Redesigning PECE Founder Interview Notes - Aalok Khandekar


Intro:     Aalok - Assist prof of anthro, working with PECE for at least a decade, if not more. Grad student at RPI STS dept with Asthma Files, there during the early days of the project. Came back to Asthma Files 2013-14, continued Asthma Files work that was done in India. 

For the past five years, not very active working with them, for the past 2-3 years launched STS Infrastructures, reimagined as a collective work space, what we think as a transnational STS research community. Thinking about STS infrastructures - what forms of e.g. community are available, how do we make the community transnational. Working with PECE platform, other STS communities across the world (academic journals, archives, other researchers). How STS has a particular thought process in its community - complemented by posters & exhibits.


Q: What drew you to start working with PECE?

Not sure, that wasn’t the starting point - it was about the Asthma Files. At that point, PECE was the architecture to how you did the Asthma Files, rather than PECE being a thing in itself. That’s happened over time. Those discussions are ongoing, LIndsay particularly was really invested (already well into her dissertation) with building PECE and advancing questions that that posed. But for me, started with the Asthma Files and has continued to be an important component / dimension of what it means to PECE, it enables that community building. 


Q: Can you talk more about how it was different in the past five years using PECE? Part of it was still in the Asthma Files, but I imagine PECE evolved?

When I started, PECE wasn’t a thing - it wasn’t there. That came after. The evolution unfolded over Ppt slides, data management practices. We’d never thought about it until then. It was already a functioning system, somewhat clunky. Since then we’ve had many modifications to PECE in addition to the instances (?) running on it


Q: Was it different starting up a instance v. working on the asthma files (established)

Somewhat different. At a technical level, I’m still one step removed. WHat is new about STS infrastructures, it’s probably the first time in PECE’s history that so many new people came to use PECE all at once. The Asthma Files, a lot of users for one reason or another we knew them somehow. There was some level of buy-in to PECE, some people like it more than other people, there’s certainly a learning curve when it comes to PECE itself. With the Asthma Files, we already had some relationship across collaborators. STS INfrastructures is the first time we just let people sign up and then figure out how to train / support systems / what we need to do. It’s not something we’d done before - a lot was learning why we were doing it. Now we tell people what kind of strategies they should use in order to make essays legible. We had people curate commentaries about STS - part of the question was how can they become legible to us? We recognized there was some level of standardization that needed to happen. The affordance is thinking about compatibility and what (?) can tell us collectively about STS. We needed some mechanisms for that (cross thinking?) to become legible. 


A lot of other digital habits, bulk uploads e.g. you can’t do in PECE. That annoys a lot of people because you have to supply metadata for each artifact one at a time. Over time, you begin to forget, think about what needs to go on the platform and what doesn’t, how do you make those decisions. If you don’t share the same kind of commitments to the architecture, the architecture itself is a research project and beginning to understand what that architecture enables. A lot of the ways in which you have to use PECE seem cumbersome - how do we make it so people want to use it? That was the newer kind of learning that happened with STS Infrastructures. THere’s something to be said about it being a different experience, setting up your own instance versus working with a group of people that’s largely committed to the idea.


Q: Open question how much we want to adjust PECE architecture to make it less cumbersome to those who aren’t as bought in. What are your thoughts on where you envision PECE falling on that spectrum?

…..(?) Regardless of whether or not, we shouldn’t let go of things like bulk uploads and the metadata, important conversations and need to stic with it. Not so much about accommodating at that level, nonetheless there’s a lot we can do about just making it a much more user-friendly experience. Again, that’s not necessarily been a primary focus- just starting to take it more seriously. People come in with PECE from information / design who are more attuned to an HCI perspective, something like UX needs to happen as an ongoing process and it’s not something that has happened or designed from the very beginning. There’s a lot we can do, I would think, at that level especially. I don’t think we need to let go of our commitments because that’s what PECE is, on the other hand how do you translate / communicate why this matters. I think those are questions that we need to be pursuing more substantially. 


