June 03, 2024

By Brandi Geurkink

Last week, I wrote about the Coalition’s founding ideals and why we’re bringing the community together around this Summit. In the second blog of the Summit series, I wanted to share some of the key themes that we’re hearing from our members about the ideas, needs, and ambitions of the independent technology research community.

From the beginning, we’ve been clear that the Summit will not be a traditional research conference. Rather than PowerPoint presentations, we will use conversation and dialogue between community members to guide insights at the Summit. Our program prioritises peer-to-peer knowledge exchanges and features working sessions on issues that many independent technology researchers face. 

We will orient our working sessions around these areas of thematic focus that we’re calling “spaces.” These spaces are containers for more than 30 working sessions that will help us map our policy positions, envision new strategic interventions and build our individual and collective capacity and confidence to influence decisions about how technology is governed.

Policy change. This space will house conversations about changing corporate, legislative, and judicial policies to create a thriving ecosystem of public interest and independent technology research. Developing and advocating for policies that advance the right to conduct independent research and provide researchers with better conditions for carrying out their work is key to achieving a thriving public-interest tech research ecosystem. This space will be designed to take stock of existing and emerging opportunities to advocate for impactful policy change and to prototype new positions and strategies that meet the moment we’re in

Building better foundations. This space will house conversations about the “infrastructure” improvements that are needed to support technology research that is truly independent of the industry itself. In this space, we imagine “infrastructure” in the broadest sense possible: including tools, datasets, computational power, funding, talent, expertise, and more. We recognize that in the current ecosystem, access to research infrastructure is largely dependent on the institutions in which researchers work, which creates and sustains inequities. This space will bring together people and projects that already provide critical infrastructure for the field, as well as evoke generative ideas about how we might repurpose or expand existing research infrastructure in other disciplines to support independent technology researchers. It will also encourage sharing infrastructure, data, and tools in an attempt to minimize duplication of efforts and allow researchers to focus more on the research questions they want to answer.

Research methods and ethics. This space will house conversations aimed at surfacing existing research methods and imagining new ones—ensuring that conversations about ethics are interwoven throughout. In this space, independent technology researchers will have the opportunity to upskill and learn from other members of the community about the latest methods available for conducting cutting-edge independent technology research and have important discussions about the ethical frameworks that must be front of mind to ensure that research truly benefits the public interest.

Defending researchers under attack. This space will house conversations about the increasingly risky environment in which many independent technology researchers operate within, and how we can create better support structures for the field. In recent years, independent researchers, including journalists, have faced lawsuits, account closures, and smear campaigns from the companies that they investigate—and as regulatory scrutiny of the industry ramps up in many countries around the world, research that may have previously posed a mere PR threat is now being used by lawmakers and litigators to instigate regulatory actions with financial consequences against the world’s largest firms, causing them to act aggressively towards independent researchers. This space will take stock of the barriers and attacks that many researchers face, and what might be done about it.

Sustaining the movement. This space will house conversations about responsibly growing and sustaining the field of independent technology research. The organizing philosophy of this space is rooted in Zeynep Tufekci’s observation that the internet makes it easy to quickly gather large numbers of people—and to skip the essential organizing that holds a group together and creates sustained change over time. In academia, teaching and mentoring students is a common mechanism for supporting the researchers of tomorrow. Creating and maintaining cross-sector and multidisciplinary communities is essential, and this space is dedicated to that purpose.

These spaces are offered as a starting point for our community and will evolve over two days based on our collective reflection on what is happening in the world and the first-hand experiences of our members. We look forward to the dynamic conversations, shared insights, and collaborative efforts that will emerge from these spaces. Together, we can build a more robust and resilient independent technology research ecosystem that champions public interest and upholds the highest ethical standards.

The Independent Tech Researchers’ Summit is open to Coalition members only, but we welcome those who are interested in our work and eligible to join to apply for membership in the Coalition. Membership is open to academics, journalists, civil society researchers, and community scientists who engage in or support independent research focused on the impact of technology on society. We welcome and are committed to supporting research by, individuals as diverse as the societies we share.

To join the Coalition, please go here.