B  U  L  L  E  T  I  N

of the American Society for Information Science and Technology   Vol. 31, No. 6   August/September 2005

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Funding Opportunities for Research in Human Information Behavior

by Rafal Kasprowski

Rafal Kasprowski is assistant librarian of electronic resources at University of Houston Libraries, 114 University Libraries, Houston, TX 77204-2000; phone: 713-743-9346; email: rkasprowski@uh.edu

The 4th Annual Research Symposium of the ASIS&T Special Interest Group/Information Needs, Seeking and Use (SIG/USE), held in Providence, Rhode Island, at the 2004 Annual Meeting, examined funding opportunities for research in human information behavior (HIB). The symposium had a dual purpose: to help HIB researchers submit successful proposals while making funding agencies more aware of HIB research. In this report, we’ll look at some of the thoughts and outcomes from that symposium.

The invited speaker was Gary Marchionini, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was joined by a panel of representatives from three major funding agencies – Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Online Computer Library Center (OCLC); Joyce Ray, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS); and Sangtae Kim, National Science Foundation (NSF) – as well as three experienced HIB grant recipients – Karen Fisher, University of Washington, Barbara Wildemuth, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Marchionini. Over 40 participants conducting or preparing research in HIB attended the symposium.

Following the speaker’s introduction, the representatives of the funding agencies explained the history and research objectives of their grants. During the question and answer period, they responded to the participants’ concerns about the grant application process and provided them with tips for successful submissions. The invited HIB grant recipients took part in these discussions and, in the final segment of the symposium, engaged with the participants in round-table sessions offering research and career guidance.

Perspectives on HIB Research

In his introductory speech, Marchionini presented the fields of human information behavior (HIB) and human information interaction (HII) and discussed current challenges and research opportunities for the future.

Empirical approach. Marchionini argued that practical methods, rather than theoretical frameworks, are best suited for exploring HIB/HII, considering the complex variables involved, such as cultural experience, computer experience, information-seeking skills and metacognitive abilities. Examples of this empirical approach are naturalistic methods, which investigate isolated tasks as they appear in the real world, and scenario-based methods, which reduce the complexity of real phenomena to obtain more predictable results.

Current models in HIB/HII. The current challenge in HIB/HII research is to focus on information analysis and reach a greater understanding of what it really means to interact with information than is possible at the level of information search and retrieval. One of the models currently used is the cost-benefit analysis model, where the effort (cost) required with relation to desired outcomes, such as learning (benefit), is studied. Effort can be measured in terms of time and load, such as perceptual load (e.g., eye tracking, dwell time), cognitive load (time invested to solve the problem at hand), physical load (e.g., fatigue factors) and affective load. Performance and satisfaction measures represent an example of current research model limitations. Satisfaction may not measure quality since people tend to be satisfied with little in terms of the information they find. Similarly, performance can be inversely proportional to satisfaction – users often perform better if given less time, although they may not like to be subjected to time limits. Models need to be improved; classical transaction log data, for example, should be used with interviews, observations, stimulated recall, think-alouds and other methods to understand human thinking.

Research opportunities. HIB/HII researchers have a growing number of research opportunities available to them. Classical approaches such as relevance studies are being applied to multimedia and the World Wide Web. Studies of group behavior have become particularly relevant in the context of online interactions. Today’s dynamic and context-rich information has new implications on archiving granularity. Increasing numbers of sensors worldwide make possible more thorough studies of such HII factors as dissemination, information collection and management. Studies of affect have proven useful in understanding users’ emotional involvement in information searching. Professional groups or people with special needs exhibit unique information behaviors worthy of separate investigation. Exoinformation – the information that people reveal about themselves knowingly or not as a byproduct of their information-seeking behavior – is another growing research area.

Claim. Marchionini claims that getting humans more actively engaged in the information-seeking process is the only hope for significant advances in HII models, user interfaces and educational models and practices. In general, more collaboration between all key players – users, information professionals and computer specialists – is required to reach this goal.

Laying the Groundwork

Subsequent discussion emphasized that HIB researchers need to develop systematic approaches for obtaining grants, and the community as a whole must promote its work if HIB research is to grow.

Establishing a track record. It is essential to start applying for grants and awards early in one’s academic career to establish a history. The grant system is set up to provide grant opportunities for new faculty in the first five to seven years of their tenure track, as it is in everyone’s best interest to see the new generation of researchers succeed. Applicants should progressively focus on a research agenda and topic they are ready to study for the long term, as grant projects tend to last for several years.

Small grant amounts should not deter applicants from applying to programs that may prove to have strategic potential. Although their immediate financial reward may not be significant, small grants can offer research opportunities with far-reaching profits.

Connecting with peers and program officers. Conference attendance, committee work and research presentations are all ways to develop professional ties with peers, as they foster discussion about research projects among participants and improve presentation skills. Serving on review panels and actually participating in the review process provides researchers with key insight into the grant process in preparation for their grant applications. Universities are usually able to support trips to funding agencies, but it is also possible to meet program officers on campus. Institutional support is also important for competitive purposes when submitting one’s proposal, in particular when approval by faculty is accompanied by financial contributions for cost sharing.

