School of Social and Political Science

Digital Worker Inquiry: Data, Solidarity, and Leverage

Online event
28 - 29 October 2021
13:00 - 18:00




Digital Worker Inquiry: Data, Solidarity, and Leverage 

28 and 29 October, 1pm-6pm each day, online

This event is co-hosted by the Centre for Data, Culture & Society's Digital Social Science research cluster and the Edinburgh Futures Institute. The event is made possible through a collaboration with INDL (International Network on Digital Labour), ISRF (Independent Social Research Foundation), and STUC (Scottish Trade Union Congress), and with support from the Workers' Observatory

About the event

The platform economy runs on data – much of it drawn from work processes, worker bodies, and work-based interactions. Yet workers themselves have often been severed from accessing what becomes proprietary and commercial data. In response, workers, researchers, activists, and organisers have come together to design and develop various data-driven interventions and tools with the explicit aim of enabling workers to study, understand, resist, and reformulate these working conditions. To date, these projects have not yet been put in conversation so that new audiences, including trade unions and worker coops, may learn best practices, develop models for their own inquiry, or learn from project failures. Our event aims to generate that conversation. 

Over two days, we will showcase worker-led data projects, ranging from the creation of apps, tools, and software to the discussions of the ethical, technical, and legal challenges of working with or organising through worker data. Four themes inform the workshop: 

  • Stories of the Build: The Who, What, and Why of the Tool 
  • Ethical and Technical Challenges of Accessing Worker Data 
  • Legal Concerns and Challenges of Building with Worker Data 
  • Building Solidarity Through Data-Driven Organising: Does it work? 

The first day of the event will showcase data-driven inquiry projects. Invited speakers are asked to tell us “the story of the project,” exploring what they have created and why. We want to see how these projects were developed: what they did and whether such projects brought workers together as part of the process. The first panel is for workers, organisers, and researchers to show us what they’ve created and to share their stories about how it worked, how it hasn’t, or what they might do differently next time. 

Following on from this showcase, our second panel will explore the technical and ethical challenges of accessing, working with, and storing or maintaining worker data. The aim is to seed a conversation about next steps, both ethical and technical. Where did data go? How was it maintained? Who takes responsibility for it? What role might data coops/trusts play here? 

Our second day returns to address the legal challenges of inquiring with or through worker data. Here, we explore the opportunities and challenges of worker data rights, the limits of GDPR, and the ways that workers and unions are contesting and expanding current legal frameworks. 

We then turn to the question of organising and solidarity in our final panel to raise the question of “what works” here beyond the development of the app or tool. Are these projects effective at drawing workers together? Do they draw institutions together or forge new alliances (for example, across unions, universities, and other social institutions)? Do these tools enable formal or informal organising, and if so, how? 

Partner institutions

  • Dr Christina Colclough, Founder, The Why Not Lab (Keynote)
  • Roz Foyer General Secretary, Scottish Trade Union Congress (Keynote)