). Early discussions with these partners revealed new needs which were acted upon through some further design and implementation work and extended this phase of research until the end of May to account for their needs, improve the overall quality of the tools, and encourage their participation during deployments
Phase 3: Early Deployments lasted a total of four months from the beginning of June until the end of September. The deployments themselves were mostly unshepherded, in that I did not instruct the participants to use the tools in a particular manner other than providing technical support on their use when requested. At the outset of the early deployments all participants expressed their enthusiasm at using the tools they’d seen develop, so my intention was to try and understand how these tools could be appropriated by workers to support their existing work as it pertained to collecting and presenting information. I did “check in” on each of the participant organisations throughout the deployment, although the nature of these was different depending on my relationship to each one. “Checking in” on Patchwork was integrated into my visits there, where I could observe the use and non-use of the tools and casually chat or interview the workers as the deployment went on. As my relationship with GOPA and Community Project Gateshead was not as strongly developed; my regular visits had a distinctly more formal feeling. These were performed either bi-weekly or monthly depending on the schedules of myself and the workers there. Occasionally some lightweight design work was performed to fix a bug or tweak a feature to encourage or facilitate use. Despite this and for a variety of reasons this phase of the research did not see a lot of engagement from any participants regarding the deployed tools (even at Patchwork). This is analysed and reflected on in detail in the discussion in Chapter 06.
Phase 4: Expanded Deployments became necessary due to the poor uptake of the systems that had characterised the previous phase of the research. A year on from the original phase of design and development I renewed focus on making Accounting Scrapbook and Rosemary Accounts better integrate into the daily practices of my partners. Community Project Gateshead unfortunately withdrew from the research as the worker who had been my primary contact left the charity and, in lieu of the limited engagement so far, the organisation felt they couldn’t commit to maintaining our relationship. Patchwork and GOPA, however, agreed to commit to a more structured effort to use the technologies with a view of iteratively improving them as we continued the deployment. The deployments were characterised by being slow and requiring several different attempts to encourage engagement such as “weekly tasks” designed for participants to walk themselves through different features of the system which eventually became walkthrough sessions lead by myself. As such these structured deployments lasted a long time; from October 2017 until April 2018. It should be noted that the timescales for this phase of the research were extended due to the rise of mental health issues affecting my work during 2018. When both Patchwork and GOPA had completed the initial set of structured tasks I sought engagement from other actors within the sector such as funders and accountants. Several individuals were happy to give me their time and they assisted the evaluation of the tools by participating in interviews during the summer.
Phase 5: Additional Evaluation was performed in the final months of the research. This was, in my eyes, designed to compensate for what I perceived as a lack of proper engagement with the tools and to discuss with participants findings that had arisen during my conversations with funders and accountants. Through lessons learned from both earlier deployments, a short “challenge” was issued to participants to try and capture a “week in the life” of their organisation using the features of Accounting Scrapbook and Rosemary Accounts as much as possible. The engagement with this led, somewhat ironically, to the discovery of several technical issues in the systems which meant that the “week” turned into several weeks as progress was halted and began again several times. Following this dedicated use of the tools and reflection thereof through discussion, an exit interview was performed with each organisation to discuss the purpose and implementation of the research itself and the final state of our designs.
This section outlines the practical methods which I utilised to undertake this research and describes their appropriateness both within the context of the Workplace Study tradition that my research continues and the analytical approaches that it takes.
As described earlier I desired to develop a Vulgar Competence of the setting in order to understand how its members account for and produce the social order (Garfinkel, 1967; Crabtree et al., 2012). To accomplish this I performed extensive fieldwork within Patchwork, the rough shape and duration of which I outlined in the previous section. I wish to describe now the specific tools and techniques I used during the performance of this fieldwork.
The foundation of my fieldwork was extensive site visits at Patchwork, initially performed weekly but then changing frequency as I grew more involved with the organisation and our work rhythm became intertwined. Similarly, the types of activities I participated in developed in scope. In ethnographic terminology my participation in these activities may be characterised as Active Participation (Schwartz & Schwartz, 1955). During site visits I would: visit and work on the allotment alongside staff and the beneficiaries of the project (ie young people); assist staff in producing the budget and accounts; producing an annual report; help plan and deliver activities for group sessions unless inappropriate; report to trustees4; and many others too numerous to list specifically. As outlined by Crabtree et al in Doing Design Ethnography these activities served to develop my vulgar competence in the work of Patchwork but they also allowed me to gain acceptance in the setting (Crabtree et al., 2012). As I provided in input of labour through volunteering and assisting with preparatory work, and I demonstrated my commitment to seeing their work through their eyes, the workers at Patchwork began to see me as a member of the setting as well and this allowed me to have more frank and genuine discussions with them.
