Virt-EU qualitative research methodology

The qualitative dimension of the VIRT-EU project has focused on an ethnographic approach to explore how IoT companies and developers negotiate and enact ethics in their day-to-day working environments. More specifically, the aim of this research process has been to map out a preliminary view of how local culture and network society influence the understanding and movement of social values among technology developers, and how any differences and commonalities have the capacity to influence the development of ethical subjects.

Ethnographic methods such as observations, extended field notes, interviews, and document and policy analyses have been used thus far to identify how different actors negotiate competing discourses and practices in regards to values and ethics. Alongside these exchanges, formally planned, semi-structured interviews are being conducted with a range of IoT community participants.

Observational research has included a mix of both non-participatory observations and participation in certain events such as policy development working groups and presenting papers at conferences. For example, Selena Nemorin from London School of Economics delivered a talk at IoT Week in Geneva entitled: Social and Ethical Implications of Commercial Drones in the IoT. Her presentation sought to encourage further debate around the implications of IoT-connected drones, while at the same time acknowledging their functional and economic benefits. The presentation also offered an overview of the regulatory landscape of drones in the UK, and concluded with a discussion of policy responses.

Selena also participated in the Open Internet of Things Definition (5 years later) event in London to revisit the definition as it was written in 2012. Working groups spent the day discussing Open IoT principles, and worked collaboratively towards creating an updated version of the document. The document is currently in draft form and is expected to be finalised by the end of the year.

A report on initial project findings has also been completed. The report has identified a range of recurring values emerging from field work sites in London, Barcelona, Lyon, and Geneva. Although there are notable differences across countries, IoT sectors, and community groups with regards to value systems, there is a set of core values that have remained constant. Privacy for example has been a primary value that has appeared in all settings. Other primary values include trust, interoperability, security, safety, responsibility, and openness. These values will be explored more closely during in-depth ethnographic work.