My research interests lie in understanding the issues that arise when information communication technologies (ICTs) are introduced into social contexts (and vice versa). My overarching goal in conducting this type of research is to implement and deploy software systems based on deep understandings of the social context in which they reside. My investigations span several areas of Computer Science, including Human-Computer Interaction, Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, Ubiquitous Computing, Social Computing, and Software Engineering.
I begin my investigations with empirical analysis of the domain of study--the social relationships, work practices, and communications found in that domain--using a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods. The domains I have conducted research in are parents' use of mobile phones , social media use by members of the public during times of crisis , and emergency management incorporation of social media into disaster response efforts . Next, I design and prototype solutions that address the challenges found in these domains through collaboration with potential users. By involving users in the design process, the resulting products are more likely to address user needs and consequently, design solutions are more likely to be adopted. Finally, I implement, deploy, and evaluate the digital solutions I design.
The primary domain in which I have worked during my graduate career is called crisis informatics [2, 4]--a field of sociotechnical study that seeks to understand and design for the flow of information during times of crisis. At the University of Colorado Boulder, I have been a member of Professor Leysia Palen's research lab, Project EPIC (Empowering the Public with Information in Crisis), which has played an integral part in defining and exploring the crisis informatics line of inquiry internationally.
Early empirical studies in crisis informatics that I conducted with members of Project EPIC include observations of social convergence around disaster  in an online context , Facebook use surrounding the Virginia Tech shootings by students seeking to understand the event's impact on their wide and diffuse social networks [2, 7], and use of the public photo-sharing site Flickr across a range of disasters . These studies are important because they demonstrate that members of the public can and do use ICT like social media during times of crisis to seek and share information, provide assistance, and assess the effects of a crisis event.
Moving beyond these descriptive accounts of online citizen-based crisis phenomena, Project EPIC's research efforts have shifted toward understanding how and why social media technologies are adopted and used in disaster and what that might mean for design. For example, my colleagues and I conducted an in-depth analysis of Twitter messages sent during the 2009 Red River floods and the 2009 Oklahoma City fires that revealed how Twitter users self-organize around information and offered insight into how a system for extracting valuable crisis information from these Twitter messages might be achieved [9, 10].
Though research in the area of crisis informatics is still growing, its primary focus has been on social media use in disaster by members of the public. The work I conducted for my dissertation fills a gap and complements this research by examining how emergency management organizations use social media during times of crisis.
Dissertation Work: Supporting the Social Media Needs of Public Information Officers
As I began studying emergency management organizations for my dissertation work, I found that one role seemed to experience the most change around the introduction of technologies like social media. This role--that of the public information officer (PIO)--fills the public relations function of emergency response and stands at the intersection between emergency management organizations and members of the public. Because of the PIO's position as an intermediary, they have experienced pressure and tension from both the organizations in which they work and members of the public to incorporate and use social media in their work practice. Consequently, these PIOs are experiencing many changes and challenges in the duties they are expected to perform.
The goal of my dissertation work is to support emergency PIOs through technology design and implementation as they adopt newly available forms of public communication enabled by social media. I began my dissertation work with an interview study of 25 PIOs across the state of Colorado. This study explored PIO practice and the sociotechnical environment in which they work, with particular attention to how PIOs perceive that social media have affected their work. Results of this interview study included a model of PIO communication that provides understanding of the new pressures and expectations placed on PIOs by the media and the public which are changing and shaping the way PIOs work .
After the PIO interview study, I conducted a participatory design (PD) workshop [11, 12] with PIO participants. In this workshop, PIOs and researchers collaboratively discussed PIO communication needs and designed new technology prototypes to meet those needs. I distilled social media support needs for PIOs from workshop discussions and prototypes, such as the ability to monitor information provided by members of the public through social media and the ability to document and report that information.
Next, I designed five prototypes to meet the PIO social media needs identified in the interview study and the PD workshop. These five prototypes were evaluated and two of the most promising combined into a single prototype called the PIO Monitoring Application (PMA)--a software tool designed to support the social media monitoring, analysis, reporting, and documentation needs of PIOs.
I then evaluated the final high-fidelity PMA prototype with PIOs through two user evaluation studies--a field study and a usability study. Each study was designed to test different aspects of PMA. The field study sought to understand how PIOs might use PMA in their work environment and what advantages PMA offers over current practice. The usability study sought to understand how PMA's user interface could be improved. I found that PMA helped meet the social media monitoring, analysis, documentation, and reporting needs of PIOs and all evaluation participants indicated that they would like to use the tool in their work.