The extent of my participation at Patchwork allowed me to collect a variety of data and assemble a clear ethnographic record throughout. The tools and techniques I used here are standard to ethnographic enquiry, and should not need too much outlining. A lot of data was collected through the use of field notes and a fieldwork diary – which I populated with questions, observations, and diagrams to support my analysis (Crabtree et al., 2012, p.79) . An example of this is diagram of the Sequential Order of Work (ibid, p. 105) that I drafted in my notebook and then reproduced digitally for inclusion in Chapter 4. I was also able to perform individual or group interviews (ibid, p.80), which were useful to get an overview or to drill down into the work of something. In some cases these interviews were recorded whereas some of them were what I describe as “in-situ” ie they manifested as an in-the-moment questioning of a concept or some practical action being performed by someone there. Where not recorded these interviews were incorporated into my data corpus via my fieldwork diary. The fieldnotes and fieldwork diary, as well as interview transcripts, were used to create praxeological accounts of action and vignettes for presentation in this thesis and derived publications. These allowed for the conveyance of the local Accountability and situated action that were important both to the overall research and the design process that followed the initial fieldwork (ibid, pp. 122-130).
As the fieldwork process continued into the summer of 2016 discussions at Patchwork began to slowly and naturally turn to what design interventions may manifest as a result of the initial fieldwork I had performed. To support these conversations and create explicit room for them I also performed three “workshop” activities inspired by the concept of Futures Workshops (Jungk & Müllert, 1996). A Futures Workshop consists of three phases: critiquing the current state of the way things are done; a fantasy phase wherein participants come up with grand ideas to respond to problems; and finally an implementation phase where these fantasies are brought back towards the pragmatic in terms of what may be accomplished (ibid). As part of the research, these activities mark a transition from the purely investigative phase of fieldwork to one that was directly working with members of the setting to inform design, and therefore they may be conceptualised as an investigation into the social order of the setting and how technologies may support this work.
While Jungk describes a Futures workshop as a single workshop (ibid) the pragmatics of doing work with Patchwork necessitated that the three phases of the workshop were split across three months from June to September 2016. The reason for this is that Patchwork were delivering their Summer program during this time, which left no time for full day workshop. This change in pace allowed me to reflect on the conversation that was had during each workshop, as well as design materials and activities to be used as conversation pieces during the next one.
During the first workshop, the participants in Patchwork were guided in producing an artefact which mapped the flows of information and interactions with technologies. My questions and their answers served to check my understanding of their situated work that I had gathered from fieldwork to that point and also also to question things that were not clear to me yet. Hearing the workers at Patchwork reason out loud together about their work practice as a whole, rather than discrete portions of it, also helped illuminate the inter-connectivity of the setting’s interactional work.
In the second workshop, I produced a series of short Design Fictions (Hales, 2013) that were tailored to deliberately contrast or caricature the perceived values, behaviours, and norms of the setting and members. My intent here was to cause a reaction and make explicit the normal social order, and as such they may be considered as derived from Garfinkle’s “breaching experiments” – where the researcher disrupts the routine production of daily life in order to make this reasoning visible (Garfinkel, 1967). Crabtree writes of breaching experiments in technology design that they may be used to “provoke” (literally call forth) practice and that while they may be disruptive this is not necessarily the case (Crabtree, 2004). My Design Fictions were intended to be a little disruptive as I wished Patchwork to subsequently rally against the dystopian futures I detailed and instead proffer alternative designs that would be more closely aligned with their practice. In this sense they also touch on the notion of Provotypes; where a prototype is designed to provoke discussions around contemporary and desired future practice (Boer & Donovan, 2012). Provotypes also draw on Dialectics (outlined above) where the contradictions that give rise to practice are highlighted and then new practice may be considered; bridging investigation and design (ibid). While my samples of short Design Fiction may not be a true provotype (nothing was designed and deployed at this stage), they embodied this dialectical goal of assisting me in unpicking the contradictions in work practice and how this is made Transparent and Accountable; and ultimately lead to insights for design work. In the second half of this workshop Patchwork were asked to write their own design fiction and elaborate on what a theoretical pie-in-the-sky technology may look like although this didn’t occur on the day as planned (discussed further in Chapter 05).
