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Surviving the New Economy

British Academy Award for “Data Work” Project

I propose to complete a book manuscript on the future of work based on over a decade of qualitative research on data-driven transformation in the construction industry. Contrary to received wisdom, my research shows that when faced with new categories of data in their jobs, front-line ‘data workers innovated to incorporate new data into the existing social structures of their workplaces. The data, funded by US NSF, includes 350 interviews and 8 years of participant-observation in 3 teams work who designed and built a hospital, a major research laboratory, and a 40-storey high-rise building. I have co-authored 28 journal and conference publications based on this research to date. For this project, I will complete a book manuscript in the sociology of technology that focuses the experience of digital transformation for workers in construction and the lessons that their experience holds for others in the era of AI and big data.

Best Teaching Award

I’m proud to have won a Teaching Excellence Award in the Social Sciences at Oxford this year. Thank you to the students who nominated me for this Excellence in Supervision award!

Engineering Communication in Data Rich Environments

I have been awarded $170,000 from the UW Innovation Fund for the project “Engineering Communication in Data Rich Environments: How do we support innovation in multidisciplinary teams?”

Today’s engineers grapple with more data, more people, and less time. Design theory suggests collaborative problem solving leads to innovation, but multidisciplinary projects often fall short of this potential because experts from different fields lack the communication and collaboration skills they need to translate their work across disciplinary boundaries. Joint problem solving requires teams to address differences in values, requirements, and constraints, as happens when a structural engineer collaborates with an architect. Few engineers are trained explicitly in these skills, yet engineering problems from hardware to infrastructure, from nanotechnology to skyscrapers require engineers to work with teams of experts from different fields.

Through a UW Innovation Research Award, our project will study how engineers communicate with data and data visualizations for interdisciplinary innovation. We will study both student teams and industry teams to identify the key challenges and opportunities for collaboration in these settings. Our research to date suggests a paradox: more detailed visualizations make it easier for interdisciplinary teams to identify and agree upon problems while making it harder for them to generate solutions. The answer to this paradox, we think, is in the communication strategies that engineers use with other professionals. Our goals are to inspire engineering innovation through the transformation of collaboration with data across disciplines; measure the impact of data communication on shared understanding; and train future engineers in the skills and techniques for communication and collaboration in data-rich environments.