A workshop: Helping people to manage their digital identities

I have recently started work on a new research project, titled DISIPRAC: Digital identity security information practices of citizens. The project scope is to investigate the security information practices associated with digital identity, in particular, the sharing of log-in details and to develop the concept of “social proxies” for managing digital identities.

Over the last decade, most levels of government have been implementing a policy often called “digital by default” or “digital-first” in the name of efficiency and cost savings to prioritise online services such as Universal Credit and myaccount. At the same time, the security of online systems has been increasing, making it more challenging for everyone to actually accessing the services they need. This is bound to impact the information practices of many users. One result might be the temptation to avoid the use of some online systems altogether, but this is often not a practical option.  Another could be individuals using risky behaviours with their digital identity, such as sharing passwords, with obvious implications for data protection and privacy.

Some system designers and system owners/managers are aware of the potential impact of this change and are starting to accommodate some users through “assisted digital” services, “alternative journeys” and models of guardianship or delegated identity. However, it is unclear if these capture the range of informal support that happens around social proxy practices and behaviours.

This is where DISIPRAC come in. This work will be undertaken with Peter Cruickshank, my colleague in the Centre for Social Informatics, and has been funded by a research development grant at Edinburgh Napier University. Peter is the PI on the project (and my former PhD supervisor). He brings more than 10 years’ experience in researching how citizens adopt and learn how to use internet technologies for participation in democratic processes and to engage with government services online. This is complemented by my own research in information behaviour and practices related to online information sharing and use, including my PhD work and my involvement in another Napier project, Social media by proxy: Strategies for managing the online profiles of adults with dementia, and my work at the University of Dundee, TAPESTRY: Trust, Authentication and Privacy over a DeCentralised Social Registry.

At this time, we are conducting a literature review and beginning to plan for a workshop in February that will be used as our primary source of research data. The workshop will be for professionals, citizen support and advocacy groups, and other similar stakeholders. Its aim will be to understand the issues they face when supporting (potentially vulnerable) citizens to better cope with increased levels of security for government systems that are increasingly integral to their every-day lives. We will do this by working through a set of pre-defined scenarios over the course of the day, based around access to services provided by UK, Scottish and local governments.

How can you help? Send us your (anonymised) stories now!
We are compiling a selection of stories and examples for how people support others in relation to their online identities. If you have a story to share, please send them my way. All stories will be anonymised.

Ultimately, this project will address the gaps in current research related to users’ real-world information practices around their digital identity, particularly by citizens and customers in a non-discretionary context.

We are very excited to have a chance to find out more about this highly topical area. We will learn more about the relationship between identity (who we are) and digital identity (how IT systems recognise us), and we recognise that information practitioners in libraries and voluntary organisations are at the front line of the change in public services. This project is a great opportunity to make contacts and hear stories – and hopefully provide the basis for a larger future project.

Stay tuned for more information about the workshop, including how you can get involved. And, as always, please contact me if you have any questions!

[Note: Image by Michael Morrow, sourced on Flickr and used under Creative Commons License.]

A study on trust and online dating

As part of my work with the Living Digital group at the University of Dundee, I am starting to recruit participants for a study related to trust and online dating. I will be using qualitative interviews and focus groups for this study, and I am hoping to have about 20 participants.

This study forms part of a larger project that looks at how users establish trusting relationships online. In total, we will look at four different scenarios in which users make trust judgments online: e-commerce, health forums, online dating, and managing ‘Internet of Things’ devices. For my qualitative portion of the project, I will aim to outline key factors that contribute to trust behaviour in a particular online environment. These findings will then be further examined in future studies, which will contribute to the development of an automated system for authenticating the online identity of other users who you are interacting with.

You can learn more about the larger project, TAPESTRY: trust, authentication and privacy over a decentralised social registry, here.

If you would like to participate in this study, you can contact me or visit my recruitment page here. And, as always, please feel free to share with your friends!

The doctor is in: Frances Ryan, PhD

It has been a long time coming, but I am finally a doctor. Oh yes, I am now officially Dr Frances Ryan. The PhD kind of doctor, not the medical kind – just so that there is no doubt.

When I say “a long time coming”, I mean that my PhD Dreams began with my undergraduate degree way, way, way back in 1999. At the time, I had hoped to move directly from my undergraduate work at Central Washington University into a master’s degree followed, hopefully, by a PhD. But after meeting a cute boy during my undergraduate year abroad, I put my postgraduate dreams on hold so that I could get married and do all that lovey-dovey family stuff. (No regrets!)

Later, with the full support and encouragement of my husband, Paul, the plan changed to doing part-time postgraduate studies whilst we raised our family (we were getting ready to adopt from the foster care system). But my beloved Paul died before I was meant to begin my studies, and so I put my dreams on hold so that I could relearn how to breathe. (No, really. When you become a widow, you can forget how to do simple things like breathe, eat, sleep, laugh, and even hope…)

But, eventually, I managed to find the strength to return to school for a master’s degree. And at some point during that degree path, my PhD Dreams were renewed. I was privileged to be offered three different PhD placements and I happily accepted the one at Edinburgh Napier University.