The third and final workshop involved grounding the design insights from the first two workshops into what may achieved pragmatically. Because a month had passed since the previous workshop, a short design challenge was issued to the group to create Magic Machines (Andersen, 2013) that supported their organisation’s work in becoming Transparent and Accountable, and what the work practice was surrounding this. The results from these were then discussed as a group to unpick what desired work practice may be and how we may get closer to this given contemporary technologies and the scope of the research.
One of the goals of this research was to actually design and subsequently deploy technologies for use within the setting to later evaluate them and another was to understand how technologies may be designed in Third Sector Organisations. As noted in the earlier overview this phase is characterised by User-Centred Design (UCD) methods.
My use of UCD methods emerged in response to the pragmatics of designing in the research space. Daily life at Patchwork was (and remains to this day) very busy and they have a pressing need to deliver their services to beneficiaries and respond to their needs. Therefore, despite the best will in the world, Patchwork has limited capacity to sit down with me and co-design systems in the name of participation. Indeed it became clear when the design phase of my research was starting that they had little interest in designing systems together as they felt that it was my role to do the design and implementation work. I discuss this in greater detail in Chapter 5.
My response to this challenge was to involve Patchwork as much as I could during the design process. Following the completion of the three workshops outlined above the data from these fed into the larger corpus garnered during fieldwork and analysed to produce high-level implications for design, as well as indications for specific design elements to incorporate for a deployment here. Attention was paid specifically to the interactional work of the design ie the workflow of systems designed were derived from Patchwork’s model of work, and then these assumptions were tested during this design and later evaluation phases both inside and outside of Patchwork. Inside of Patchwork my weekly field visits continued ahead of my volunteering sessions and deeper integration into the workplace such as attending extra-curricular activities with the workers (e.g. Fell walking, allotments, etc) meant that I was served plenty of opportunities to check my designs and assumptions with the workers there. The most used technique here was the use of the Design Crit (Goldschmidt et al., 2010); weekly I would present Patchwork with ideas, sketches, wireframes, prototypes etc and we would discuss the design. Key notes from these were recorded into my notebook or, occasionally, a requirements document. I would make changes or otherwise progress the design before returning the next week for more of the same.
It is that design rhythm and workflow that leads me to call this phase of work User-Centred Design as opposed to Participatory Design or Co-Design. The Scandinavian co-operative design movement arose out of the concern of workers having technologies negatively influence their working practices (Schuler & Namioka, 1993) which was certainly an initial concern shared by myself and Patchwork. It could be argued that there are elements of Participatory Design present in the research. The way that I participated and integrated myself into Patchwork, as well as my fieldwork’s analytical focus on work practice and my genuine concern for the workers and organisation meant that gradually their concerns became my concerns. Therefore it could be said I was facilitating worker’s design of technologies or that participation was somehow “configured” (Vines et al., 2013) in the research as I part of my work there was to design technologies for which which I systematically and enthusiastically sought feedback and approval on. I reflect on this more critically in Chapter 05
Nevertheless, I do question how truly participatory the act of design may be in this context, or indeed needs to be given the nature of the organisation. My feelings on this are expanded on later in the thesis, but the core value embedded in this research is to support the Third Sector through my research and technical skills. Patchwork didn’t expect me to become involved in everything in the business and in fact explicitly noted areas where it would be inappropriate and similarly felt that it was inappropriate to apply themselves to an area that was clearly my wheelhouse. As an (initially) external technical expert I fit the bill as someone who was suited to the design and implementation of digital technologies and for them the act of participation was that I was there and contributing at all.
Late in the UCD phase of research I expanded the scope to include involvement with two other organisations – Community Project Gateshead and Older People’s Charity (GOPA). I was introduced to Community Project Gateshead as they were visiting Open Lab due to a collaboration they had with another researcher there, and they seemed interested in my work. Since I desired to deploy the designs that Patchwork and I had worked on I followed up with a meeting to which they invited the manager of GOPA. Initially this meeting was to introduce them to the technologies and garner their interest in participating in evaluating them, however the discussion raised new needs that required addressing. I followed up with several design crits with Community Project Gateshead and GOPA to account for this and improve the overall quality of the tools. These iterations were fed back to and checked with Patchwork as well, although the organisations never showed interest in meeting together.
