Human-Computer Interaction Institute
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Democratizing Mobile Technology in Support of
Volunteer Activities in Data Collection

Sun Young Kim

August 2014

Ph.D. Thesis


Keywords: Human-computer interaction, mobile technology, technology adoption, volunteer, data collection, citizen science, participatory sensing, sustainability

Mobile technology is advancing our ability to connect and share information in ways that were not possible before. It makes an ideal platform for people to participate in volunteer activities for data collection, as mobile technology can transform simple data sharing in our daily lives into meaningful participation in solving real-world problems. Volunteer participation is a powerful method for collecting data, as the availability of so many volunteers allows the collection of a large amount of data that could not be obtained with the use of professionals only. Also, it enables collection of data over spatial and temporal scales at reduced cost and time.

However, despite its potential, the actual usage rate of mobile technology in volunteer activities has been low, and our understanding of why the domain of volunteering has a lower rate of mobile technology adoption remains weak. Furthermore, how mobile technology is perceived, evaluated, adopted, or declined to adopt for data collection in volunteer activities has yet to be fully determined. This dissertation first conducts a series of investigations into current practices, challenges, and opportunities associated with mobile technology use in volunteer activities from the perspective of the community organizers. From this, an authoring system was developed to enable users to create mobile data collection solutions, which democratizes the capabilities of mobile technology to support digital data gathering efforts. Finally, through a longitudinal field deployment of the system, this dissertation advances our understanding of volunteerism-themed mobile applications by first studying the underutilization of such mobile technology in situ and later developing a series of potential opportunities for designing more effective mobile volunteer activity technologies.

The contributions of this dissertation are threefold. First, it extends our knowledge of the current mobile technology landscape in volunteer activities for data collection. Secondly, it presents an authoring system that helps create mobile data collection solutions under resource-constrained environments. Lastly, it suggests design strategies for effectively leveraging mobile technology in volunteer data collection activities through an investigation of the entire cycle of mobile technology adoption.

154 pages

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