Introducing DSSG Fellow Jacob Kovacs

I’m a masters student at the University of Washington’s iSchool, studying information management with emphases on information architecture and information systems design. I also did most of my undergraduate work at UW, majoring in economics with minors in applied math and geography.

As a social science undergraduate I spent a lot of time on research — analyzing data, reviewing literature and writing papers. Economics and applied math involved mostly quantitative methods but geography was a great mix of GIS, qualitative methods, and social theory. I got to participate in a few team research efforts, present at a handful of student and professional conferences, and publish in Plenum, the UW’s undergraduate geography journal. Additionally, a deep interest in collaboration and democratic participation led me to complete a two year practicum in conflict mediation on the side, gaining skills in dispute resolution and facilitation that I further developed as a volunteer mediator in King County small claims court.

I chose a slightly different direction for my graduate program. I realized that my undergraduate studies addressed only certain stages of the information lifecycle (which per Detlor, 2009 consists of information “creation, acquisition, organization, storage, distribution, and use”); I wanted to branch out and learn how to manage information across its entire lifecycle so that I could increase its impact and value within organizations, particularly collaborative organizations that make less use of hierarchy as a coordinating mechanism. In practical terms, this has meant learning how to structure, store, manipulate, publish, and use data by way of Python, database development, web development, taxonomy/thesaurus/ontology construction, metadata schemas and process design.

I applied to the DSSG program because it speaks so directly to all of these interests. The prospect of transforming data into a widely accessible interactive tool to support public analysis and discussion of pressing social issues (development, gentrification, and homelessness in Seattle) is super exciting. I’m looking forward to spending this summer developing a better conceptual understanding of the issues, then translating that into tool design and construction.

My hobbies are my (perfect) cat, violin, guitar, playing with Legos and helping friends make decisions AKA meddling. I’m fascinated by questions of personal improvement and collaboration at many different scales, from one-to-one interactions to political institutions. I’m motivated by the dream of building humane, ethical and awesome organizations.