Thinking Backwards from Improvement in Information Technology Action Research
In information technology for development and related fields, action-oriented researchers aim to design and evaluate how technology can be used to improve the lives of underserved populations around the globe. However, improvement is a value-laden concept with normative, causal, and methodological assumptions. There are many alternative definitions that can be difficult to engage with and tempting for an action researcher to ignore. However, these definitions can heavily influence the direction, design, and evaluation of such work. In this presentation, Anthony Poon discusses some potential perspectives on improvement, including human development, empowerment, and post-development, and how they have influenced some of his past and current work. In particular, Poon presents research he conducted with high school students in Cameroon and the challenges of passing their graduating exams, as well as research he is planning with home health aides in New York City. He uses these as case studies to generate a framework for how to examine how different perspectives on improvement influenced the choices made in the design of action. By explicating how theory influences action research, Poon hopes to enable researchers to be able to examine a broader range of methods and outcomes and spark discussion for how to better connect theory with practice.
Anthony Poon is a doctoral student in human-computer interaction for underserved populations and developing contexts at the Information Science department at Cornell University. His research interests involve designing and evaluating information technology interventions that address issues of socialization and community building. Poon's work combines methods and perspectives from multiple disciplines, such as information and computer science, development sociology, and technology policy, to help young adults and marginalized populations foster resources and networks of support to face the challenges of a changing and unequal social world.