Our Methodology

  • 22 September, 2023

Preamble

Our Privacy Policy, Methodology, and Code of Conduct provides clarity on how we operate New Design Congress and the standards we hold ourselves, our members and community to.

We are a deliberately independent, research group for and with Funding Members. We confront the gap between what is said to be happening and what is actually happening in digitised societies. We are ‘non-academia’ and ‘non-institutional’ and we work with and across the ecosystem of environmentalists, internet subcultures, at-risk communities, non-profits, universities, policy makers and technologists, to produce ambitious and groundbreaking research with applicable outcomes for our Funding Members, the broader international community that follows our work, and overall for the public good. Our alternative forking theory of change enables us to re-examine criticisms and ideas from the past through the lens of the systemic failures of the present, and develop actionable interventions and breakthroughs to apply today to benefit tomorrow.

Overview of how we work

New Design Congress maintains an unusual structure that balances accountability, research rigour, independence and financial stability.

Group Relationship to NDC
Advisory Board Individuals invited by NDC and listed on our website, the Advisory Board offers guidance and feedback around our strategy, research and output. Advisory Board members also act informally to maintain our accountability.
Supporters Offer financial support or other resources but do not wish to participate actively in the community or collaborate on in-progress research.
Funding Members Enable our work through once-off or regular financial support, and participate actively in our research roadmap, in a non-voting capacity. Funding Members informally offer guidance around the potential direction of our research, get early access to our work and data sets, and can supply additional data for our research.
Members Enable our work through their engagement with our process and community. Non-Funding Members who also do not participate actively in our work still get regular updates and discounts to our work, products and events.
Volunteers Individuals who contribute within the NDC community or on NDC projects (for example, Underscore or community moderation) on an unpaid basis.
Contributors External contributors (either within our community or beyond), such as commissioned authors, subject experts or contractors.
Core Team NDC's Core Team, as listed on our website, is responsible for propelling our work and maintaining an integrity-driven approach to research.

Process

We combine strategic and ‘civic-academic’ ethnographic research with an online-first publishing strategy drawn from livestream and so-called ‘dark forest’ internet culture. Where possible, we produce an ongoing timeline of in-progress and incomplete research via our research platform specifically to engage with the wider New Design Congress community. For non-sensitive work, we invite regular informal feedback through internal roundtables, peer-reviews or participatory livestreams.

Outputs

We use ‘McLuhanian principles’ to evaluate how finished research is delivered as concrete outputs. This is based on expectations from our Funding Members and is also influenced by the nature of the research. Outputs can be - but are not limited to - published reports, software products, audio/video documentaries and livestreams.

Structure

New Design Congress is a fiscally sponsored project of Superbloom Design, a US-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit. This status has specific additional conditions that shape our obligations and how we work and produce research and software. New Design Congress Memberships are participatory in nature and do not represent a voting or governing role within the organisation.

Research (output) accessibility

Collaborations will follow the research accessibility principles established by New Design Congress.

We have ambitious goals of systemic change and are building a body of critical and applicable output to enable NDC Members to deploy changes while minimising risks or unforeseen consequences. We use a ‘Timed Open Access’ strategy for all of our output, where Funding Members get advance access to new work before it is disseminated more widely.

For Funding Members who wish to offer research data or participate in our research, we expect a level of access that necessitates disclosure of intellectual property or sensitive information and data. We understand that our Open Access publishing strategy creates tension for sensitive or confidential contexts. New Design Congress regularly works with at-risk communities, conducts socio-technical red-team analysis for Funding Members, and engages in anonymised ethnographic research that respects participant confidentiality, privacy, and safety. We always publish and disseminate research findings from a position of integrity. We are not a platform for hysteria or activism and we do not conduct research as a form of exposé.

We publish our findings with appropriate safety considerations and will always validate forthcoming Open Access research outputs with Funding Members who participate or collaborate directly in our work. In line with our Participant Privacy and Consent policy, we anonymise outputs drawn from sensitive contexts, and participants have the right to withdraw consent. In many cases, this reduces the quality and effectiveness of the research output, and we expect to negotiate the terms of publication in good faith and well in advance of research and publication where possible.

How we work with our community

Whether an Advisory Board member or a Volunteer, we expect everyone in our community to abide by our Code of Conduct.

For Supporters and Funding Members, our arrangements generally fall in one of three possibilities:

  • An agreed-upon monthly, quarterly or annual contribution, with or without a fixed timeframe and contributed via the NDC Members platform for individual supporters, or through our fiscal sponsor Superbloom Design’s operations department;
  • A trade of product or services that is mutually agreed to in writing;
  • Once-off contributions, facilitated through our fiscal sponsor Superbloom Design.

