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Join Professor Benkler's Cooperation Research Group

Research Assistant positions with The Cooperation Research Group: Case Studies in Commons-Based Peer Production 

An information session about this effort will be held in the Berkman Center's conference room on September 4th at 6 p.m.  Please come to learn more - snacks and drinks will be provided.

Project Description:

What makes Wikipedia or digg succeed?  What makes other collaborative efforts fail? Peer production—large scale cooperation among human participants—has become an increasingly important mechanism for the creation of information, knowledge, and culture.  Civil society organizations like the Sunlight Foundation are building collaborative platforms to expose government abuses.  Businesses like Threadless T- Shirts and Amazon Mechanical Turk are using it to harness distributed intelligence and work capabilities. The intelligence community has set up an internal Intellipedia, and the Army, Company Commander. Some diffuse social networks like CouchSurfing or BookCrossing are using it to share sleeping accommodations or books, while others, like DailyKos, harness political mobilization.    

The Cooperation Research Group, led by Professor Yochai Benkler, analyzes the design of cooperative human systems through a combination of interdisciplinary observational, experimental, and theoretical studies. As part of this project, the group is embarking on a new effort to provide a map of commons-based and cooperative peer production today. The purpose of the study is to offer a systematic analysis of a wide range of information and knowledge production sectors, to identify practices, list them, describe them, and categorize them.

To learn more, watch Prof. Benkler's TED talk on collaboration here.

Job Task/Responsibilities Description: 

Research Assistants will have the opportunity to contribute substantively to this project, conducting and writing case studies as well as providing input on overall research design and execution.

As part of this position, you will need to:

  • Conduct in-depth research on commons-based peer-production using online resources, library databases and secondary sources, ethnographic participant observation of online communities, as well as statistical and/or computational data collection.
  • Write-up findings on a regular, iterative basis, conforming to research protocols and deadlines laid out by Professor Benkler and project leaders.
  • Submit written results to online repositories in a timely and organized fashion.
  • Present results to the rest of the research group on a bi-weekly basis.
  • Critically and constructively engage with group members' research; collaborate openly on all projects; integrate feedback & criticism of your own work.

The position will begin in mid-September. The required commitment is approximately 15 hours per week (including weekly case study research group meetings) through December 15. 

Education/Experience Sought:

A strong interest in the commons, cooperation, peer-production, and the range of human activities is necessary.  The position is open to students in post-graduate, professional, and undergraduate programs.[1] Strong background (and interests) in social or behavioral sciences. Some technical background, with working knowledge of Web-based research methods and computational research tools. We are also looking for applicants with strong technical skills and substantial interest in social design and cooperation. 

Desired Skills:

RAs should be smart, creative, curious, flexible, open-minded, motivated people who also have the skills below:

  • strong writing, editing and oral presentation abilities
  • experience, or interest in, conducting original qualitative research
  • ability to meet deadlines and balance other work/study commitments

Familiarity with research on cooperation, organizations, and case study methodology highly valued. Familiarity with research on motivation, sociology, economics, and/or social psychology is also a plus.

Application Materials:

  • Letter of Interest
  • CV/Resume
  • A writing sample (500-1000 words)
  • Contact information – email and/or phone – for no fewer than two references (professional or academic). 

Please submit all required materials to Janet Moran atjmoran@law.harvard.eduno later than September 5, 2008 at 5pm.

[1]   Please Note: We will try to accommodate students who prefer to receive course credit rather than pay consistent with their school's policies. Also, research Assistants do not need to be affiliated with Harvard and do not need to be students. However, this position does notinclude benefits and the standard wage is $11.50 per hour (though is negotiable based on experience). The project can only employ international students whose visas have been sponsored by Harvard.