Democratising Big Data

A two day workshop at the University of Sussex’s Digital Humanities Lab, co-funded by the International Journal of Social Research Methodology’s seminar competition 2017/18 and the Sussex Humanities Lab.

Invited speakers include:

  • Graham Lally (Director & Head of Technology at the OCSI).
  • Dr Helen Pritchard (Goldsmiths, University of London) from the Citizen Sense project.
  • Dr Jennifer Pybus (Kings College London) from the Our Data Ourselves project.
  • Dr Jonathan Gray (Kings College London) from the Public Data Lab.
  • Dr Claudia Abreu Lopes (University of Cambridge).
  • Prof David Weir and Jack Pay (University of Sussex) from the TAG Laboratory and Sussex Humanities Lab.

Speaker abstracts are available here.

The rise of ‘big data’ has posed new challenges for research practices across the social sciences, with researchers divided over its methodological value and contribution (Halford & Savage 2017). Recent studies have drawn attention to the unethical and undemocratic ends that big data, and associated methods of data mining and scraping, can be directed towards (Eubanks 2018; Zimmer & Kinder-Kurlander 2017). Nonetheless, a recent wave of citizen data science and participatory action research has begun to explore the potential ways that big data can be used in studies orientated to societal and community-based challenges (for example the Public Science Project at CUNY). These studies use big data tools as resources to support individuals and communities in researching the social, political, environmental and structural circumstances of their lives – seeking to provide opportunities for collective reflection and social action through collaborative research.

This two-day workshop aims to explore the potential of big data in transforming participatory and action research approaches in the social sciences, examining the tensions, opportunities and challenges it presents for participatory, democratic and community-based models of research.

Key themes include, but are not limited to:

  • Citizen ‘data science’
  • Participatory action research and big data
  • Supporting communities to access and analyse data
  • Crowdsourcing and collective action
  • Data publics and public data
  • Big data ethics and challenges
  • Data inequalities
  • Co-production of big data research/tools
  • Software, tools and devices in participatory research
  • Visualising/re-animating big data
  • Data ownership

Day 1 The first day of the workshop will explore the inherent challenges and tensions of ‘democratising’ big data in research, drawing on perspectives from inside and outside of the social sciences, and from inside and outside of the academy.

Day 2 The second day will involve creative group activities aimed at mapping tensions and opportunities for participatory and action research, and exploring potential interdisciplinary projects.

Invitation to participate:

This workshop is open to participants from across the social sciences and computing interested in exploring participatory and action research approaches to big data. Catering will be provided on both days. Places are limited. To register, please sign up on the workshop’s Eventbrite page:

We have funds to cover one doctoral or early career researcher’s travel and accommodation from within the UK. To be considered for this place, please send a short email to Dr Liam Berriman ( by 22nd May 2018 outlining how the workshop’s themes connect with your research.

Location and Times:

Location: The Digital Humanities Lab, 2nd Floor, Silverstone Building. Falmer. Brighton. BN1 9RH.

Day one – 9:30-17:00 (followed by drinks reception)

Day two – 9:30-16:30