After the design phase was complete the tools were deployed for evaluation in order to understand their appropriateness and to further illuminate the design space for future work. As described in an earlier section, the design phase involved instances of evaluation through the use of crit sessions with participants. After this, evaluation took place across three distinct phases where each had particular methods attached.
The first phase of evaluation began with early deployments that were, as noted, totally unshepherded and used observation and some small interviews to understand the worker’s interactions with the technology. After a short instructional session at each of the three participating organisations (Patchwork, Community Project Gateshead, and GOPA), the technologies were effectively “left” with my partners in that apps were installed on their phones and they knew of the existence of Rosemary accounts and had outlined to me a rough plan for their use. At Patchwork my regular visits across the week provided opportunities to witness use (and non-use) of the technology, and in addition to this I did small interviews in place of the design crits that we’d normally have. These lasted no longer than five minutes each and were not audio recorded – instead making their way to my fieldwork diary. I did not have similar levels of access to GOPA and Community Project Gateshead since I had not integrated myself in the same way as I did with Patchwork. In these cases I performed regular site visits at each organisation which varied from bi-weekly to monthly depending on our schedules. Here I did not get the chance to observe the technologies “in the wild”, as it were, but casually interviewed participants about how they were finding the technology. This also presented an opportunity for them to ask questions of me about the pragmatics of using the technology. Again these were not recorded in order to put participants at ease (they were often embarrassed about their non-use of the technology) but similarly integrated these findings through my fieldnotes.
The second phase of evaluation, which I’ve termed “Expanded Deployments”, was instigated after four months when it became apparent that there was poor uptake of the technology at all organisations – which I could only account for at Patchwork initially. After some wrangling of the remaining participants (Community Project Gateshead dropped out), I redesigned some elements of the technologies to make it a little smoother to integrate into daily life and we renewed a commitment to evaluate the technologies with a more structured evaluation. There was an understanding across the participants that the research here would be slower as I considered the daily pressures at the charities. The structure took the form of “weekly tasks” designed to walk participants through the use of various features of the system, with the intention of interviewing participants at monthly intervals after they’d completed three-to-four such tasks. After a few of these interviews revealed that, similar to previous attempts, there was similar lack of engagement I turned to the use of think-aloud co-operative evaluation methods (P. C. Wright & A. F. Monk, 1991a, 1991b) with audio-recorded in-situ interviews. These allowed me to sit with the participants and engage them while they used the system, as well as create explicit space for engaging with the systems within each Patchwork and GOPA.
During this phase of expanded deployments I also approached other participant groups that orbited around the sector as I desired their input on how useful the systems could be for their work. I interviewed several accountants and funders to gain first-impressions of the technologies and discuss future possibilities. These additional perspectives began to reveal what the “other side” of the interactions with the systems may look like given further consideration and development.
To tie off the evaluation a last “week in the life” deployment was performed. This used a similar unshepherded deployment method as used in the first phase, with the understanding that since workers were now familiar with the system and only had to commit to a week’s use that uptake would be more natural. There were a few technical issues which ended up restarting the deployment multiple times, however this was largely a success. During this week in the life of I didn’t perform any observations but instead interviewed individual participants about the system at the end of the evaluation. Finally, I performed two group interviews; one with each Patchwork and GOPA after the culmination of the research. We discussed the original aims of the research and reflected on its performance and challenges, as well as what future work in the space may look like. This was audio-recorded and transcribed.
The research presented in this thesis involved the study of human activity through the methods outlined above. This requires some reflection on research ethics within the context of this project. In this section I first present the formal ethical approval process I underwent at Newcastle University, and then explicate on issues such as measures taken at field sites to ensure the safety of my participants and informants as well my own safety.
This research was concerned with how organisations made themselves transparent and accountable to their stakeholders and as such the ethical approval process for this research was relatively straightforward, owing to the nature of the questions I was asking and who my desired informants were to be i.e. the workers and administrative staff within charities, and some of their stakeholders.
The ethical approval for this research was completed in three stages, at the beginning of each calendar year and intended to cover the research activities for that year. This roughly correllated to getting permission for: fieldwork activity and use of questionnaires with partner organisations; design workshops and design activity with partner organisations; and the evaluation of deployed designs with partner organisations. Since I was not studying children or animals in any way, or people who would be vulnerable, this did not require a particularly strenuous ethics approval process. Newcastle University provides an online form (Newcastle University, 2021) which I used for the ethicals approval and to flag high risk areas during the initial application.