Securing collaborations and support network. Project collaboration is a key factor for a successful application. The more support a project can garner, the more confidence reviewers will have in its successful completion, acceptance in the community and overall impact.

Join forces with researchers from your department, campus or other institution with a strong grant record and complementary expertise. The Canadian grant system puts particular emphasis on the reputation of team members. Partnerships can be a good way to get money indirectly from grants available to team members from other disciplines. Collaborators from non-IS fields often need to be advised that information professionals work with them on their own research and not only to help them with theirs.

Another way to use resources efficiently is to barter tasks and services with other researchers or agencies. For example, you can help develop a questionnaire for an agency running a phone survey and, in exchange, include questions for your own research. Public libraries are good topics for research, because they are open to researchers and can provide resources like patrons as study participants.

Develop a support team of people who can help you at different stages of the grant process: identifying sources, meeting grant criteria and human subject requirements, budgeting, filling out grant and contract paperwork, etc. Including students as research assistants gives them vital research experience, while allowing you to be more productive with the available grant money.

Promoting HIB research

All panel members agreed that the HIB community as a whole needs to promote its research. Its foremost members should participate on review boards to counter under-representation, which may currently contribute to the mishandling of some HIB proposals. Strong representation on review boards and solid rapport with program officers who will work proactively with applicants on submissions are particularly important for research in interdisciplinary fields like HIB. One may think that the probability of receiving a favorable review increases for interdisciplinary research because of the spread across disciplines. In reality, however, the probability usually decreases, in part because reviewers are used to dealing with core disciplines. Nominations for positions on review boards are very competitive, but professionally rewarding. Open seats are usually available as most positions expire on a rotating basis after approximately two years.

Fund Philosophies and Objectives

OCLC: The OCLC/ALISE Library and Information Science Research Grant (LISRG) is awarded “in recognition of the importance of research to the advancement of librarianship and information science” as part of both organizations’ goals to “promote independent research that helps librarians integrate new technologies into areas of traditional competence and contributes to a better understanding of the library environment.” The funds can be used to offset costs, such as release time from teaching for the principal investigator, research assistants, project-related travel and equipment, if integral to the research. Indirect costs such as staff training and general operating expenses are not covered. OCLC has funded many projects over the years, in particular those using data available through OCLC such as MARC record holdings and WorldCat. The number of applicants for the grant has been increasing significantly. The grant is being revised and a new research agenda may result from the process. Further details are available at www.oclc.org/research/grants/default.htm or www.alise.org/awards/oclcalise.html (both sites last accessed April 11, 2005).

IMLS: The IMLS offers two relevant programs: the Librarians for the 21st Century Grant and the National Leadership Grant. The first has a research component for studies of the demographics of the profession, a section for continuing education for librarians and a category for building library programs, including curriculum development (especially research methodology, leadership and digital asset management). The goal of the National Leadership Grant is to ensure maximum benefit to the public is generated by the research. The three new funding categories are as follows:

1.      Advancing Learning Communities supports and encourages the development of virtual and physical learning communities.

2.      Building Digital Resources supports the preservation of digital resources and the development of management tools.

3.      Research and Demonstration supports projects that test applications in the real world.

Institutions of higher learning are now eligible to apply not only for the grants for libraries, but also the grants for museums. In fact, the IMLS encourages collaborations between museums and libraries, as many projects developed in museums are relevant to human information behavior. More on both programs can be found at www.imls.gov/grants/library/lib_nlgl.asp, and www.imls.gov/pubs/pdf/2005programs.pdf (both sites last accessed April 11, 2005).

NSF: NSF’s directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) consists of four divisions, two of which are particularly relevant to the information science field: Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS) and Shared Cyberinfrastructure (SCI).

The IIS division’s (www.nsf.gov/div/index.jsp?div=IIS, last accessed April 11, 2005) areas of interest are (1) the interaction between information, computation and communication systems and users, organizations, government agencies and the environment; (2) basic research with the goal of creating general purpose systems for representing, storing, accessing and drawing inferences from data, information and knowledge; and (3) research focused on advances in information technology that address problems in the sciences and engineering.

The SCI (www.nsf.gov/div/index.jsp?div=SCI, last accessed April 11, 2005) strives for the harmonious integration of computational engines (supercomputers, clusters, workstations, small processors, etc.), mass storage devices (disk drives, tapes, etc.), networks (wireless, distributed, ubiquitous); digital libraries/databases; sensors/effectors; software (operating systems, middleware, domain specific tools/platforms for building applications); and services (education, training, consulting, user assistance). Its general objectives are (1) to design, develop, deploy and upgrade the resources, services and facilities that are part of the national cyberinfrastructure for scientific and engineering research and education; and (2) to encourage research on experimental infrastructure to ensure the advancement of CI to meet the demands of tomorrow’s science and engineering community.

Funds awarded by NSF are typically contractual agreements, not grants, with more loosely defined objectives. This is meant to encourage researchers to pursue their ideas more freely if the payoff is potentially significant.

Grants for a Variety of HIB Projects

Many funds can be used for HIB research, but applicants must be creative and proactive to obtain the grants. With rising participation from the private sector, proposals have been diversifying and rapidly growing in numbers, while government funding has remained constant.

