Two publications and a talk about the ‘data stories’ project

The 2020 data stories project was a collaboration between several network members, and our colleagues Jane McKie (University of Edinburgh) and Pat Lockley (Pgogy Webstuff). Jen, Anna and Amy were the researchers for the project, and Martin facilitated links with his then-organisation, the Association of Learning Technology. The main output from the project was the data stories creator, an online storytelling tool for creating what we’ve been calling “participatory speculative fiction”. 

Participatory speculative fiction: enables participants to engage in public discussion of subjects or topics that they may be reluctant to talk about, perhaps because of complex loyalties, or perceptions of risk (Wilson et al., 2022).
is effective in surfacing fears (and to some extent, hopes) about what has not yet happened, but might. 
puts potential users’ ethical and political values at the centre of the design process.
(slide from Jen & Anna’s presentation at the Networked Learning conference, 2022). 

In addition to the tool itself and the stories that have been created with it, we have two publications to share so far from the project. 

The first was spearheaded by Anna, and appears as a case study in the SAGE Research Methods: Doing Research Online series. The case study guides researchers through the processes we used to develop the Data Stories creator, including how prompts can be used to help generate stories and ethical issues that arise when online data generation/sourcing is truly anonymous. We also reflected on the use of participatory storytelling:

we wanted to innovate by shifting the authorship of these fictional stories from researchers to research participants. While there is a strong tradition of digital storytelling as a method in qualitative social sciences and art-based research (see, e.g., de Jager et al., 2017), this has historically been dominated by factual storytelling, in which participants are enabled to tell their own stories and have their voices heard. Here, we deliberately sought a way for participants to avoid relating straightforwardly true or factual accounts—to step away from the confessional or the accusatory, which might feel unfair, disloyal, or even risky. Instead, we wanted participants to be able to express themselves by imagining what might happen, rather than describing what has happened.

(Wilson et al 2022)

If you have access to SAGE’s Research Methods database, you can access the case study here. If not, get in touch with Anna or Jen!

The second was a paper Jen and Anna wrote for the Networking Learning conference in 2022. It focuses on how concerns about negative impacts from surveillance in higher education (including on learning relationships, exploitative commercial uses of collected student data, and discriminatory practices) can be difficult to articulate and disentangle from the range of practices they are associated with, especially in the context of risks that can come, for some, with questioning or resisting surveillance. We explored how the data stories project mobilised speculative approaches to produce a space for people to make new meanings around surveillance, and to share these with others in a networked environment. We’ve been invited to develop this paper into a chapter for an edited book of selected papers from the conference – this is due to be published by Springer in 2023-24.

We still have more plans for writing and publishing about this project, and we’ve had the opportunity to give a few invited talks about it as well – most recently Anna and Jen presented to the National Association of Data Protection Officers in the UK (May 2022). Along with talking about the project’s findings, we did a reading of one of the stories: our host described it afterwards as “such a good way to widen the audience and wake people up” – which we’re taking as encouragement to keep developing this work!


de Jager, A., Fogarty, A., Tewson, A., Lenette, C., & Boydell, K. (2017). Digital storytelling in research: A systematic review. The Qualitative Report, 22(10), 2548–2582. 10.46743/2160-3715/2017.2970

Ross, J. and Wilson, A. (2022). Data stories: speculative methods for researching digital surveillance in higher education. Networked Learning 2022

Wilson, A., Ross, J., McKie, J., Collier, A., Lockley, P. (2022). Telling Data Stories: developing an online tool for participatory speculative fiction. in: SAGE Research Methods: Doing Research Online. SAGE.

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