Getting Ourselves Together: Data-centered Participatory Design Research & Epistemic Burden

Pierre, Jennifer; Crooks, Roderic N.; Currie, Morgan; Paris, Britt; Pasquetto, Irene

Data-centered participatory design research projects—wherein researchers collaborate with community members for the purpose of gathering, generating, or communicating data about the community or their causes—can place epistemic burdens on minoritized or racialized groups, even in projects focused on social justice outcomes. Analysis of epistemic burden encourages researchers to rethink the purpose and value of data in community organizing and activism more generally. This paper describes three varieties of epistemic burden drawn from two case studies based on the authors’ previous work with anti-police brutality community organizations. The authors conclude with a discussion of ways to alleviate and avoid these issues through a series of questions about participatory research design. Ultimately, we call for a reorientation of knowledge production away from putative design solutions to community problems and toward a more robust interrogation of the power dynamics of research itself.