Q: Use STS Infrastructures for 4S: are you planning to do something for Pandemic 4S?
No, I’ve been outside of that conversation. 4S going online is just to manage the moment and respond to the pandemic. STS Infrastructures does inform 4S work in that I along with at least four or five other people are taking over / engaging STS whi ….. Online journals, editing that journal. What we’ve learned in terms of … STS Infrastructures was pushing us to think differently. This was the first time we’re doing things that are public facing, much moreso than have been so far. How do you create legibility? More gently thinking about communication genre - what is a PECE essay, ideas about scholarly communication. Are we simply duplicating what we do in a journal article, adding space / leveraging possibilities. What does scholarly communication look like / can look like. Over the next few years very interested in how to transnationalize STS community (primarily US centered). The STS community generally hasn’t paid attention to infrastructures, open access, file structures…. Haven’t paid attention to engagement… 


Q: Do you see it as you’re taking lessons from what you’ve experienced with PECE and applying it to the STS journal evolution, or are you trying to link PECE to engaging STS in the future?
Maybe, it’s part of the imagination, maybe PECE maybe something else. There needs to be enough community buy-in to think about the sustainability of these experiments. In more basic ways, thinking about what opening up research look like? STS Anthro etc. generally shy away from because of ethical issues for instance, sensitivity etc. Also often seen as imposing a model of STEM applicability onto qualitative research - neither of these have to be true, there’s still value and we know there’s value for people looking at things differently in respective methods. The same data can be explored differently with different stories arising. Commitment to opening up research and thinking about what opening up data looks like, what do we need to do if we want to open up to different communities. Lots of infrastructing needs to happen, other platforms needs to communicate with PECE infrastructure. The labor of creating repositories is extensive, especially knowing it will be part of the research domain. Question isn’t about the endpoint but thinking about what we need to do and figure out if we want to do this. 


Q: PECE has a long way to go if it wants to be this infrastructure. What is PECE doing well now, maybe in other areas besides as a data repository?

PECE’s founding impulse was how do you do collaborative analytics well, and I think that continues to be a fairly unique feature. Open-ended work especially - there are coding softwares that lead you in a different direction, but PECE is the primary intervention to think about what we need to do to see questions collaboratively. That continues to be a strength. Not so much that we don’t build repositories or communicate well, it’s just things like ESTS as an example - that wasn’t the imagination behind what we were thinking in launching PECE. It’s not so much that we have a long way to go if we want to be the ESTS infrastructure, the q goes both way. Do we want to develop that for ESTS and vice versa. Where does the data live? Now a lot of the PECE servers we live on are UC Libraries. UCI hosting on their servers. 4S doesn’t really self-host, ESTS hosts on their servers in Canada. If you do make this a repository, where is the data going to live? A lot of these questions we haven’t grappled with them yet. Either way, more questions to be asked. Neither of those instances were necessarily built to communicate with the other. 


Q: Which of these directions PECE is planning on going in the future or most needed / least alternatives for?

From my perspective, there’s a lot that can be put on the to do list and we have a fairly long one in place. Especially now that we’ve been scaling up, who is it that’s using PECE between STS infrastructures and disaster STS and the new COVID page Kim is leading. A lot of those are (?) in the research community and collecting a fair amount of interest. A priority needs to be how do you go offline and online, how do you structure and communicate the process better. Structuring and PECE needs to communicate better. Attention needs to be paid to those questions. Generative scholarly community that was satisfying / unifying, nice way of people coming together to share questions and stakes. Already a few spin offs that came out of the STS across borders meeting. There is an element / dimension / valence of PECE that enables that kind of community formation / cohesion, making a presentable design principle / logic itself and thinking about what that means in terms of physical architecture and social protocols that need to emerge through PECE, we need to work toward making them more explicit.


Q: Form a community differently, calls to a broader research community and bring together new community.

Yes, and again constantly part of PECE and something we’re good at, a lot of those are moments of learning. Don’t really know how to do this or even thinking about what communities come together and why does it work for some people and not for others. Trying to design a different space / social conventions that aren’t the user piece, building that reflexively back into the design of PECE so that kind of learning that keeps itself developing understanding as well as actually using it. 


Q: Lessons learned in the first more public call for STS infrastructures - were those layered on top of PECE or are they baked in since the first calls? 