In any case, we make our expectations clear to Supporters and Funding Members as to our understanding of the nature of this arrangement. These can change over time, but must be raised in writing. For example, a Supporter who does not participate in our research or community can choose to participate at a later time. Supporters wishing to become more involved should make this change clear to us to ensure that expectations are appropriately aligned.

Working together

Funding Members can help shape and contribute to our research roadmap in an advisory (non-voting and non-governing) capacity. Funding Members do this through consultation - making requests in writing and reacting to Research Notes or through data posted on Plateau. In these cases, without further participation, this should be viewed as similar to a consultancy relationship with a varying degree of participation from the Funding Member. As per our confidentiality commitments, we customise our work to enable these collaborations with Funding Members and deliver research specific to the Funding Member. We expect to derive an Open Access publication from this work, and expect Funding Members who are working with us in this way to negotiate an agreement for the derived output for Open Access. The Open Access publication or product must contain a meaningful portion of the research or contents.

In some cases, sensitive participation or findings from collaboration with Funding Members conflict intrinsically with our Open Access publication strategy. In these cases, we negotiate with the collaborating Funding Member from a position that satisfies our Open Access strategy. In cases where this cannot be resolved through negotiation and an agreement cannot be reached, either New Design Congress or the Funding Member can terminate the research partnership.

Funding Members work with New Design Congress for a variety of reasons. Some see overarching value in our collective Research Pillars and outputs and support the broader New Design Congress mission. Some Funding Members have specific forecasting or research needs that align with the roadmap of one or more Research Pillars. Some Funding Members have particular analytic or strategic goals and support New Design Congress, such as shared goals around Digital Identity, Digitised Societies and other core New Design Congress statements. Each of these motivations have subtle differences in how we work with the Funding Member.

Funding Members engage with New Design Congress as either once-off or recurring financial contributors, and some instances offer expertise, research data or expertise connections as additional means to support our research. Regardless of how a Funding Member supports and engages with New Design Congress, they retain access to all material during the Funding period and are generally entitled to participate in ongoing research and receive notifications of newly published at the conclusion of the funding period.

Shaping our research roadmap

Funding Members are invited to contribute to and shape the Research Pillars by recommending or requesting research prioritisation, highlighting ideas or viewpoints that might be missing, and interrogating or critically evaluating the components of our intended research roadmap. This participation includes, but is not limited to:

  • Suggesting key research areas or questions of interest beyond the existing agreed shared research goals;
  • Suggesting adjustments to the scope of the research roadmap to cover additional, adjacent lines of inquiry or address gaps in available works;
  • Reviewing early or unfinished research and proposing specific additional lines of inquiry, clarification, or context-specific synthesis as active collaboration;
  • Suggesting additional participants, data sources or expertise for consideration;
  • Proposing strategies for the announcement, delivery or co-publication of completed research.

We will accommodate these suggestions subject to other requests from Funding Members, project timelines, ethical considerations, potential conflicts of interest, and the broader strategic mission of New Design Congress. We negotiate and accommodate in good faith but reserve the right to decline these requests.

Commitment to transparency, independence and confidentiality

New Design Congress works primarily in the open, but with discretion and consideration to sensitive aspects of our work. We discuss ideas with our community, livestream to interrogate concepts, hold roundtables and town halls with Funding Members in semi-public settings, vet and recruit specialist expertise for quick consultations and maintain a members-only repository of ongoing research. All of this is designed to keep our work visible, relevant, accountable and transparent. It also allows collaborators to enter and exit our orbit with little friction.

While we maintain this level of transparency, we also recognise that such transparency is not always possible or appropriate. We often work on sensitive topics or materials with Funding Members, from valuable intellectual property, to private and personally identifying information with a potential for life-threatening material consequences. We take transparency, confidentiality and our independent positioning very seriously and recognise the ongoing tension in maintaining these core commitments. We have a negotiation process to discover and set the bounds and concerns of Funding Members and the potential for harm through accidental disclosure. As part of becoming a Funding Member, we set expectations in advance about confidentiality. We routinely check in with Funding Members, as well as research participants, about confidentiality verses the intent to publish.

The biggest strength of our practice is our approach to working sensitively and confidentially across many contexts and our ability to produce provocative and applicable Open Access outputs from these engagements. These engagements take the form of participatory interviews, sensitive literature reviews, digital or operational security analyses, and so on. They can happen anywhere; with external participants, clients of Funding Members, members of our Expertise Network, or within Funding Members themselves.

