Plans and Models: Digital Tools, Sticky Practices and the Thorny Problem of Innovation

Digital Futures Lecture Series: Gina Neff

Gina Neff Gina Neff
What do multidisciplinary teams need to generate innovative ideas? The research that our team has done on large-scale architecture, engineering and construction projects presented us with a paradox: More detailed visualizations made it easier for interdisciplinary teams to identify and agree upon problems while making it harder for them to generate solutions. The answer to this paradox, we think, is in the communication strategies that teams use, including their choice of communication medium.

This talk is drawn from a book manuscript based on eight years of field research in contemporary architecture, engineering and construction--industries undergoing historic change in response to a new digital tool. The tool, Building Information Modeling (BIM), has significantly shifted how architects and engineers communicate designs and challenged industry norms and legla standards. While BIM gave teams new ways of representing buildings, sharing data and managing information flows, it took away one of their most important strategies for innovation: ambiguity.

For design, our research shows the importance of understanding what multidisciplinary teams need for identifying problems and generating solutions to those problems. For scholars of technology and innovation, our research extends the understanding of visualizations for interpretive flexibility and the role malleable media play in teams. For practitioners, our study can inform conscious choices about design workspaces, tools and processes.

About the speaker:

Gina Neff is a sociologist who studies how new communication and data-intensive technologies impact work, companies, and society. Her award-winning book Venture Labor: Work and the Burden of Risk in Innovative Industries, published by MIT in 2012, examined the risks faced by new media pioneers of the first internet boom. Funded by Intel, she studied the effects of emerging social media and consumer health technologies on the organization of primary care and wrote Self-Tracking with Dawn Nafus, forthcoming from MIT in spring 2016.

Neff co-directs the Collaboration, Technology and Organizational Practices, a research group studying the roles of communication technology and data in the innovation of complex building design and construction. She has a Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University, where she remains an external faculty affiliate of the Center on Organizational Innovation, and has held appointments at UC San Diego, UCLA, Stanford University, Princeton University, NYU, and Central European University, where she is a senior fellow at the Center for Media, Data & Society. In addition to academic outlets, her research and writing have been featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Christian Science Monitor, Pacific Standard, Fortune, The American Prospect, and The Nation.

About the series:

This series is co-sponsored by the School of Information and the Department of Communication Studies in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. It is made possible with support from the John D. Evans Foundation.
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When and Where

Map North Quad - Ehrlicher Room (3100 North Quad)

April 2016

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1:00pm - 2:00pm

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