Princeton University

To investigate transformations in scientists’ collaborative and deliberative processes during the mass adoption of socially distant, online tools throughout the course of the Covid-19 pandemic

  • Amount $200,000
  • City Princeton, NJ
  • Investigator Janet Vertesi
  • Initiative Virtual Collaboration initiative
  • Year 2021
  • Program Technology
  • Sub-program Exploratory Grantmaking in Technology

One relatively niche but extremely important case of scientific collaboration is the “decadal survey”, the process by which some research disciplines reach consensus on field-level priorities for the next ten years. In disciplines where instruments and missions are highly capital-intensive, these decadal surveys play a critical role in guiding much spending and research funding across public and private sources. The decadal process generally plays out over several years through a series of local and then international convenings, and consensus is gradually reached through deliberative discussion, argument, coaxing, side conversations, and iterative production of documents until delivery of a final report. This grant supports Janet Vertesi and David Reinecke, two sociologists, who are studying how coronavirus-forced adoption of virtual meeting and collaboration technologies has affected the decadal survey processes of three fields: planetary science, heliophysics, and astrophysics. Using a combination of interviews, archival research, and ethnographic observation, Vertesi and Reinecke will document how pandemic-focused remote work changed the survey process in these three fields--what worked better and what worked worse—with an eye towards articulating how to improve online collaboration technologies in ways that increase the benefits and decrease the costs of using them for discipline-wide scientific collaboration.

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