Challenges in Revealing the Bright Shadows of the Digitally Invisible

A research project – Justin Longo, David M. Hondula, Evan R. Kuras, and Erik W. Johnston

For presentation at Policy-Making in the Big Data Era: Opportunities and Challenges, June 15-17 2015, University of Cambridge

Status: field research currently underway. See also

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Digitally Invisible – Call for Participation

How Digital Data Ignores the Homeless – An ASU Research Study

We are researchers in the School of Public Affairs and Center for Policy Informatics at Arizona State University, conducting research on how some members of society are not being represented in government datasets as we become increasingly reliant on digital services like smart phones, credit card transactions and Internet-connected devices.

Our hypothesis is that homeless individuals are especially likely to not be represented in these digital datasets – leading to a state we call digitally invisible. When government policy is made based on digital data, being digitally invisible means that those policies will not reflect the day-to-day reality of being homeless. Our study is an initial attempt to test this hypothesis, and to open a discussion about how the problems of the homeless can be better reflected in digital data with the long-term goal of improving homeless services and the wellbeing of the homeless.

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Digitally Invisible – Consent

We will work with Phoenix Heat Relief Network cooling centers and the City of Phoenix Human Services Department Homeless Programs to connect with their clients who self-identify as homeless. Individuals who express an interest in participating in this research will meet with a research team member and their support worker to confirm their interest in participating and to begin the study. At that meeting, this form will be explained to the participant and they will be asked to confirm that they are agreeing to participate. Two copies of the form will be signed by the research team member, and witnessed by the cooling center / homeless support services worker, and one copy will be given to the participant.

How Digital Data Ignores the Homeless – Research Study

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Digitally Invisible – Pre-Test Interview Questions

Following the confirmation of the participant’s interest in being involved in the study, a brief research interview will be conducted with study participants to understand their perceptions and concerns with respect to privacy, obtrusiveness of the device, and their experiences as a homeless person. This interview will be conducted in the presence of the cooling center or homeless services support worker. The estimated amount of time required to participate in this component is 10 minutes for each interview participant.

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Digitally Invisible – Post-Test Interview Questions

After the participant has carried the iButton for one week, an arrangement will be made for a follow-up meeting of a research team member, the cooling center or homeless services support worker and the participant. The device will be collected from the participant, and a brief research interview will be conducted to understand the participant’s perceptions and concerns with respect to privacy, obtrusiveness of the device, their experiences as a homeless person and scope for more complex data capture protocols and greater researcher/participant collaboration. The participant will be offered a $25 Visa Gift Card upon the return of the iButton to thanks them for participating in this research and to compensate them for their time and effort (see attachment 5)

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