Dr. Nitin Agarwal, assistant professor of the Information Science department was invited by the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) (http://www.qcri.qa) to visit the organization and deliver a talk on his research during March 17-20 in Doha. QCRI is supported by the Qatar Foundation that envisions to transform its largely energy-based economy to a knowledge-based economy by 2030. QCRI has brought together internationally recognized scientists and houses research labs on Social Computing, Arab Language Technology, Distributed Computing, and Data Analytics and collaborates extensively with Al Jazeera news organization for data acquisition, translation of research to real-world applications, and subject domain expertise, among other collaborative efforts.
In his talk, Dr. Agarwal discussed his research projects in social computing, especially the promising role of social media in socio-political and economic transformation of the Arab world in specific and society in general. Taking examples from the Arab Spring, the Saudi Arabian women’s movements to protest against inequitable rights, and crisis management during natural disasters, Dr. Agarwal illustrated the important role of social media in mobilization and manifestation of collective actions and how such amorphous and ‘unorganized’ organizations emerge and work effectively in cross-cultural settings. Implications of this research could be envisioned in (but not limited to) promoting citizen engagement towards better governance and policy making, developing smart and connected health applications for the well-being of the society, advancing collective learning paradigms to facilitate massive and open education, and exploring the burgeoning “crowdfunding” model in the micro-financing sector. More details on these federally funded projects could be obtained from http://ualr.edu/nxagarwal/.
Dr. Agarwal further emphasized the need for reaching out to collaborations from different disciplines such as, sociology, psychology, cognitive and behavioral sciences, mathematics, statistics, among others. This is of utmost importance for the growth of interdisciplinary research areas, such as social computing, and for the synergistic advancement of the multiple disciplines involved. This is especially true in the age of big data. Just as the data is coming from diverse sources so should the perspectives of analysis be to avoid falling into the “data-fishing” trap. Researchers with same disciplinary background may lack insights to guide the analysis or even shape the hypothesis.