We had yesterday the great pleasure and honor to inaugurate our PECE instance with a conference of Prof. Kim Fortun, Department Chair in the University of California Irvine’s Department of Anthropology. During this presentation “Open Data in Anthropology: Promises and Challenges”, we tackled the delicate and controversial subject of possible ways of sharing ethnographic data. After a brief introduction of Prof. David Bozzini on the Swiss context regarding open data policy, Lionel Perini, as representative of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF), shortly explained the decision of the SNF to require a Data Management Plan (DMP) for each project submitted to the foundation. We had then the pleasure to listen to Kim Fortun’s reflections on some reasons why (not) sharing data in anthropology. She presented the amazing work she and her team have been doing for years with the designing of PECE (see for example the Asthma Files project and the Disaster STS network). After her presentation David Bozzini presented the CVA PECE instance that we are trying to implement in the frame of our current research project.
PECE stands for Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography and is an open source (Drupal-based) digital platform that supports multi-sited, cross-scale ethnographic and historical research. It is not only a place where data can be archived and analyzed, but researchers may also publish their analyses in the form of PECE essays.
PECE essays are much more than mere textual analyses: they are deeply embedded into available-to-everyone data. This platform also allows researchers to share their analytics – the questions they ask on the field – and registered members can then answer or comment these questions, adding more remarks or other answers. PECE is hence not solely a way to share data, but also to collect more data.
The goal of PECE could therefore be described as kaleidoscopic, enriching cultural analysis through use of an ever-evolving array of techniques and technologies – which, together, multiply perspective, give texture to insight, and animate reflexivity. (http://worldpece.org/about)
However, it also asks a vast array of questions, beginning with the needs in terms of digital infrastructure and community coordination. Another urgent question concerns the way of sharing data without decontextualizing them too much while not compromising the integrity and the safety of our research participants who are often promised anonymity. Another set of questions regards legal issues: what kind of licenses can protect the content of the platform? To whom belong the data that is there? How is it possible to cite a piece of data available on such platform?
This platform, as well as other initiatives of open data, call for a re-imagining of scholarly communication within our societies. It is also a excellent opportunity to think about the public relevance of a discipline such as anthropology, specially in a time of fake news and “alternative facts”.
Again, we would like to express our gratitude to the PECE team for its very helpful support and a special thanks to Kim Fortun for her great and inspiring commitment! We look forward to exploring the multiple aspects of this platform.