Post written by: Amelia Acker, FCoP Project Researcher, Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin

Hi Y'all

Today I am excited to share with you my first field report as the designated FCoP researcher with updates about kicking off fieldwork this summer. Before I jump into some updates about my research fieldwork, I wanted to describe what field reports are and how they can inform the study of software curation and digital preservation in our community.

What IS a "field report", anyway?

In the social sciences–anthropology, social work, education, and law–field reports are documents that capture a researcher’s observations and findings in the field. Typically they involve detailed observations and reflections about people in real situations.

As research instruments, field reports support data collection, the refinement of observational techniques, and build on existing or competing theories of phenomena or social practices.

As shared documents, field reports create bridges between existing theories about phenomena and observations about people in their environments as detailed by the researcher. Each and everyday we observe people in places and how they interact, with structured field report techniques, we can capture these observations with details, evidence, synthesis, and interpretations that allow researchers to systematically observe and accurately describe different situations.
For my research design, I have decided to observe each fieldsite for 2-3 full working days and interview each available team member for ~1 hour. While brief, embedding at work sites and one-on-one interviews will reveal tens of hours of rich, observational data to synthesize in the coming months. I have also made arrangements to observe meetings, visit exhibits, and access documents that teams have used to document their software curation projects.

Prepping for field work

In preparation for research this summer I have focused on a few tasks this spring:

  • In January and February, I designed a research framework and interview protocol for the different FCoP site visits. I consulted with each site lead over phone calls and emails to develop an observation plan for three site visits that include observations and interviews with teams members at UVA, Georgia Tech, and Living Computers.

  • In the beginning of April, I received IRB approval from UT’s Office of Research Support and Compliance which reviews and approves all research with human subjects. This research will involve observing people in their workplaces and recorded interviews, so I worked at developing a verbal consent protocol that would assure confidentiality and privacy of participants. With verbal consent protocols, researchers are able to ensure consent from participants without creating records of their names or workplaces. This allows participants to participate in interviews anonymously, while the researcher can maintain confidentiality and privacy of participants’ identity and roles in their organizations.

  • Once IRB approval was secured, I was able start to tying down specific dates for visits. A few site visits asked for me for more background about my credentials and research protocol, we’re hoping to finalize fieldwork dates by the end of May.

What's next?

In the coming months, I’ll be publishing 6-7 more dispatches from my fieldwork and research. These field reports will provide our readers brief accounts of my site visits to a number of FCoP cohort institutions as they develop software preservation workflows and emulation services for their unique communities, as well as broader synthesis and observations in the context of an action research perspective. With the consent of participants, I’ll share some observations about what I see, find, and hear. Field reports such as these can help us understand how theories about preservation appear in action, or perhaps, how competing visions of curation and preservation play out differently.

As an information scientist concerned with how digital preservation practices emerge and taken up in different kinds of places and for different motivations, I will be especially interested in the place-based observations of different work places and the people I interview. As you can see, this is more of a proto-field report than one where I report on events observed in place but it’s important that we set the table before we move on to dispatches from the field. I look forward to sharing with you what I find in the next month!