Current & Future Research
The next step in my expanded research program--and the step which I am currently executing--is to fully implement and deploy PMA, making it publically available for anyone to use. Once PMA is deployed, I plan to conduct a prolonged study of its use by PIOs in real-world settings. Though all PIO participants involved in my dissertation research claimed they would use PMA, an extended study of its use would reveal if PMA continues to meet PIO social media needs beyond initial adoption. This study will also likely provide insight into the operation of emergency management organizations and the changes that result to that organization from the use of PMA.
The future program of research I plan to implement as a faculty member builds upon my background in crisis informatics and will explore methods, enabled by ICT, for fostering disaster-resilient communities. Increasing the capability of communities to prepare, respond, and recover from disaster events is of particular importance in today's world. Through growth in population density, more potential victims are present when disaster strikes. Higher disaster losses also result when people move into high-risk areas, such as flood plains, earthquake fault lines, wildfire prone locations, or locations near nuclear power plants or toxic waste sites [13, 14]. As the population of the world becomes increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic events, research that increases community resilience is critical.
The scope of this research program will address the hazards concerns of the American West, with an initial focus on wildfire. First, I will leverage the growing literature in the field of community resilience  and extend it where needed to understand the role ICT can play in creating more wildfire-resilient communities. Based on these understandings, I will work with members of communities that are vulnerable to wildfire to define ICT requirements, create solution prototypes, and evaluate the systems that result.
Second, I will continue to study emergency management use of social media and other types of ICT--extending the work of my dissertation. Emergency managers play a crucial role in distributing disaster preparedness materials and sharing disaster response and recovery information. By continuing to develop technologies that enable emergency managers to communicate more effectively with members of the public, community reliance, in theory, should increase.
Finally, I will design systems by which members of the public and emergency response organizations can work together to build more wildfire-resilient communities. One method for accomplishing this task is to hold participatory design workshops--with both emergency managers and community members in attendance--that would foster collaboration and learning through discussion and design activities.
Possible outcomes of this research include software systems that utilize social media for improved communications between citizens and emergency managers regarding wildfire mitigation and preparedness. Other potential outcomes are implications for wildfire preparedness programs, response teams, and policy. This future research program also contains abundant opportunities for student involvement, including working with research subjects; prototyping, building, and testing technology solutions; and writing publications. By becoming involved in this research, Computer Science students have the opportunity to build technologies that address real-world problems and build more wildfire-resilient communities.
-  L. Palen and A. Hughes, "When Home Base is not a Place: Parents' use of Mobile Telephones," Personal Ubiquitous Computing, vol. 11, no. 5, pp. 339-348, 2007.
-  L. Palen, S. Vieweg, S. B. Liu, and A. L. Hughes, "Crisis in a Networked World," Social Science Computing Review, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 467-480, 2009.
-  A. L. Hughes and L. Palen, "The Evolving Role of the Public Information Officer: An Examination of Social Media in Emergency Management," Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, vol. 9, no. 1, 2012.
-  C. Hagar and C. Haythornthwaite, "Crisis, Farming & Community," The Journal of Community Informatics, vol. 1, no. 3, pp. 41-52, 2005.
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-  A. L. Hughes, L. Palen, J. Sutton, S. B. Liu, and S. Vieweg, "‘Site-Seeing ' in Disaster: An Examination of On-Line Social Convergence," in Proceedings of the Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management Conference (ISCRAM 2008), Washington D.C., 2008.
-  S. Vieweg, L. Palen, S. B. Liu, A. L. Hughes, and J. Sutton, "Collective Intelligence in Disaster: Examination of the Phenomenon in the Aftermath of the 2007 Virginia Tech Shooting," in Proceedings of the Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management Conference (ISCRAM 2008), Washington D.C., 2008.
-  S. B. Liu, L. Palen, J. Sutton, A. L. Hughes, and S. Vieweg, "In Search of the Bigger Picture: The Emergent Role of On-Line Photo Sharing in Times of Disaster," in Proceedings of the Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management Conference (ISCRAM 2008), Washington D.C., 2008.
-  K. Starbird, L. Palen, A. L. Hughes, and S. Vieweg, "Chatter on the Red: What Hazards Threat Reveals About the Social Life of Microblogged Information," in Proceedings of the ACM 2010 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2010), Savannah, GA, 2010, pp. 241-250.
-  S. Vieweg, A. L. Hughes, K. Starbird, and L. Palen, "Microblogging During Two Natural Hazards Events: What Twitter May Contribute to Situational Awareness," in Proceedings of the ACM 2010 Conference on Computer Human Interaction, Atlanta, GA, 2010, pp. 1079-1088.
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