School of Information Studies (iSchool) faculty members Kevin Crowston and Ingrid Erickson are the recipients of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Award, which they will use to establish a research coordination network (RCN) to focus on socio-technological interactions between work and technology design in the age of increased automation.

This first round of NSF Convergence Awards highlights awardees that will leverage the integration of multiple disciplines to advance scientific discovery and innovation. Toward this end, the RCN that Crowston and Erickson will establish will bring together investigators from the fields of computer science, engineering, and the social and behavioral sciences to communicate, coordinate and integrate their research and educational activities across both disciplinary and organizational boundaries.

Crowston and Erickson’s award falls under one of the NSF’s 10 recently-named “big idea” initiatives: Work at the Human-Technology Frontier: Shaping the Future. This initiative addresses pressing research challenges at the human-technology frontier such as the changing ways goods and services are produced or the ways that distributed colleagues collaborate. 

Focusing specifically on work settings that involve the use of intelligent machines, Crowston and Erickson will coordinate convergent research that aims to better understand how both sides of this human-technology frontier can be designed equitably. This goal aligns with NSF´s belief that there is a unique opportunity to actively shape the development and use of technologies to improve the quality of work while also increasing productivity and economic growth in both manufacturing and service sectors such as healthcare and education.

“Our network will help create venues for interdisciplinary groups of scholars to meet, interact and generate the research that is necessary to develop actionable design principles in the realm of work and automation for work and intelligent machines,” explained Crowston.

The new research network will undertake three primary activities during its term.

“First it will organize an annual Convergence Conference that highlights the contribution of convergent research regarding the socio-technological landscape of work in the age of increased automation,” said Crowston. “Second, it will support a series of workshops at different disciplinary conferences that expand the reach of the network and consolidate, test, verify and evolve research ideas as they develop. And finally, the network will establish and maintain a set of shared online resources that support the research community and its efforts.”

The five-year award will provide nearly $500,000 in funding for the RCN.

Joining Crowston and Erickson as co-principal investigators on the project is Jeffrey Nickerson, Professor and Associate Dean of Research at Stevens Institute of Technology.