Collaborative Research: ER2: The development of research ethics governance projects in computer science

This collaborative research project is supported by the Ethical and Responsible Research program. The core focus of the project is to determine what rules and practices support the national interest in promoting the progress of computer science while preventing unethical and unjust computer science research. Computing researchers are currently revising ethics codes, writing new ethics guidelines, forming new ethics committees within conferences and professional associations, dictating ethics requirements for funding, and proposing new ethics requirements for publications. This project characterizes and evaluates historical, ongoing, and emerging ethics governance projects within computer science. By creating a recent history of computing governance during this active period of questioning, the project will appraise and evaluate current efforts, and recommend best practices for computing research governance. The results of this project will serve to advance several scientific fields including science and technology studies, research ethics, and computer science. They will also be used in discussions with stakeholder communities including activists in computing ethics, in creating classroom materials for educators, and in developing accessible and brief white papers that are to be disseminated to funders, practitioners, and policymakers.

To accomplish the goals indicated above, this project uses qualitative case studies to compare, evaluate, and interpret the resources, mechanisms, and outcomes of current cross-cutting efforts in computer science research ethics self-governance. The case studies will examine the workings of the computing research’s ethics governance projects to facilitate better understanding of the possibilities and challenges of a field undertaking diverse and multiple ethics governance efforts. Building on previous science and technology studies scholarship, our research reveals the relations enrolling researchers in cultures of ethical practice. To identify a typology of enrollment and enforcement practices, the team will undertake analysis of the resources each project has, and the approach that each project uses to repair past harms, anticipate the future, resolve insecurities about what counts as ethical behavior, and settle controversies within the field. Through analysis of historical and current ethics governance projects, the team will discover how project organization shapes the scope, goals, and outcomes of ethics governance projects; how different mechanisms for effecting adherence to ethical guidelines impact outcomes; how contrasting stakeholders (participants, outside advocates, practitioners) assess the success of ethics governance projects; and the challenges and opportunities different ethics governance projects generate.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

04/01/2023 - 03/31/2026

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Additional Non-UMD Investigator(s):
Megan Finn

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