General opportunities: Governments, foundations, non-profit organizations and funding agencies are the better-known grant sources, but corporations are becoming increasingly more important contributors. Universities offer smaller grants designed for pilot studies, which may lead to more substantial grants. Besides grants, direct financial assistance, whether in salary, student assistant time or materials and equipment, is also available. It may be possible to get funding for ongoing projects, provided the research is innovative and some of the groundwork proving has been completed.

Research and demonstration projects: Applications for research and demonstration projects are preferred by the IMLS. The IMLS has funded research projects on computer usability, the needs and expectations of online information users, information seeking behavior in bioacoustics and people’s use of the Internet compared with public library resources. The IMLS is particularly interested in the relationship between the digital and the physical experience.

Digital library projects: Valid digital library projects must address real problems, help in developing tools or advance our understanding of users. Simply transferring information online does not qualify for a grant. In the case of the NSF, digital library grants are split between the IIS and the SCI – the IIS for original research; the SCI for maintenance projects with existing libraries. The SCI only funds digital libraries that either have an impact on the scientific community or constitute a good training ground for maintaining research libraries. Through its Building Digital Resources program, the IMLS funds post-digitization and tool development projects for the creation, presentation, management and preservation of digital resources.

Workshops: Workshops are cheap and relatively easy to approve, as they do not fall under the peer review process. It is often enough to point to an active research area to garner interest in a workshop, and the turnaround from the time one is proposed to the time it is presented could be only six to eight months. As grassroots-level projects, workshops often earn the support of funding bodies because they advocate the community and reveal under-funded research opportunities.

SGERs: NSF’s Small Grants for Exploratory Research (SGERs), like workshops, are not peer-reviewed and are relatively inexpensive in order to accelerate approval. It is up to the program officer to negotiate the budget with the principal investigator. The purpose of SGERs is to offer timely rewards in new and innovative areas of research, which may be high-risk but also have a high-reward potential. The rapid turnaround is meant to help capitalize on the interest generated by the research topic. The SCI is currently spending well below the budget limit for SGERs and is being pressured by advisory committees to be more aggressive in offering funding in this research area.

NMI, HSD, CI-TEAM, etc.: In response to the tremendous push into middleware, the NSF set up the Middleware Initiative (NMI) as part of the SCI with annual funding of $15 million. The Human and Social Dynamics (HSD) priority area is designed specifically for interdisciplinary research. The NSF supports education projects in research, curriculum development, training and capacity building as part of the Cyberinfrastructure Training Education Advancement and Mentoring (CI-TEAM) program. Miriam Heller coordinates CI-TEAM with an annual budget of $3 million, expected to reach $10 million. Industry partnerships and international collaborations constitute other funding options.

Submission Guidelines

The selection process has become quite stringent over the years. As the number of applicants has increased so has the competition for the grant amounts available.

All panel members at the symposium agree on the following suggestions for submitting a grant application:

1.      Carefully read instructions and make sure to follow application procedures and funding program objectives.

2.      Do not submit the same proposal to more than one agency; a proposal that appears to be intended for another agency undermines its overall credibility.

3.      Describe the nature, scope and method of the research following the suggested format; for example, write out the key points as stated in the program description and explain each (justification, innovation, timeline, budget, etc.).

4.      Clearly articulate the problem and explain why your particular research is important and original in the context of other research in the area.

5.      Don’t request funding for indirect costs and respect monetary limits.

6.      Avoid any jargon that may be unfamiliar to reviewers; reviewers will not take the time to look up the meanings of words.

7.      Provide a literature review geared to experts in the particular area of study; first-time applicants are turned down most often for an incomplete literature review.

8.      Include a detailed methodology and multiple research strategies.

9.      Present your proposal in terms of an innovative but risky idea that can yield big payoffs for stakeholders; the greater the targeted benefit the better.

10.  Demonstrate beyond doubt why your research team has what it takes to guarantee that all your plans are going to be realized; indicate your team’s expertise on the topic proposed; demonstrate institutional support.

Tutorials and mentors. Help yourself by taking advantage of any available training or help. The IMLS provides an online Project Planning Tutorial for its NLG projects (http://e-services.imls.gov/project_planning/, last accessed April 11, 2005). OCLC can offer mentors to help with the project, but it is the grant recipient’s final responsibility to deliver the results. Applicants may try to contact their program officer before submitting the proposal to receive feedback on research ideas and make sure they send the proposal to the right funding division. The agencies may not have enough staff to read entire proposal drafts, but officers will read emails and respond to questions.

Deliverables. With most funds, the researcher is expected to yield several papers once the grant has expired. At the end of the funding period of an OCLC project, the researchers must furnish a final project report. As OCLC and ALISE may want to publish or distribute this information without restrictions, the recipients can only publish the project results if they remain non-proprietary and are attributed back to the OCLC.

The chances of submitting a research proposal that will be accepted are 10% to 20%.

The symposium was well received by the participants, who found the various interactions with the panel members informative and stimulating. Symposium organizers hope that both the meeting and this report help HIB researchers become more successful grant applicants.

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