Four professors from the Faculty of Law’s Centre for Law Technology and Society have been awarded prestigious multi-million dollar Partnership Grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
Professors Valerie Steeves (Faculty of Social Sciences) and Jane Bailey (Faculty of Law, Common Law Section) have received a grant for a project entitled “The eQuality Project,” which brings together a broad range of civil society, educational and government partners interested in exploring young peoples’ experiences online. Their project also takes a multidisciplinary approach to the study of online behavioural targeting and cyberbullying as elements that shape the potential for a lived equality in networked spaces. Professors Jeremy de Beer and Chidi Oguamanam, both from the Common Law Section, were awarded a grant to expand their Open African Innovation Research network, known as Open AIR. With partners in each region of Africa, they are working to ease the inherent tensions between intellectual property and access to knowledge, build connections amongst Canada and the world’s fastest growing economies, and train new scholars with unique international experiences and perspectives.
The SSHRC Partnership Grants are each worth approximately $2.5 million, spread out over seven years. The grants aim to “support formal partnerships between academic researchers, businesses, community and grassroots organizations, and other partners that will advance knowledge and understanding on critical issues of intellectual, social, economic and cultural significance” (SSHRC Partnership Grants: An Overview). The highly competitive process shortlisted 24 projects in 2014. That two of those projects hail from the same research centre at uOttawa is both an incredible feat and proof that the Centre for Law, Technology and Society is truly at the forefront of research in its field.
Professors Steeves and Bailey will co-lead The eQuality Project. Their highly innovative approach examines privacy, online behavioural targeting and cyberbullying through an equality lens. This enables a fuller exploration of the interlinking effects of emerging forms of e-commerce on youth. The economic model behind e-commerce – disclosure of information in exchange for services – leads youth to drop terabytes of data (often unknowingly) as they go about their daily lives. This data is used in a wide variety of ways, including behavioural marketing that shapes attitudes and behaviours; and profiling, which can also reinforce mainstream stereotypes and lead to discrimination and cyberbullying.
The project seeks to answer the question of how society can create an equality enhancing and affirming environment in online spaces, where kids can understand from a young age what their rights are and what their responsibilities are to one another. “One of the most important ways to use law is education,” says Prof. Bailey, “but we need to create a space for dialogue and understanding.” “You can’t just tell kids what to do,” adds Prof. Steeves. “We need to look at the environment we’ve created for kids – how have we constrained their ability to be themselves?”
Professor Steeves’ and Bailey’s partnership of scholars, research and policy institutes, policymakers, educators, community organizations, and youth will inform digital economic policies, especially with respect to privacy, and reinvigorate the cyberbullying debate by identifying evidence-based policies that promote healthy relationships and respect for equality online. Their research through this partnership will allow them to create innovative education, policy and public engagement to help parents, teachers, school administrators, communities and policymakers provide youth with the support they need to fully engage in digital society.
This project will inform new regulatory approaches to better protect youth privacy and equality, as well as promote digital citizenship and improved understandings of the influence of information technologies on young peoples’ well-being.
The second partnership to be awarded a SSHRC grant, Open AIR, grows an existing network steered by Professors de Beer and Oguamanam at the University of Ottawa and leading experts at post-secondary institutions in Southern, East, North and West Africa. Together with collaborators across government, civil society and the private sector in 14 African countries, they are working to solve two core research questions: How can open collaborative innovation help businesses scale up and seize the new opportunities of a global knowledge economy? And which knowledge governance systems will best ensure that the social and economic benefits of innovation are shared inclusively across society as a whole? Answering these questions will help to facilitate more innovation that benefits more people in developed and developing countries alike.
Open AIR’s researchers, including economists, lawyers, managers, political scientists and other multi-disciplinary scholars, are focused on three priority issues. The first research theme explores innovation at high technology hubs, where clusters of disruptive new business are born and incubated across Africa and in Canada. The second theme revolves around informal sector entrepreneurship, where resilience and innovative practices are often attributed to a shared spirit of organizational openness. Third, the network is researching and collaborating with indigenous communities, which have a long history of collaborative knowledge production. In all of these areas, Open AIR is working to create new and improved intellectual property policies, performance metrics and management practices.
Professors de Beer and Oguamanam will also strengthen and build connections amongst Canada and Africa's rapidly emerging economies with their new project. The network links Canadian scholars and students, and by extension public and private sector decision makers, with counterparts on a continent widely acknowledged to be at the forefront of future economic growth. New funding for Open AIR will enable Professor de Beer, Oguamanam and their partners to recruit large numbers of juris doctor, masters and doctoral students, as well as post-doctoral associates. In addition to gaining valuable research skills, international experiences and unique perspectives, students’ involvement in this research will also touch their personal lives, preparing them as future leaders in academic and non-academic fields.
Congratulations to Professors Steeves, Bailey, de Beer and Oguamanam on their remarkable achievements.