The only high risk area that I was required to highlight was that the research involved the use of Human Participants in a Non-Clinical Setting through use of some of the research methods I was to employ (observations, focus groups, etc). This section expanded to provide a checklist of areas that Newcastle University considered high risk activities. None of these areas were applicable to myself, as I didn’t require access to vulnerable groups and would be working and studying the staff within the organisations I partnered with.
When I later began volunteering at Patchwork, a frontline youth-work charity which is discussed in detail within Chapter 4, they requested that I begin volunteering with them. This was for two reasons: first, it would give me first-hand experience of the daily work of the setting and increase the face-time I spent with the staff; and secondly, volunteering would ensure that I was contributing back to the organisation and not simply “using” Patchwork as an interesting case study for resarch. I readily agreed to this but was concerned that this would invalidate my original ethics approval since the volunteering put me in direct contact with young people aged 8 and above.
I discussed this with my supervisor the next day who assured me that as long as Patchwork had some safety procedures in place, and that I didn’t generate any research material from the young people I was involved with, that the original framing of my ethics approval wouldn’t change. This was because the staff at Patchwork (and Patchwork itself) remained my focus of study, and I wasn’t going to be interviewing any of the young people (neither were Patchwork acting as a gatekeeper). This decision was sense-checked with other PhD supervisors at the time who agreed that as long as Patchwork had safety measures in place, that it was fine to rely on these as efficient safeguards. I discuss these safeguards in greather depths in the next section.
This section explicates the ways in which the everyday performance of the research maintained the safety of both participants and researchers, and ensured the consent of all participants at each stage of the research. I first discuss broad practices that apply to all participants, research partners, and settings. Then, given the extended and deep nature of my involvement with Patchwork in the research (and given the nature of their work with young people), I focus on the safety measures taken within this context.
Throughout the entire research process there were several key measures that were undertaken in order to ensure the safety and informed consent of all participants. Participants were presented with consent forms and information sheets for each activity of the research. This included getting explicit consent for: fieldwork; design activity; group interviews (where members of the group hadn’t already signed a consent form); individual interviews for partners involved at later stages of the research; and evaluation of the designs produced. All participants were anonymised (via pseudonyms) for reporting in the research, although several members of The Patchwork Project requested to be de-anonymised for reporting in this thesis and subsequent research materials5.
As noted in the previous section; one of my key research partners, The Patchwork Project (Patchwork), requested that I begin volunteering with them in order to ensure that I was contributing back to the organisation as I studied them. This placed me in direct contact with young people and as such I was concerned about the ethics of this. As noted, it was discussed with my supervisory team and other academics with Open Lab at the time and found to be no ethical issue as long as I did not study the young people and conducted myself appropriately and under the assumption that Patchwork would put safety measures in place. Patchwork made me undertake a “DBS Check” via the Disclosure and Barring Service in the UK, which involves checking my criminal record to ensure that I was suitable for working with children (UK Government, 2021). This is something that Patchwork require of all staff, volunteers, and trustees as part of working within Patchwork. It is expected that these are refreshed regularly, with Patchwork requiring a minimum of 4 years between checks. As well as the DBS check I was required to undertake an accredited child safeguarding course and attain a certificate in Awareness of Child Abuse and Neglect (Virtual College, 2021). Again, this is something that Patchwork require of all staff, volunteers, and trustees and is generally renewed at the same time as the DBS check. Further to this, both myself and Patchwork undertook mundane good practice measures to ensure the safety of myself and the young people. I was always one of multiple staff or volunteers present when engaging with young people, and Patchwork took measures to ensure I did not participate in groups with particular demographics that may be perceived to be inappropriate for me. For example, as a large male researcher in my 20s it was simply understood as part of best practice that I would not be engaging in group activities with teenage women and girls.
In terms of risks to myself, there were no considerable risks that arose through the direct performance of my research activities. The majority of my field sites were within the organisational offices or buildings. On paper there were tangenital risks associated with the geographic location of my main research partners (The Patchwork Project) due to the socio-economic status of their local area and their service users. There were no incidents during my research there that made me concerned for my safety or the safety of others. Unfortunately, I did need to log one safety incident during the later stages of my PhD work. One day I was returning from a fieldwork site via taxi / hire car and was subject to unwanted sexual advances by the driver at the conclusion of my ride. I reported the incident around two weeks after it occurred and it was dealt with swiftly by the Open Lab staff and I took further measures to ensure that it did not repeat and that I was safe6.