My PhD studies began in November 2013 under the supervision of Professor Hazel Hall (director of studies), Alistair Lawson (second supervisor), and Peter Cruickshank (third supervisor). Whilst the “ideal” PhD journey is about three years, my journey took a bit longer than that. Which isn’t uncommon, but I am a bit disappointed at myself for not finishing sooner. (Some of the delays were out of my control, but I have to acknowledge that some were down to me and my self-confidence – or lack thereof.)

In the end, I submitted my thesis on Halloween (2018) just shy of five years after beginning my studies and my (slightly delayed) viva took place in February 2019. I was quite keen to complete my minor corrections in time for the summer graduations, so handed in my corrections a tad bit early (so not everything about my PhD was delayed). After all, graduating on the 4th of July is a pretty cool thing for an American – especially one who is the daughter of two United States Marines!

And so, finally, here I am: Frances Ryan, PhD. Or Dr Ryan, if you prefer.

Of course, this dream could never have been realised without the encouragement and support of others. So, thank you to all of my family and friends in America, the UK, and in the virtual world for helping to see me through this crazy adventure!

I am not certain where life will take me next. Ideally, I will be able to remain in Scotland working as an academic for the foreseeable future. But I am a realist (begrudgingly so) and I know that I will have to be open to opportunities wherever they might be. (If you know of a job opportunity I should consider, please get in touch!)

And now that I have accomplished this great dream of mine, I suppose I should start thinking about the Next Big Thing. After all, having a big goal to focus on is what keeps me going!

You can watch the ceremony on YouTube below. I enter the stage about 6 minutes in, so no need to watch the entire 90-minute show!

Build, manage, and evaluate: Information practices and personal reputations on social media platforms || #CoLIS10

I am in Ljubljana, Slovenia this week to attend the 10th Conceptions of Library and Information Science (CoLIS) conference, where I will be presenting a paper related to some of my PhD research.

The paper is titled “Build, manage, and evaluate: Information practices and personal reputations on social media platforms” and is co-authored with Professor Hazel Hall, Peter Cruickshank, and Alistair Lawson. The research draws from some of the findings from my doctoral investigation on the use of online information in the management of personal reputation and considers a single research question: “How do information behaviours related to personal reputation building, management, and evaluation on social media reflect citation practices related to the building, management, and evaluation of academic reputation?”

ABSTRACT:
Introduction.
The broad theme of this paper is the use of information to build, manage and evaluate personal reputations. It reports the findings of a study that considered the extent to which social media users replicate in online environments the established information practices of academics when they assess their peers. The three platforms considered are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Method. A multi-step data collection process was implemented for this work. Forty-five UK-based social media users kept journals and took part in semi-structured interviews.
Analysis. A qualitative analysis of the journal and diary data was undertaken using NVivo10. Information practices were analysed to consider the similarities or difference between social media practices and related practices deployed by academics related to citations.
Results. The findings expose the ways in which social media users build, manage, and evaluate personal reputations online may be aligned with the citation practices of academics.
Conclusion.
This work shows where the similarities and differences exist between citation practices and related information practices on social media as related to personal reputations. Broadly, the findings of this research demonstrate that social media users do replicate in informal online environments the established information practices of academics.

I will be presenting on Wednesday, 19 June during the “Information Management” session (13.00-14.00; Room 4).

Not attending the conference? Don’t worry! The presentation slides below will allow you to engage with my presentation from afar.

If you have any questions about this research, my doctoral work as a whole, or about potential collaborations, please contact me.

If you wish to interact in real-time, you can ask me questions on Twitter (@FrancesRyanPhD) or follow along with the conference using the hashtag #CoLIS10.

My thesis: The final version

My PhD thesis is now complete and, more importantly, the final, hard-bound version has been submitted to the research office. This marks the last hurdle in my PhD journey, ahead of my graduation on 4 July. (The perfect date for an American to graduate!)

The final version of my thesis reflects the amendments that I was asked to make after my PhD viva in February. My edits were classed as “minor” which meant I was given two months to complete them (from the date of the formal corrections letter, not the date of the viva). That meant that I had until 28 May to work through my thesis again to make the necessary updates, before sending the corrected thesis back to the research office for the next steps.

To make the best use of my time, I started out by classifying the edits as simple, moderate, and “difficult”. That way, I was able to work on different types of edits based on the level of thinking that my brain was ready for at different times of the day or when conflicting priorities meant I had less uninterrupted time for working on the document.

I found most of the edits to be quite easy, even after marking them difficult. However, there were a couple of edits that I struggled with. Although I didn’t struggle because they were challenging, rather I struggled because I was overthinking things. Thankfully, the overthinking was the worst of it and the changes were all made with (relative) ease.

After the edits were complete, and approved by my examiners, all of the relevant paperwork was sent to the Research Degrees Committee for their final sign-off. Then, once I received the letter from the committee saying that my award was confirmed, I printed off my thesis for the final binding.

Today, I handed in the final printed thesis (and emailed an electronic version) to the research office. And I confirmed the title of my thesis. And confirmed my application for graduation. And confirmed my graduation gown hire. So, that’s my PhD done.

Almost… After all, I still have one more step before I am Dr Ryan.

The next (and final) step is now to walk across the stage to collect my degree. It’s been a long and winding road, but I’m finally (almost) done!