Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives

In exactly one week, I’ll to be sitting on a metro that is taking me to the airport. I’ll probably be equally nervous and excited about flying to Denver, Colorado, USA to attend CHI2017. While there, I’m hoping to meet some awesome new people who do awesome research, I’ll be working on some cross stitch to raise funds for Planned Parenthood, and I’ll be running a few pop-up stalls for zine making for people to share their different experiences of being at CHI, but I’ll also be presenting my paper.

So, maybe I should give a little bit of context here. As fempower.tech, some great people that I work with and I are organising what we have called #CHIversity. It’s an attempt to make diversity (whatever that is) more visible at the conference, and to foster discussion on inclusion, representation, feminisms, and social justice while there. The name, CHIversity, is naff. We know. It was a bit of a play on the topic of diversity (again, whatever that means) and CHI, and is supposed to be tongue in cheek. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to start a discussion. In this way, we hope to provide a small alternative to the usual exclusive parties that people go to to network by providing a comfortable, safe, relaxed, and alcohol-free environment for people to come together. Since we’ll be crafting, if someone doesn’t want to talk but rather just enjoy the presence of others, that’s absolutely fine. If someone wants to chat and not craft, that’s also more than okay.

We’ll be doing a number of things: tweeting, blogging, fundraising, making zines, and supporting our colleagues at the diversity lunch. Something I’m quite excited about is our feminist CHI programme. It’s not complete by any means, but it’s a nice starting point for something that we could maybe keep doing at other conferences we go to?

You can find out more about what we’re planning by having a look at our website and to keep up-to-date with what’s going on while in Denver, please follow @fempowertech on twitter. 

While all of that is exciting, it’s not the only reason I’m going to CHI. I’ll also be presenting a paper I wrote with Mary Laing and Rob Comber. It’s called Technologies and Social Justice Outcomes in Sex Work Charities: Fighting Stigma, Saving Lives and is based on some of the work I’ve done with National Ugly Mugs. It’s an analysis of their service delivery in relation to social justice, and I outline how they utilise technologies for their reporting, alerting, and mobilising practices to support their social justice outcomes. The paper ends on implications for design that will be useful for people who want to design digital technologies with charities.

If that made you curious enough to want to read the whole ten pages, you can either go download it from the ACM digital library (once it’s out on there, probably around the 6/7/8 of May), but if you don’t have access to that or want to read it before then, here you go. See below for the abstract:

[edit on 3rd of May 2017: the paper’s now been published in open access, so go download it here to boost that download count, because academic metrics :p]

Sex workers’ rights are human rights, and as such are an issue inherently based in social, criminal, and political justice debates. As HCI continues to move towards feminist and social justice oriented research and design approaches, we argue that we need to take into consideration the difficulties faced by sex workers; and explore how technology can and does mediate social justice outcomes for them. We contribute directly to this challenge by providing an empirical account of a charity whose work is built on the underlying move towards social and criminal justice for sex workers in the UK. Through ethnographic fieldwork, meetings, interviews, surveys, and creative workshops we describe the different points of view associated with the charity from a variety of stakeholders. We discuss their service provision and the ways in which HCI is uniquely positioned to be able respond to the needs of and to support sex work support services.

 

My first publication…from ages ago

Today I’m going to talk about something really old to ease myself into talking about more recent things. I’m going to talk about my first publication. It was a weird experience that I think I’ve slightly touched upon before, but I want to revisit to reflect on how far I’ve come in relation to this and to ease myself into talking about more recent things. It’s also something that’s on the bucket list I’ve put on my website, so since I had nothing else to really talk about today, I thought I’d address something from there.

My first CHI paper. If you’re from HCI, chances are you know about CHI. If you’re not, it’s (one of) the biggest HCI conferences out there. HCI is a weird field where conference proceedings are actually quite hard to get accepted (CHI has an acceptance rate of around 23-25% each year), and where they’re in the form of (roughly) 10 page peer-reviewed papers as opposed to the usual 250-500 word abstracts in social science conferences.

