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Malte Ziewitz, February 20, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 -
4:00pm to 5:00pm
301 College Ave Seminar Room

Please join us for the Information Science Colloquium with guest, Malte Ziewitz, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and the Information Law Institute at New York University. Broadly based in Science and Technology Studies (STS), ethnography, and public policy, his research revolves around issues of governance, accountability, and evaluation in digitally networked environments. His recent work explores evaluative practice in healthcare and and search engine optimization (SEO); algorithmic ordering; the history and performativity of internet governance; the ethical implications of presence technologies; the nature and uses of “crowd wisdom” in regulation; and privacy practices in massive open online courses (MOOCs). As Principal Investigator, he headed the ESRC-funded “How’s My Feedback?" project, a collaborative design experiment to rethink and evaluate online review and rating websites ( His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Economic and Social Research Council, the German National Academic Foundation, an OII/PGP Scholarship, the Heinz Schwarzkopf Foundation, the Keble Association, and the German Academic Exchange Service. Malte holds a DPhil from Oxford University, an MPA from Harvard University, and a First State Exam in Law from the University of Hamburg.

Title: Rating in action: Governance, accountability, and web-based patient feedback

Abstract:  There is hardly anything these days that is not being evaluated on the web. Books, dishwashers, lawyers, ex-boyfriends, haircuts, and hotels are just some examples targeted by novel review and rating schemes. Used in an increasing number of areas, these systems tend to be conceptualized as techno-scientific solutions to public problems. Specifically, it is argued that by soliciting, aggregating, and redistributing user feedback, they make hidden qualities transparent, hold people to account, and foster participation. However, while such generalizing narratives are popular in public debates, much less is known about the everyday activities that go into establishing, maintaining, and—at times—disrupting these schemes. So what can we learn by looking at online feedback as a mundane practice? Who, which, or what is accountable to what, which, or whom? And what are the implications?

Building on ideas from Science and Technology Studies (STS), governance theory, and ethnomethodology, this talk will offer a different way of thinking about the politics of reviewing and rating on the web. It will do so through materials from an ethnography of Patient Opinion, a social enterprise that aims to improve the quality of care in the UK through web-based patient feedback. Drawing on twelve months of ethnographic fieldwork, I shall report on my attempts at following postings from the living rooms of patients through the moderation process into the offices and databases of hospitals and Trusts. Attending to the ways in which a seemingly stable “patient experience” is written, edited, ignored, contested, and appropriated in different situations allows us to appreciate a view of online feedback as a rather mundane and contingent practice—with some important consequences for design and public policy.

Information Science Colloquium talks are free and open to the public. 

A reception will be held immediately after.