Messiness is generative

I’m going to write for a bit on innovation and design and research and a few other topics. It fits with some work I’m doing on innovation in complex learning organizations, but I won’t focus on the specifics much at all in these entries. These are just sketches of some ideas I’m enjoying reading about.

For instance, I’ve been reading about ethnographic studies of graphic designers. One item that struck a note is the idea that they work in teams, and the social nature of the design practice is a big part of what makes for success. The groups brief each other in open studios where people can hear and see conversations, often carried out in open conflict. The detritus of design is left scattered about the room – drawing boards, sketches, all kinds of papers. Nothing is hidden – things carved in foam are jumbled together on desks along with forgotten prototypes.

The point is that messiness is generative. Seeing a forgotten prototype for an early stage in a project may remind a designer of an important tradeoff made at that point; maybe it even helps get around a newly-discovered juncture.

What if research was carried out in the same environment? If we left our solo offices to sit in bullpens surrounded by other researchers and grad students? If we published (if only electronically, as a working paper on a server like the arXiv) every failed analysis? Every conjecture or hypothesis we considered worth extended consideration?

Certainly it would be messy. It would open us up to enhanced criticism. But it would also be generative.

Data for students struggling to find a dissertation topic

33462 The Role and Impact of Forensic Evidence on the Criminal Justice System, 2004-2008 [United States] http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR33462.v1

33742 Coroner Investigations of Suspicious Elder Deaths; 2008-2011 [California] http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR33742.v1

34939 How Justice Systems Realign in California: The Policies and Systemic Effects of Prison Downsizing, 1978-2013
http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR34939.v1

35205 Forensic Evidence and Criminal Justice Outcomes in Sexual Assault Cases in Massachusetts, 2008-2012 http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR35205.v1

35217 Street Stops and Police Legitimacy: Accountability and Legal Socialization in Everyday Policing of Young Adults in New York City, 2011-2013 http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR35217.v1

35487 Ethnic Albanian Organized Crime in New York City, 1975-2014 http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR35487.v1

36675 Afrobarometer Round 6: The Quality of Democracy and Governance in Cameroon, 2014-2015 http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36675.v1

36697 Law Enforcement Agency Roster (LEAR), 2016 http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36697.v1

36745 Flint Community Schools GIS Data, 2016 [Flint, Michigan] http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36745.v1

36769 Substance Use Among Violently Injured Youth in an Urban Emergency Department: Services and Outcomes in Flint, Michigan, 2009-2013 (Public-Use) http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36769.v1

New ICPSR datasets

35476 California Families Project [Sacramento and Woodland, California]
[Restricted-Use Files]
http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR35476.v1

36531 An Analysis of the Effects of an Academic Summer Program for
Middle School Students, 2012
http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36531.v1

36612 Los Angeles Metropolitan Area Surveys [LAMAS] 2, 1970

http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36612.v1

36687 Afrobarometer Round 6: The Quality of Democracy and Governance in
Ghana, 2014
http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36687.v1

36722 National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS
Refresher): Milwaukee African American Sample, 2012-2013

http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36722.v1

36738 Sit Together and Read in Early Childhood Special Education
Classrooms in Ohio (2008-2012)
http://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36738.v1

New administrative datasets at ICPSR

33761 Analysis of Current Cold-Case Investigation Practices and Factors Associated with Successful Outcomes, 2008-2009

34681 Case Processing in the New York County District Attorney’s Office; 2010-2011


34903 Delivery and Evaluation of the 2012 International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) National Blended Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) Training [UNITED STATES]

34922 Investigating the Impact of In-car Communication on Law Enforcement Officer Patrol Performance in an Advanced Driving Simulator in Mississippi, 2011

Communicating science more effectively

Here’s the new report from the National Academy of Science (free PDF download).

Science and technology are embedded in virtually every aspect of modern life. As a result, people face an increasing need to integrate information from science with their personal values and other considerations as they make important life decisions about medical care, the safety of foods, what to do about climate change, and many other issues. Communicating science effectively, however, is a complex task and an acquired skill. Moreover, the approaches to communicating science that will be most effective for specific audiences and circumstances are not obvious. Fortunately, there is an expanding science base from diverse disciplines that can support science communicators in making these determinations.

Communicating Science Effectively offers a research agenda for science communicators and researchers seeking to apply this research and fill gaps in knowledge about how to communicate effectively about science, focusing in particular on issues that are contentious in the public sphere. To inform this research agenda, this publication identifies important influences – psychological, economic, political, social, cultural, and media-related – on how science related to such issues is understood, perceived, and used.

Doubling down on evidence

Academia isn’t like the public sector or firms or nonprofits. These days, people in those sectors are trying to read the tea leaves about what’s coming next. In a post-truth world, everything is negotiable, so it’s all about reading the fault lines of debates, figuring out who wants what.  

I became an academic because I believe in evidence. It’s easy for critics to wrongly claim that universities are full of informational relativism, but I don’t see it. Instead I see groups of people trying to find the best ways to discover evidence about truth. The most bitter fights are about how we assemble that evidence because it isn’t easy to demonstrate causality.  

Academics are also facing the decision of whether to invest time reading the political fault lines – or to double down on evidence. 

If I was gifted with reading those political tea leaves I would have run for office.  I’m not, so I’m doubling down on evidence. I’m doing so because post-truth, like other movements, is a fad. Assuming we survive it, after it fades, there will be a great demand for evidence. Somewhere, sometime, people will want evidence about how to make policy or manage organizations. 

In the end, this is the primary responsibility of academics – to double down on evidence, not to translate or write opeds or whatever. If we don’t discover, who will?