This section contains my personal reflections on the ethics of performing this research. Further critical reflections are given in Chapter 7 regarding responsibilities of ‘Ethical Responsiveness’ (Durrant & Kirk, 2018) when discussing the contributions of this thesis. Some of these themes are also discussed in more detail in Chapter 5 when discussing the performance of the design work, particularly around the role of the fieldworker in the setting and group (Fuller, 1999).
It is safe to say that my involvement with Patchwork, my primary research partners has grown beyond that of a formal research arrangement. My relationship with the team there and the organisation itself continues to this day in both formal and social capacities, well beyond the conclusion of the research contained in this thesis. Since 2018, I have continued in my capacity as a Trustee of the organisation and regularly see the staff for social events. During my research, though, I increasingly conceived of myself as holding a dual-role as both a member of Patchwork and being that of a research student. This presented itself as dilemmas between feeling that I was “Going Native”7 (Fuller, 1999; Kanuha, 2000) at times when I was engaged in social activities that felt distinctly “extra-curricular” in nature.
Joseph and Donnelly report on engaging in drinking activities as part of engaging in the group, contrasting the notion that the academics in the field should only be conceived of as “sober data collectors” (Joseph & Donnelly, 2012), and note that when participation in these activities diminish their informants are often less happy to speak with them. Their conclusions are that researchers should feel open to discussing activities such as drinking “on the job” (Joseph & Donnelly, 2012) as a normal part of the research setting and provide practical advice for verifying findings that were initially made during social drinking sessions. I do not drink alcohol so I didn’t get drunk with my participants; however I fully immersed myself, to the degree that I could, in the social calendar of Patchwork. This often involved evenings, weekends, and even holidays with the staff as if I was one of their own. This resulted in many “adventures” arising from fieldwork which Liebling and Stanko note are the type of fare that traditionally remains private or exchanged behind closed doors rather than published in an ethnographic account (Liebling & Stanko, 2001). For my part; the focused nature of my inquiry meant that there was often a clear delineation between “research activity” and “social activity”, and so these sessions mostly served me with opportunities to ingratiate myself into the group and get to know my research partners so that I could better understand them later. There were, however, cases where this line was blurred such as when I was climbing mountains with Patchwork in southern Spain. This was ostensibly staff training and socialising for Patchwork staff; however, when walking across a ridge there, conversation naturally turned to the progression of my research and the design of the applications we were building. This echoes Goodwin’s realisation that they were “capitalizing on [their] insider status” (Goodwin et al., 2003, p.571) and I was worried that I was exploiting the trust of my partners in this relaxed setting. As my engagement with Patchwork continued, however, this worry was alleviated as they made it clear to me that they were keenly aware of my original purpose in the organisation but had participated to the point where I was conceived as one of them; and that research and design was part of my role there. This is elaborated on in Chapter 5.
There were several times, however, during my research that Patchwork reported to me that academics (particularly my research institution within Newcastle University) held a poor reputation in the charity sector in Newcastle. This was, reportedly, because they were perceived to: swoop in; promise resources and technologies that the organisation badly needed; not bother to engage the workers or service users properly enough to understand their issues; and leave once their papers or research had concluded8. This meant that there were several times where I felt the need to “defend” or otherwise gatekeep my research partners from other researchers and academics to prevent these practices occurring, and to ensure Patchwork did not think I would “open the door” to more researchers looking to exploit the setting. There were also other times when the economic divide between my research institution and my charity partners became all too apparent: such as when Patchwork asked about what financial resources I had available to me at the University, and whether it was conceivable that a grant be made to them for their participation in the research. These issues were raised and discussed in a workshop that myself and some colleagues ran at CHI 2018 entitled “Untold Stories” (Strohmayer et al., 2018) wherein we reflected critically on the academy’s relationship with charity partners. It was conversations such as these, as well as reflections on design practice, which lead me down the path of conceiving of ‘Vanguard Design’ as discussed in Chapter 5 and Chapter 7, to address the fact that researchers can often have the ability to capitalise on their insider status (Goodwin et al., 2003) and to try and tilt the balance back in favour of more equal participation and being answerable to my participants (Durrant & Kirk, 2018).