No, I think technically some of the things we’d like to do with PECE are on hold until PECE is updated to Drupal 8, many of the newer upgrades that we’d like to see can’t be added until we move to the new version. A lot of the social dimensions, style sheets are questions of convention. THat’s something that we do outside of PECE, google docs and so on that make it back into how the PECE essay gets structured. Also it changes from project to project, different projects might need a different layout, also depends on how you are using the PECE essay. PECE essays have gone beyond a presentation device - not just a public presentation of data, but is something we use to organize the process. Each of these have their own demands. What we’ve learned which might seem obvious / basic is that you need to do that, that kind of structuring needs to happen and they need to happen differently for different things. Some more standard operating procedure didn’t really happen before we started with STS Infrastructures. 


Q: How your collaboration with other people looks like in PECE? How are you interacting with the system and what other tools are supporting that collaboration?

Google docs, emails, and the platform itself, those are typically always there. Other important technologies, Zoom calls very important for check-ins and (?) for people to use different features. Documentation with PECE has gotten much better than where we were at 4-5 years ago so in that time we’ve spent a lot of energy into doing that. Surprises me the answer to this, there are people for whom using PECE is .. some people find it much more intuitive, figuring it out, in my experience there are people who have no issues and others who have quite a lot of questions along the way. There’s something going on that I don’t know how to explain. We were using Slack but that hasn’t quite stuck, team management tools Asana useful, we’ll see how it sticks. To what extent people coming in are comfortable using digital technologies / platforms, using too many different platforms ends up happening anyway.


Q: Pattern in the way you’re using? Emails to prime people to go into PECE, sending out links, is there a typical pathway?

Fairly project-specific. For something like STS (?) Borders, large number of people, emails more for announcing, agendas, here’s what you can do, annotate an artifact, how do you organize (?) to annotate and using that as a way to substantially drive discussion. Emails more unidirectional communication - agenda setting, announcements, etc. Less of an actually sustained dialogue. Those typically happen in the Zoom calls, people get together to share their inputs. Google docs another place for that - using Google Docs to maintain journals, sometimes structured / unstructured, another place to keep recording their activities and inputs. That’s been an important place and archive, it’s a good log of the processes that have happened and how we’re learning, we input that learning to future projects, they are good data points. 


Q: Is there a feature of PECE that you use the most? 

Of late its been PECE essays heavily. Interested in the presentation question more generally. Photo essay and timeline. Something I’ve done less successfully is teaching


Q: Call to a community of researchers is one audience, is there already an assumption that these calls go out to people who are situated in universities / audiences? 

That was an assumption, a somewhat deliberate one. Think about how we engage in a sustained manner with STS and academic formation, cultural contexts. Wanted to know what dynamics happen around STS, look and feel a certain way in a certain place. In that sense, mostly academic audience was not even a limiting one, fairly deliberate. There are people within the “club” (?) that are interested in thinking more about what would an instance of PECE that would speak to policy people, for instance, or a more unsubstantiated (?) public, what does PECE for public communication look like. I don’t think we’ve done a whole lot of thinking just yet, but certainly those questions have been asked. One of the other innovations with the exhibit STS w/o borders is that those collections / essays that people built got translated into posters and presented at the conference. Basic idea is cheaply reproducible, able to print them, put them up in departments, science museums, print 4-5 of them. There was that public-facing imagination, how do you communicate STS as a field to an unfamiliar audience, but again we haven’t made too much headway into that question. 


Q: Do you think that’s desirable? Or it sort of competes with other priorities?

PECE enables people to pick up their own projects. It would be a failure of PECE if it was just a design goal driving these users and uptake. It should be something that people can take up and make their own, and we can learn from that. What do we need to think about digitally and infrastructurally if PECE is to be used in that user community? It’s not a design goal that PECE needs to be dialing all of these, but it should be that others are taking up PECE and making it their own, then us in the process figuring out what to do with that. 


Narrowing down

Structuring your analytic process/ approach to the data

In a way that’s less aggressive than a coding software

The sandbox is really google docs so PECE is like the shovel and castle

PECE Essay like a really narrow website builder - constrained makes it less threatening and more creative ways to make it work


Creative Commons Licence


Contributed date

December 16, 2020 - 9:58pm

Critical Commentary

These are the notes supplementing the interview conducted by Lucy Pei and Hillary Abraham of Aalok Khandekar on May 18th, 2020 as part of the Redesigning PECE project. The audio recording can be found here

Cite as

Anonymous, "Redesigning PECE Founder Interview Notes - Aalok Khandekar", contributed by Lucy Pei and Hillary Abraham, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 16 December 2020, accessed 24 September 2021.