My day job involves a very interesting balance between two distinct functions: research and public education.
To many working in the public sector, there is a very clear line dividing these two roles.
In research, the organization attempts to examine an issue of some importance, identify options that may want to be explored by the organization, conduct research largely in secret (there’s a reason why the Treasury Board had to mandate that government-funded public opini0n research be released to the public) and then set out some possible policy approaches to addressing the issue.
Public education? Many consider this function to be the loose-lipped and overly indiscreet part of the organization. The bar hopper. The close talker. The desperate car salesman of the public service.
Luckily for me, a small organization finds it more efficient – and more productive – to try and tap outside resources in most circumstances. You’ve conducted a multi-national survey on the policy implications of X? Great. One more thing I don’t have to commission. Your area of academic specialization is remarkably similar to a subject we have become deeply interested in? Fantastic! Can we invite you up for a day of consultations and maybe a public discussion?
The research conducted by our organization can be opportunistic. We have an institutionalized willingness to hear out and even incorporate outside opinion into our research process, especially when there are dozens of specialists honing in on very defined areas of expertise in privacy and data protection.
Many of these specialists also invest a lot of time and effort in communicating their work – whether through meetings of their professional associations, by publishing their academic or legal research, speaking to public meetings or through loud (or quiet) activism.
What does this mean? Sometimes, my roles as researcher and educator meet – even amplify each other. Amplification doesn’t necessarily mean the goals of our work meet, but there are enough synergies and benefits to be shared.
This leads me to our latest research project (http://dpi.priv.gc.ca) – a collection of essays discussing deep packet inspection (DPI). As we were beginning to research DPI as a privacy issue last summer, we recognized that there are many, many sides to the issue and to the application of the technology – each with its own proponent and each with its own school of thought and support.
Instead of preparing a summary of the issue, or commissioning contrasting research papers, we decided to take two separate tacks:
- build a collection of varying points of view on DPI, solicited from experts from as many fields as possible; and
- providing those with a professional or private interest in the issue with an opportunity to comment and provide additional resources on DPI and its implications.
This is the result:
That’s right. It’s an online publication designed to offer an opportunity for the new spirit of collaboration and cooperation to take hold – in a constructive way. It also happens to incorporate now common social media elements.
It’s not a social media project looking for a convenient home. It’s a practical and reasoned application of innovative public education tools to a real research need.
And I hope it works.