Collaborative Research: Social Networking Tools to Enable Collaboration in the Tobacco Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Evaluation Network (TSEEN)
Gary Giovino Principal Investigator
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A highly publicized report by the American Cancer Society noted that cancer has<br/>surpassed heart disease to become the number one killer of adults under the age of 85<br/>in the United States today. At the top of the list was lung cancer, a disease that is<br/>eminently preventable. Addressing public health threats like cancer are acute,<br/>system-wide challenges that would benefit from network-centric approaches. For<br/>example, when the tobacco research community realized it had taken over a decade to<br/>discover that they had already collected substantial empirical evidence, distributed<br/>across its network of tobacco researchers, indicating that 'light' (low-tar/low-nicotine<br/>brands) cigarettes reduced neither exposure to nor risk of cancer, researchers began to<br/>understand the importance of effectively sharing resources and information across the<br/>entire community. In response, government agencies involved in public health have<br/>made a substantial foundational investment in developing a digital government<br/>cyberinfrastructure--Tobacco Systems integration Grid (TobacSIG)--to enable<br/>collaboration within the Tobacco Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Evaluation Network<br/>(TSEEN). While such an underlying cyberinfrastructure is a prerequisite, delays in<br/>discoveries (such as the carcinogenic effects of 'light' cigarette mentioned above) have<br/>prompted the TSEEN community to underscore the need for social network referral<br/>tools as a crucial component of any effort to enhance the efficacy of their collaboration<br/>system.<br/>This project will develop, deploy and assess social networking tools to enhance<br/>collaboration among members of TSEEN using the TobacSIG cyberinfrastructure. The<br/>proposed project brings together researchers in information science, social science, and<br/>public health who have established strong collaborations with government partners on<br/>the development of networks to support transdisciplinary research in public health. The<br/>researchers have assisted the government partners in formulating the challenges and<br/>envisioning solutions; hence the research team is will positioned to leverage the<br/>substantial financial and human resources being invested by NIH National Cancer<br/>Institute and its partner government agencies in the TobacSIG cyberinfrastructure.<br/>Intellectual Merit: The proposed project is a pioneering effort at incorporating social<br/>network referral tools as an integral part of collaborative systems within the context of<br/>digital government. First, the proposed project will extend theoretical understanding of<br/>the emergence of collaboration network structures involving multidimensional networks,<br/>where nodes may be individuals, documents, data sets, services (such as<br/>visual-analytic tools), or keywords/concepts. Second, it will pioneer theory development<br/>and testing about the influence of network referral systems on collaboration outcomes.<br/>Specifically, the proposed project will assess the extent to which collaboration outcomes<br/>are influenced by (i) different theoretically-derived structures of network referrals, (ii)<br/>different incentive structures provided to users of the network referral system, (iii)<br/>different types of network data used to generate referrals, and (iv) different information<br/>visualizations used to represent network referrals. Third, the research will extend the<br/>exponential random graph modeling techniques that have been largely used to estimate<br/>structural dependencies in relatively small (typically no larger than 500)<br/>one-dimensional networks. The proposed project will extend these techniques to<br/>multidimensional networks containing over 10,000 nodes.<br/>Broader Impacts: As cyberinfrastructure is deployed to support collaboration among<br/>large communities in government and elsewhere, it is increasingly obvious that social<br/>network tools have immense potential. In this project the researchers will seek to<br/>respond to the refrain 'if only the Tobacco Surveillance Epidemiology Evaluation<br/>Network knew what it knew.' Generalizing the relevance of this same refrain to a wide<br/>spectrum of other contexts is suggestive of the broader impacts of the proposed<br/>research. The findings and deliverables of the proposed research will be immediately<br/>generalizable to the design and deployment of social network referral tools to support<br/>collaboration among other digital government efforts within public health and beyond.<br/>Further, the government and non-government partners in this project are exceptionally<br/>well-equipped to incorporate into their regularly scheduled education, training, and<br/>outreach workshops the skill sets of collaborative fluency afforded by the judicious use<br/>of network referral systems. Finally, by definition, social network referral systems have<br/>the potential to increase the likelihood of drawing in more diverse constituents within the<br/>public health community (in terms of gender, ethnicity, age, seniority, disciplinary<br/>perspectives) than heretofore possible. This extended network will also offer<br/>opportunities for mentoring of previously disadvantaged members within these<br/>communities.