This chapter has discussed the framing, analytical inheritance, and methods used to perform the research in this thesis. I began with establishing the thesis as situated in the tradition of a Workplace Study in HCI and design, before illuminating the analytical traditions that result from this tradition as well as the research space.
With this instituted I then mark out the practical performance of the research. First I outline the timeline of research and set out phases inquiry that gave rise to the use of particular methods. Next I discuss in detail the methods used for fieldwork, design, and analysis of data before finally providing a summary of the research ethics involved in this research including critical reflections on some issues I encountered.
As I have now provided a scrutiny of the investigative traditions and practical applications of these in the research this thesis will now provide a detailed account of the first phase of this; a fieldwork case study of work practice.
This chapter concerns the first phase of the research, which consisted primarily of a long period of ethnographic fieldwork with an orientation to work practice (Crabtree et al., 2012) and the labour required to produce Accountability as part of everyday work in a small charity.
This first phase of research benefited the overall process in a number of ways. First, the ethnographic method and orientation to work practice allowed me as the researcher to develop a degree of Vulgar Competence in the processes and on-the-ground work that any technological intervention would need to be based around, and support. As such, the design requirements discussed at the end of this chapter are the result of analysing actual work practices of the organisation. Additionally, the length of the initial fieldwork period discussed in this chapter illustrated to me a wider, much more complete, picture of the charity ecosystem; who the various actors are, and the various forms of accountable practice that a charity and its workers must employ to navigate this. Finally, I believe the initial period of fieldwork with my frequent visits and the work I performed as part of it lead to buy-in from the charity when it came to discussing, designing, and implementing technologies together at later stages of the research.
As such this chapter discusses the work practices of a small charity as they intersect with producing Transparency and Accountability. Attention is paid to the different forms of work that the charity undertook and in what forms these were accounted for to others. These are then analysed to produce high-level design requirements which influenced the later design of technologies which were deployed into this space.
This research began in earnest with my reaching out to a Youth Work charity known as The Patchwork Project (hereafter Patchwork or sometimes referred to as “Patchy” by locals and workers). I had briefly met two of the workers during some previous research that was performed during my MRes (Marshall et al., 2016) and their contribution left a substantial impression on me due to their interest in my research and what I perceived of as a very reflective discussion of their work. I was keen to work with them again and, thankfully, after a meeting with them over lunch they agreed to let me engage with them through fieldwork.
Patchwork are a small, hyper-local, charity and their work is inherently tailored to the needs of their immediate community. Since these needs shape the work and thus everyday work practice I feel that discussing work practice without providing a brief overview of the organisation and setting would provide an incomplete picture. Therefore I wish to briefly discuss the history of Patchwork and the community of Benwell.
In 1994, The Independent included Benwell, Scotswood, and Elswick together in its list entitled “No-Go Britain: Where, what, why”. The reasons they cited were “Crime, arson used to intimidate witnesses, feuds between rival families involved in drug dealing” as well as citing unemployment statistics of 24%, 28%, and 26% for the three areas respectively (The Independant, 1994). Colloquially, the area is seen as abandoned by the city council, and owes its reputation to the conditions that arise from lack of adequate services and funding.
Interviews with the staff revealed that The Patchwork Project began life as one of several projects originally operating under the banner of the Benwell Young Person’s Development Group (BYPDG).9 The group formed in 2001 (Find that Charity, n.d.a; The Patchwork Project, 2016) as an informal umbrella group to support the young people of the Benwell and Scotswood area of Newcastle, which was experiencing a withdrawal of local authority funding and feeling the effects of the resultant lack of service provision. Initially the group was very disparate and the various arms operated independently from each other, with residents providing community transport, toddler and infant care, Scouting troupes, and a football club as well as the youth work. The Patchwork Project began life with residents taking groups of children out for activities such as site visits and days at the local pool. The project manager described the efforts as “Very amateurish. It was great.”. According to the informant, the group was later formally constituted as a charity in order to “access funding and structure” although “only Patchwork was its responsibility. The rest of the activities were mostly just doing their own thing. The charity was started to support Patchwork”
The project manager describes how the success of the project lead to the entirety of the BYPDG becoming known by that name, and eventually the other activities either split off into their own local charities (e.g. the football club) or wound down due to the community members who drove the efforts retiring. Some elements of other activities were taken up by Patchwork such as the toddler group, but lack of available volunteers lead to this winding down as well. Michael stated that Patchwork continued to operate by itself within the structure of the BYPDG as a project but registered as its own charity in 2014 and taking over from where the previous organisational structure left off (Find that Charity, n.d.b) and also registered as a Company Limited by Guarantee in order to “protect the trustees in the era of risk assessments and individual responsibility”.
