Activism for Researchers

Prerequisites

There are no prerequisite for this chapter.

Summary

This chapter covers why activism can be an important part of ethical data science practice. It also covers different kinds of activism and how you can be an activist within your workplace, your field, your country, or the world at large!

Motivation and Background

There are many different scenarios where scientists and researchers would engage in activism to achieve change, such as a different institutional policy on open data, increasing ethical standards of research (see the Ethics Book), or improving working conditions. Scientists may engage in activism across topics related to their work, institutions, fields, or cross-disciplinary issues such as open research, or on topics unrelated to their career.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines activism as “the use of direct and noticeable action to achieve a result, usually a political or social one”. Activism can take many forms and achieve many different things, but it’s most effective when people work together as a community with a shared goal.

You don’t have to have a lot of experience in activism - or even call yourself an activist - to put some of these methods into practice. However, it can be difficult to know where to start when you want to make a change.

Ways to make change

Activism in your workplace can include:

  • Unionisation collective organisation of workers to improve working conditions

  • Internal policy advocacy campaigning to change the way your institution makes decisions or handles certain situations: this can include, for example, advocating for open data practices!

  • Whistleblowing the act of alerting authorities or the press to problems in your institution

In the future, we would like to expand this chapter to include guides to activism in wider society for scientists, for example, how to engage with government policy-making processes.

Activism in your field can include

  • Working to change policies and practices for professional organisations.

  • Outreach to encourage people to work in your field, especially people from backgrounds that are underrepresented

Activism can also work towards changing laws or policies: for example, lobbying for better data protection legislation in your country, or for resources to implement existing laws. In Australia, activists collaborated with legal aid groups to resist ‘Robodebt:’ an automated system that told welfare benefits recipients that they owed money.

Activism can also be part of changing the world for the better! This can include for example awareness-raising about data literacy.