In circumstances where Funding Members have engaged with New Design Congress as a participant or collaborator, we may sometimes ask to invite team members to participate in research. In these cases, our standard Data Confidentiality and Participant Consent policies apply. These policies are standard across all of our qualitative ethnographic research, and are considered highly confidential. Whether produced from external participants or individuals connected to a Funding Member, this information is never disclosed. Funding Members should not expect access to this raw data before its anonymisation and interpretation.

For Funding Members, we commit to:

  • Negotiating and setting expectations of what we are asking and why, and limit our qualitative research to these agreed-upon questions;
  • Confirming with participants before sharing early outputs with Funding Members to make sure both their expertise is represented and that they are confident with the presentation and the confidentiality;
  • Honouring our Participant Consent policy, allowing Funding Members or participants to withdraw at any time;
  • Never confirming nor denying a participant’s involvement in the research, and leaving that disclosure to the participant;
  • Never confirming or denying a participant’s involvement specific to their relationship to the Funding Member, or that a Funding Member’s team members participated in research, except in the cases of potential conflict of interest or where failing to disclose this violates the integrity of the research.

At the same time, our theory of change is not possible without a degree of permissiveness from Funding Members. We expect to publish work, even in cases where the research outcomes invalidate or are unfavourable to our own position or that of a Funding Member. In cases where our research uncovers problems for a Funding Member, we will disclose this as early as possible and in good faith before publication. This is similar in approach to the industry-recognised standards for ‘white-hat’ ethical information security disclosures.

We expect to be able to publish research that conflicts with a Funding Member’s interest or position within a reasonable time frame without interference. We also expect that Funding Members, Supporters and Members alike engage in dialogue to determine how to publish anonymised expertise and other related contexts around deep collaborative research. Members are free to decline instances of this without providing a reason, and this is grounds for either party to dissolve the research collaboration. We will never ask to publish IP or other material, but we do expect Funding Members and Supporters to agree to pathways to publication that are generalised, similar to how we incorporate research participant contributions.

We specialise in sensitive research and advisory work, and we take our dual commitments of confidentiality and transparency very seriously. Without this trust, our theory of change cannot function. It is in our best interest to engage with issues of participant or data confidentiality in good faith and we expect our Funding Members to work with us from this position. In cases where this cannot be resolved through negotiation and an agreement cannot be reached, either New Design Congress or the Funding Member can terminate the research partnership.

Ownership, credit and research access

New Design Congress owns our research and publishes for the benefit of the public interest and to foster systemic change. Funding Members have early access to all New Design Congress work, not just the research they directly fund or participate in. New Design Congress stores sensitive parts of research in an archive, but does not release it. This archive is accessible to New Design Congress employees and collaborators on a case-by-case basis, and subject to our own nondisclosure terms.

We list all Funding Members on our organisation profile as supporting our work for the duration of their support. In cases where a Funding Member is participates directly in a research output or a particular pillar of research, this is disclosed as part of publication. We don’t comment publicly on the relevance or implications of current research against a particular Funding Member.

All of our output – whether published under Open Access or not - is licensed under a Creative Commons, Non-Derivative Share Alike license. New Design Congress can work or advise Funding Members to tailor or apply the research to a Funding Member's specific interest area or problem, and that that is designed to support their needs / be incorporated into their work. Collaborations between the Funding Members and New Design Congress cannot be presented as an endorsement by New Design Congress of the Funding Member’s actions, ever. Funding Members who seek to use New Design Congress work for campaigns or other public engagements cannot do so without the prior written consent from New Design Congress.

We reserve the right to make small corrections or publish new editions of an existing piece of research without notice. We also reserve the right to build upon all of our work.

Funding Members can distribute final draft or pre-Open Access material within their own immediate networks (for example, among leadership or in department, etc.). Based on the Participant Consent policy, Funding Members cannot take unfinished work and publish before the agreed schedule, and cannot distribute or circulate unfinished work beyond their immediate organisation. New Design Congress can dissolve the research partnership and take other protective measures at our discretion in the event that a Funding Member's action breaks with the Participant Consent policy.

Governance and destruction of materials

All PII and raw material resides on infrastructure we control. We do this to maintain a high level of digital sovereignty and control over this data. We occasionally may use a third party service (such as an AI transcription tool or similar) to perform specific tasks with regards to research material.

As per the many global laws that govern PII and our own research consent documentation, New Design Congress destroys raw research materials sixty days after publication. This includes confidential information shared with us by collaborating Funding Members. We also destroy supplied confidential information in the event of an early termination of a funding partnership. For more information about this, please see our Privacy Policy