Patchwork’s stated aims of the charity on both their website (The Patchwork Project, 2021a) and the Charity Commission (Charity Commission for England and Wales, 2021) are as follows:
To help and educate young people between the ages of 5 and 25 years resident in the West End of Newcastle Upon Tyne and the surrounding area, including those who are involved in the Criminal Justice System or at risk of becoming involved in the Criminal Justice System, without distinction of sex, sexual orientation, race or political, religious or other opinion, through their leisure time activities so to develop their physical, mental and spiritual capacities that they might grow to full maturity as Individuals and members of society and so that their conditions of life may be improved. (The Patchwork Project, 2021a)
The organisation also specify a discrete set of needs that they seek to address with their daily activity on their website:
- The need of access to social and informal education so that social inclusion, citizenship and opportunities to contribute to the community are improved. In order to increase individual and social well-being.
- The need of support in relation to confidence and personal belief in order to access mainstream services; employment, training, health and dental services, social and policing services etc.
- The need to access leisure time play and positive activities that improve understanding of boundaries, rights and responsibilities,
- The need to have these things accessible locally
- These needs are exasperated by those participating living in areas of high deprivation and attending limitations on family and individual opportunity. (The Patchwork Project, n.d.)
In-keeping with this I saw that the primary service users of Patchwork were constituted of people aged around 8 to 25 although it must be acknowledged that Patchwork will also offer support to individuals outside of this range if they feel it will support a young person. A consistent example of this that I witnessed often was a member of staff supporting a parent or family member of a service user with activities such as applying for unemployment benefits or identifying documents (ie driving license, birth certificate, passport). Patchwork’s service users typically come from the immediate surrounding areas of Benwell, Scotswood, and Elswick although families often move around and occasionally a young person will move to other areas of the city but still travel to Patchwork for sessions. A large number of the service users and their families are from Eastern European ethnic and racial background since the local area houses a number of immigrant families; primarily Czech, Slovak, and Roma although I often witnessed arguments amongst the young people I worked with as to where these cultural distinctions were drawn. The other large group that makes up the bulk of the service users is White British and there are also a few families from the Bangladeshi and African diasporas in the area. Michael, the manager at Patchwork, affectionately introduced their core demographic to me as “Slovak, Bangladeshi, and White Scum – as perceived by the government anyway!”.
The way Patchwork engage with their service users is often very bespoke to a given circumstance and they will tailor support to a person or family as required. However they build the relationships with people through three core modalities: drop-in sessions; working with discrete groups; and “detached” work which involves operating without the use of a building10. This set of approaches ensures that they may reach new people and build longitudinal relationships with young people across time. Drop-in sessions are generally held from the morning to afternoon as the project opens and group work will begin in the late afternoon and early evening as the schools empty and young people return home (or gather in the street). Groups are given a particular time slot (e.g. Wednesday evenings) and sessions are generally expected to last until around 19:00 or 19:30 in the evening. Detached work does not occur every night but often takes place around once or twice a week depending on priorities of the workers on a given week and generally lasts a lot longer, often going until around 21:30 at night. During the school holidays the regular schedule is suspended and Patchwork will engage with the groups to construct a schedule of full-day or half-day activities across the break which limits detached and drop-in time.
There are a number of activities through which Patchwork will work with groups and individuals. Groups will often go out for bike rides, climbing walls, visits to locations, cook outside in the park, do crafts, or go swimming (among a whole host of other things). Further to a regular cadence of activities a group or individual might be encouraged onto and supported through a Duke of Edinburgh award (The Duke of Edinburgh Award, 2021), or another programme through Patchwork. This will often involve workers taking weekends to take young people hiking or camping, and teaching orienteering sessions in Patchwork 1 on a group’s scheduled session. Patchwork will pay extra attention to young people who are either in more explicit need or more engaged. An example of this I witnessed was Patchwork hiring some young people to work as gardeners at their allotment (Figure 4.1) in order to spend more time with them and to teach them the value of applying themselves. Another important aspect of Patchwork’s work is to support individuals and families who are currently within the criminal justice system. This involves prison visits, transporting people for court dates, providing formal wear, and other forms of bespoke support.