CHI stands for Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems and is held in a different city every year. The one I’m going to be talking about is CHI 2015, and was held in Seoul, South Korea. So this is a reflection on something quite old…

This was the year I was finishing my MA in International Development and Education and was looking around for places to do a PhD. I really got a taste of doing research half way through the MA when we were writing our research proposals, and wanted to continue to do this. It wasn’t something I had ever before considered, but something I wanted to know more about. I looked and asked around in different universities across the UK and Europe to see if there was anything interesting somewhere.  I found loads of interesting Professors and Lecturers, but couldn’t really find something that stuck out. I found people that were particularly interested in homelessness (and I think actually contacted someone to see if they wanted to have a chat) but things never really went any further than an e-mail. Nothing felt right. It wasn’t until I heard about Culture Lab (which is the old name for Open Lab) that I started to feel like this could actually be something I wanted to do. The website, while not the most up-to-date and amazing thing, told stories of interesting projects that sounded more like the kind of thing I was interested in. It wasn’t all about reliability, about standardised research methods, and projects made by one person. It was about collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and creative research methods. For some reason I decided to send off a message on the contact form for the lab and was half-expecting not to get anything in return, when a few days later I had an e-mail in my inbox from R. We met up and I explained what my research was for the MA and how I wanted to do a PhD in something similar but wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do it in yet. He seemed somewhat interested and continued to informally support me throughout the rest of my MA research. Throughout this process, we met up quite regularly and as I started to get to know the lab a little and he started to get to know me a little he mentioned that there was going to be some funding for a 1+3 PhD studentship that he thought I might want to apply for: the Digital Civics PhD.

I did.
For some weird reason, I got it.

When it came to writing my dissertation he was an immense help, and since it was roughly the same time of the year as CHI deadline he and P recommended that I put something in for the conference. I was terrified and thought it was a bit silly I was writing something for the conference, but almost everyone that was in the lab at the time was doing it. They offered me a desk in the lab (multiple times) but I was too shy to accept it. I didn’t feel like I was smart enough, or good enough to sit with all these other amazingly smart people, so I only ever came in for my supervisions with R. It wasn’t until it was almost the CHI deadline that I started actually working in the lab. I wish I’d have done that sooner! The people are incredibly smart and intimidating, but they’re also absolutely lovely and kind – I really should’ve just sat down in the lab sooner. Maybe I could’ve gotten to know a few more people sooner.

Anyway, back to the paper. So it started off with R explaining to me what CHI was, what a CHI paper was, and how the review and publication process worked. Throughout the entire time he made clear to me that, while the work I did was interesting and good, it had a low chance of actually getting in (which is/was very true). It was my first time writing something, which lowered the chances even more, but I did it anyway. It felt really great that they thought the work I did was interesting enough to be published, and it was even more exciting that I got to work on an actual academic publication with R.

I’m  not going to go into detail of his supervision style, but he was really supportive in the writing of this paper and helped me out in many different ways. He sat down with me and answered my silly questions, but he also sat down with me and the paper and transformed a few of my horribly naive sentences into something that read like an academic paper so I could learn from that and transform the rest of my paper by myself.

When it came to deadline day, I was happy with the paper and excited to see what reviewers would say. A few days before we had another meeting about the paper where we decided together that it was amazing that I had written this, that it was something that should definitely be submitted, but that I shouldn’t have too many hopes as it was my first time submitting, and the work was arguably not done with HCI in mind throughout the whole thing (as I was focusing on the International Development and Education thing for my dissertation…). Anyway, we submitted and I was excited to see the reviews.

They ended up being quite nice, but it seemed like the paper would not get accepted. They scores weren’t terrible, but not good enough to really get the paper accepted. I was a bit sad, but also understood that there was always going to be a next year. After the AC meeting (where they discuss each paper and finalise the decision whether it should be published or not) however, I got an e-mail that said my paper was accepted and that I would be shepherded. R had explained to me earlier that this meant someone took on a lot of work and time to help me re-write parts of the paper (my discussion) to the point where they think it should be publishable. Apparently someone thought my work was interesting enough to be published. Thank you!!

So, over the christmas holiday I re-wrote my discussion section and changed other parts of the paper to match with this so it would be ready for publication in early January. That was an exciting experience that I briefly go into more detail here. And then, when it came to May 2015, I got to fly to Seoul to present the work I did. To talk about homelessness in Romania and the informal learning networks that are shaped in that environment. It was fun and exciting, and terrifying all at the same time. Something I’d like to do again, and something I’m going to do again in a couple of weeks at CHI 2017 in Denver, Colorado, USA. But that’s for another post.

I have changed a lot over the last two years academically and personally, and I’m assuming CHI will have changed too. This year my paper was not shepherded, and got a variety of different scores across the board. The reviews were absolutely lovely and I was able to make the paper much better based on them. I’ve grown a lot since this first CHI cycle. I’m less scared about sending out papers for review (I actually really quite enjoy that process now!), I’m less scared about showing my writing to others (anyone want to proof read any of my stuff?), but I still ask R silly questions about conferences and their review process (I don’t think this’ll stop until I stop working with R). I’m glad I was pushed into the scary land of CHI so early, it made the next year much easier, and has now opened me up to attempt to publish not only at conferences but also in journals and got me interested in learning more about book chapters. Exciting times. I’ll keep you posted.