Rhetoricians of science, technology, and medicine (RSTM) and allied scholars in technical communication (TC) and science and technology studies (STS) have a long-standing interest in the effective and ethical incorporation of public stakeholders in socio-technical decision-making. I work to build on this tradition, with a focus on designing and/or assessing deliberative processes.
This core focus has led to a wide range of projects, including efforts to better understand and improve:
- Environmental regulation at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Patient and consumer representation in FDA decision-making
- Transdisciplinary approaches to cancer-obesity treatment and prevention in low socioeconomic communities
- Risk communication in medical decision-making
- Public participation in pesticide policy via Regulations.gov
- Planning public participation in local environmental decision-making
Some of these represent early explorations designed to better understand the publics and practices involved in a given problem, while others were designed with direct intervention in mind. Taken together, my research in this area is the culmination of a commitment to promoting ethical and effective decision-making processes– processes that leverage available expertise and evidence while recognizing the value-ladenness of science and technology policy-making.
Facing rapid technological change, ongoing environmental destruction, and growing distrust of science, coordinating publics around scientific and technical policy has never been so important. While many pundits and scientists maintain that the solution is simply to get better at communicating the “facts of the matter,” scholars in the rhetoric of science, technology, and medicine (RSTM) and science and technology studies (STS) generally reject this approach, arguing that scientific and technical policy-making is too “wicked” to be resolved by a narrow focus on facts.
Wicked here is a technical term to highlight interconnected technical, scientific, and social dimensions of a problem. Such anti-linear, multifactorial problems resist easy resolution. Recognizing this wickedness, some rhetoricians of science, technology, and medicine argue for more direct intervention into sociotechnical decision-making processes—decision-making when science and technology are intertwined in matters of (human) concern. What sites, types, and styles of work will actually lead to more ethical and effective sociotechnical decision-making processes? What can rhetoric contribute?
I work to addresses these critical questions in my dissertation by reviewing recent developments in science communication theory and practice, assessing recent attempts by rhetoricians to affect scientific and technical policy-making, and conducting two in-depth case studies of policy-oriented, transdisciplinary studies. My goal is to provide data to support ongoing debates about the best way to promote ethical and effective policy-making processes.
In 2011 the National Science Foundation (NSF) initiated the Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program to prepare scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory and broaden the impact of select, NSF-funded, basic-research projects. The I-Corps program, which is built on the “Lean Startup” approach to entrepreneurship, seeks to promote the near-term benefits of basic research for the economy and society. As a recent participant in the program, as well as two additional Lean Startup boot camps, I’ve developed an interest in the “methodology” and what’s at stake as entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers within and beyond the NSF embrace it.
More specifically, I have become invested in exploring the value that technical communicators bring to Lean Startup, particularly technical communicators with expertise in usability design and user-experience research. These well-established expertises are a natural fit for research teams invested in user-centered design, a main tenet of the NSF Lean Startup initiative.
This research has led to the development of a writing software and consulting start-up, where I have served in a number of roles, including business analyst, usability researcher, and multimodal instructional designer.