By: Jennifer Pierre
As a recent graduate of the UCLA iSchool and a current User Experience Researcher at Google Stadia, I am accountable to stakeholders from various perspectives and backgrounds: youth from the Boys and Girls Clubs (BGC) for my ethnographic dissertation work, BGC staff, community organizers with whom I’ve engaged for participatory design work, players of games ranging from first person shooters to rhythm games, and cross-functional game development teams. In each of these settings, I am most accountable to the people and communities most affected by my work and the topics I study. To stay accountable in a meaningful way, I strive to integrate principles of social responsibility and avenues for collective organizing and advocacy in my daily work.
My dissertation research involved working with children and teens at various Boys and Girls Clubs sites to explore the ways they use social media to enhance and maintain social support. I was particularly interested in youth involved in youth development programs to assess what role that type of community space played for those youth, and how that aligned with or connected to their technology use and other social exchanges. A large part of scoping the problem space was understanding how to frame and discuss these groups of youth in ways that didn’t focus on deficits. I found literature in African American and Critical Information studies that articulated how marginalized groups were often presented in negative comparison to other groups, and sought to distinctly acknowledge and address those issues in my work. I aimed to use my findings to highlight the ongoing and unique forms of social exchange, social capital, and social values that were already at play in these youths’ lives. This process helped me continue to think through the role of social responsibility and advocacy in research as a way to ensure equitable representation and integration of community members’ voices in the research process. My work from the preceding years involved more direct community organizing primarily in the form of community-based hackathons exploring data presence and use among community organizations. Working with community members during that process to shape the direction of the hackathon and its outputs in a way that best served community interests and ongoing goals was a powerful intersection of academic and community work. However, it was a challenge for me to see how to integrate that approach in my dissertation research and collaborations, which made it difficult for me to carry the work forward in a participatory way
Currently, I am continuing to reflect on how to be a better community partner and truly conduct research in service of communities. I am working with colleagues on exploring what we could have done differently in our hackathon work to more thoroughly interrogate our role in centering data and ourselves as researchers in ways that may not have best served the communities with which we collaborated. This reflection exercise has involved deep examination of the practice of participatory research, and the lessons I am learning from this process have continued to motivate reflection on my ongoing youth work and my newer work involving game design and gaming communities. A current major takeaway of this reflective exercise is the need to “organize ourselves” as academics and researchers before working with community members and organizations – an outcome that seems very in line with the call of this workshop.
I hope to bring to the workshop a perspective that helps bridge academic and industry research approaches especially when engaging with concepts like participatory design research and community work. I have been working to apply that lens to both my academic and industry work, where it can be challenging to slow down and examine nuanced power dynamics in a fast paced and solution-oriented product development setting. Through the lens of collective organizing and social responsibility, I hope to learn strategies for navigating privilege when working with communities, especially marginalized and minoritized ones, identify methods for resisting deficit-based assessments of these groups, and build research collaborations to continue this work sustainably across academia and industry. Especially for my current industry work, I hope to discuss and find concrete ways forward that foundationally integrate community advocacy and organizing into the product design and development process.