We have been partnering with a wide variety of nonprofit organizations to better understand their information management strategies and struggles. Our findings suggest that the knowledge workers (both employees and volunteers) at these organizations are being immensely creative, constructing novel assemblages of very diverse information management systems, which we call “homebrew databases.” The downside here is that few if any of these systems have been designed to work well with each other, so organizations are constantly swapping one system for another, trying to streamline their homebrew databases and migrate as much of their data to as few systems as possible—ultimately leading to an incredibly frustrating and unproductive continuous state of infrastructural churn. All of this makes aggregating and analyzing data at scale nearly impossible… which leaves nonprofit organizations in a bind given the incredible pressure and politics to become more data-driven and to adopt new information systems that ultimately promise an unrealistic future of work—a pressure that contributes to a self-reinforcing cycle of disempowerment for those organizations.
Selected Relevant Publications:
Voida, A., Harmon, E. & Al-Ani, B. (2011). Homebrew databases: Complexities of everyday information management in nonprofit organizations. In Proceedings of the ACM SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2011). Vancouver, BC, May 7-12. New York: ACM Press, pp. 915–924. [CHI Best Paper Award Nominee]
Bopp, C., Harmon, E., & Voida, A. (2017). Disempowered by Data: Nonprofits, Social Enterprises, and the Consequences of Data-Driven Work. To appear in Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI). Denver, CO, May 6–11. New York: ACM Press.
Voida, A., Harmon, E., Weller, W., Thornsbury, A., Casale, A., Vance, S., Adams, F., Hoffman, Z., Schmidt, A., Grimley, K., Cox, L., Neeley, A. & Goodyear, C. (2017). Competing currencies: Designing for politics in units of measurement. To appear in Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing. Portland, OR, February 25–March 1. New York: ACM Press.
Verma, N. & Voida, A. (2016). On being actionable: Mythologies of business intelligence and disconnects in drill downs. To appear in Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Supporting Groupwork (Group 2016). Sanibel Island, FL, November 13–16. New York: ACM Press.