The Observatory will generate hypotheses, quantitative data, narratives, resources, models and visual analytics which provide rich descriptions of real practice. The outputs of the research interventions will be stored in the The Boundaries Observatory Observatory database exploiting data standards relating to Citizen Science (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen_science), including Research Objects (http://www.researchobject.org) and Linked Data (http://linkeddata.org). Within the The Boundaries Observatory Observatory, workflows will be defined to enable the identification of regularities in results, and the exploitation of linked data will allow for resources to be linked to specific instances of data and narratives. This means the Observatory can take advantage of much recent work on Open Research, including the exploitation of existing platforms (notably http://wf4ever-project.org and http://myExperiment.org).
Typical Research Objects collected within the Observatory will include:
- Objects containing a hypothesis based on social theory together with an example or case study of where such a hypothesis holds. Such objects may also refer to resources explaining the hypothesis and its theory
- Objects containing the negation of a hypothesis together with an example of where the hypothesis fails. This may also incorporate resources which critique the underlying theory.
- Objects containing qualitative and quantitative data, together with descriptions of the situation giving rise to the data, but which requires explanation.
- Objects containing workflows of activity designs to be run in schools and other social settings
- Objects containing research questions framed as hypotheses with descriptions of workflows
The Observatory website will also contain explanatory resources that will be generated to facilitate comprehension and interpretation of the outputs of the Observatory research interventions, each of which may be referenced by other Research Objects as part of an investigation of their effectiveness. The combination of workflows, resources, qualitative and quantitative data will provide a multi-faceted interface for users. Through data analytics, the observatory will highlight emerging regularities – whether these come from experimental results from the classroom, or from monitoring engagements with the observatory itself. By adopting this approach, individual questions that users might ask about theories themselves become Research Objects which then require explanation – so that the understanding of stakeholders in the project is as much part of the research as the explanation of broader experimental results.
The aim is to improve the grounding in practical reality of theories about information, economics, technology and society and in so-doing improve the policy-making mechanisms which are underpinned by theories. It also aims to bridge the gap between academic understanding and lay understanding. Academic understanding tends to be formulated away from the practical realities of everyday life. Not infrequently, theories are constructed with fail to predict social behaviour. Not infrequently, academics themselves exemplify characteristics which run counter to their own theories! Having said this, many academic insights (particularly from sociology) have powerful explanatory properties which can indeed clarify understandings. The barriers to achieving clarified understanding are significant, and many revolve around issues of teaching and learning. The Boundaries Observatory makes no distinction as to the constitution or provenance of its Research Objects. The gathering of daily experiences which either confirm an explanation or confound it will be a key driver for theoretical development.