The Boundaries Observatory research is coordinated by a focus on the different theoretical and practical positions which claim to provide insight into the issues of identity, privacy, trust, reputation, responsibility, community, gender and fairness, which appear to be shifting in the digital age. These issues are first explored within education and then in broader society.

The basic research design of The Boundaries Observatory is in three stages:

  1. A process of identification of positions relating to relational issues including identity, privacy, trust, reputation, responsibility, community, gender and fairness will produce a “value thesaurus” of Research Objects containing different initial theoretical orientations and their justifications within the context of their theoretical frameworks. Theorists, practitioners in education and practitioners in business will take part in this process. A similar process for designing interventions in the education system will also take place, using techniques including mindfulness, collaborative game design, scenario-building and creativity similarly oriented around the terms in the value thesaurus. Stakeholders taking part in the design process include teachers, managers, learners, theorists and technological designers. The design process will also include innovative methods for gathering data.
  2. The designed research interventions in education will be implemented and coordinated. The Observatory will gather data and narratives from a variety of perspectives including live data feeds, visual analytics, stakeholder testimonies, video, storytelling and games. The purpose is to provide what Geertz (1973) refers to as a “thick description” of the intervention situations.  Through a process of studying the values and rationale which fed into designs, the available theoretical positions with regard to core values and the evidence of actual experience, gaps between theory and practice can be identified stimulating deeper theoretical inspection.
  3. Phenomena experienced within the educational domain need to be explored in the broader social context. Theories emerging from the previous stage (2) to address theory-practice gaps in education will be tested through a similar intervention design-process in heterogeneous social settings. In this way, a process validating knowledge about education and about society can be conducted in which the occurrence of a phenomenon across different contexts can be seen as an indicator of generalizability.

What will the observatory do?

1 Collect data

The Boundaries Observatory will collect heterogeneous data including hypotheses, theories, evidence, workflows, narratives, quantitative and qualitative data which describe the effects of technology on the relations between humans in social settings. The data collection strategy focuses on:

  • Unpacking and interpreting relations between artefacts, ideas, narratives and evidence and social structures and power relations,
  • Exploring points of contestation surrounding artefacts, theories, narratives and evidence.
  • Identifying, observing and tracking transformations of social contexts, technologies and identities.
  • Mapping transformations over time, identifying areas of growth, opportunities for intervention, areas at risk.

2 Interpret and relate data

The Observatory will exploit these and other standards and tools to provide flexibility in the ways the data can be managed, organised and made available in different formats and contexts.

3 Continuous exploration

In addition to this, the Observatory will support further interventions that explore, test, and critique hypotheses drawn from a range of social science approaches to understanding the relationships between technology and society.

4 Widen participation in research

The aim is to actively engage a wide range of stakeholders by making the observatory a continuous experiment, where access to the observatory resources (including learning resources, games, video and others) is itself an instance of technology practice that requires explanation.

5 Speak to policy

The Boundaries Observatory presents a way of capturing what Popper alluded to in 1945 when he said “Even a man who opens a new shop, or who reserves a ticket for the theatre, is carrying out a kind of social experiment on a small scale; and all our knowledge of social experience is gained by making experiments of this kind” (Popper, 1945). As a response to Popper’s statement the Boundaries Observatory asks: “What experiment? What theories underpin it? How well do those theories predict the outcome?” The outputs will be used especially to develop functional models for policy building, which will be incorporated into policy briefings, in addition to this the Observatory is itself a “functional model” for exploration which leads to greater learning and clarity of understanding throughout society.