Research collaboration with University of Washington selected for National Science Foundation funding

Journalism and Media faculty member Sam Woolley is one of the principal investigators

A group of multidisciplinary researchers and partners led by The University of Texas and the University of Washington Information School is one of 28 teams selected as part of the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator 2021 cohort.

With $750,000 in phase 1 funding, the team will work to better understand the ways people navigate issues of trust in information systems. Journalism and Media faculty member Sam Woolley is one of five principal investigators from Washington and UT, including School of Information assistant professor Ahmer Arif.

"This project is about bringing together diverse voices from multiple sectors to collaboratively address the problem of disinformation," Woolley said. "We aren't just providing journalists, activists, or educators with tools -- we are working alongside them to collectively reimagine digital literacy and techniques for building it across society."

The project is titled "Co-designing for Trust: Reimagining Online Literacies with Underserved Communities," and will plan, facilitate, and assess a series of seven workshops that will focus on critical reasoning skills, the psychological and emotional aspects of information, and broader sociocultural dimensions of trust in information ecosystems. The workshop series will be hosted in collaboration with a diverse set of local stakeholders in Washington state and Texas, including urban and rural libraries, news outlets, civic organizations, and underrepresented communities.

The team will design, deploy, and test curricula intended to yield empirical and theoretical contributions to knowledge about existing digital divides, forms of social marginalization, and structural forces of inequity that intersect with the challenges of problematic information people encounter in their everyday lives. The work in phase 1 will also provide case studies for understanding how diverse populations, including rural and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, draw on social and epistemological resources to address problematic information and build trust – and furnish design implications for supporting these activities.

Other core institutional partners within the research team include Seattle Central College (SCC) and the Black Brilliance Research Project, a Black-led research collective with strong relationships to diverse BIPOC communities across Washington state.

Local and regional partners include the West Texan Media Group, KUT Public Radio and Smithville Public Library in Bastrop County, Texas.

Additional partners include AARP, the national interest group with more than 38 million members that focuses on issues affecting those over the age of 50, and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a national nonprofit focused on supporting broadband access and local technology training.

In addition to Woolley and Arif, the team has three other principal investigators. Emma Spiro, Katie Davis, and Jevin West are all faculty members at Washington.

About the NSF-Convergence Program

Launched in 2019, the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator builds upon research and discovery to accelerate use-inspired convergence research into practical application. The program funds a cohort of teams to work interactively toward solving grand societal challenges that impact thousands of people positively.

"The Convergence Accelerator’s curriculum, consisting of human-centered design; user discovery; team science; early-stage prototyping; and pitch preparation is designed to provide our funded teams the tools to transition their solutions into practice," said Douglas Maughan, Office Head of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program. "Phase 1 teams are expected to apply the curriculum; as well as focus on cross-cutting partnerships as most national-scale challenges cannot be solved with a single discipline and expertise."

NSF-Convergence’s 2021 cohort represents an investment of $21 million across the convergent research teams. Sixteen teams are funded under the program’s Networked Blue Economy (Track E), and 12 teams, including the one led by UW, are funded under Trust & Authenticity in Communications Systems (Track F).

Funded teams in the NSF-Convergence 2021 cohort begin in phase 1, a fast-paced nine-month hands-on journey, which includes the program’s innovation curriculum, formal pitch, and phase 2 proposal evaluation. The innovation curriculum includes user discovery, human-centered design, team science, communication skills, and pitching to assist the teams in developing their solution and preparing them for the next phase. The program’s team-based approach creates a co-opetition environment, stimulating the sharing of innovative ideas toward solving complex challenges together, while in a competitive environment to try and progress to phase 2.

NSF-Convergence teams are comprised of disciplines and expertise from academia, industry, government, non-profit, and other communities of practice. Disciplines include all science and engineering fields, but also other disciplines such as law, healthcare, communications, and business management to accelerate the solutions forward. As teams apply the program’s convergence research fundamentals and innovation processes, the teams’ pioneering ideas are transformed along the journey — moving it to a proof-of-concept, then prototype, and finally a solution. Teams also develop partnerships to support their solutions toward sustainability and transition to practice.

Marketing Communications
Dean's Office