New CCI Information Integrity Institute Will Nurture Interdisciplinary Research
“In today’s society, we are constantly bombarded by an information tidal wave. It’s difficult for people to know what is good information, and what is harmful. Our individual and our community well-being depends on people finding trustworthy information,” said Suzie Allard, Chancellor’s Professor of Information Sciences.
Allard, who is also the CCI associate dean for research and director of the Research and Innovation Center, led CCI faculty in brainstorming sessions to identify “research affinity groupings,” and it became apparent there was an opportunity to better facilitate research in one area with many varied aspects: information. Out of this was born the new Information Integrity Institute, which will be developed this semester and launch July 1, 2023. At its helm will be two-time Fulbright scholar Professor Catherine Luther, who is stepping out of her role as director of the School of Journalism and Electronic Media to become director of the institute.
“Catherine has a remarkable international research recognition and agenda. She is already leading a research team that won funding from a federal agency, and she’s passionate about this area. She is really interested in helping other faculty, especially young faculty, excel and develop their research,” Allard said. “She also is committed to helping students gain experience in this area that they can take with them after they graduate. Their knowledge from participating at the institute will help others and society, as they take this beyond UT as working professionals.”
While interdisciplinary research has been well-represented in the scholarship of CCI faculty, creating resources and structures to facilitate more collaboration is part of the college’s strategic plan, which states in Goal 4 that the college will “empower and sustain a culture of collaboration, adaptability, and innovation across the college and with campus partners, disciplinary colleagues, and industry leaders.”
The institute will be an umbrella encompassing many areas of research throughout the college, including misinformation, disinformation, trusted data, identifying quality information, and much more, said Allard.
“The institute’s focus is to increase research opportunities and provide a place for more interdisciplinary work within our own college. It’s driven by the diversity of what our faculty study and research. We’ve captured the breadth of the work with the title ‘information integrity.’ We also aim to work with collaborators from across campus,” Allard said.
Luther said the institute, for example, will allow researchers “to develop a deeper understanding of how individuals consume, respond to, and share information, and how information might be shaping societal ideas and actions.” Her experience leading an interdisciplinary research team to study disinformation has reinforced the idea that it is beneficial for people with different knowledge to work together on research.
“It really helps to have different perspectives. By sharing unique perspectives we often are able to develop new knowledge and new methodological approaches. I hope that the interdisciplinary nature of the new institute will be stressed because I truly believe that new areas of expertise can be developed through it,” Luther said.
In addition to the robust work conducted at the college around information integrity on a national level, there is a strong cohort of scholars at CCI who study international communication and information and provide a global perspective on information integrity. Applicable to both national and international research is one of the United Nations’ sustainability goals, which centers on information integrity; Allard noted that this is truly a unique way to approach communication and information research.
“This is a mission that unites the research of many CCI faculty who use their communication, journalism, advertising, public relations, and information science research skills to tame this tidal wave of information. For example, their research in this area fights disinformation campaigns, empowers better health outcomes, encourages responsible consumerism, supports small businesses, and provides trustworthy media coverage,” Allard said.
Sharing skill sets, ideas, best practices, and different perspectives is the true purpose of this institute, Allard said. While funding or connecting collaborators may be a result of creating this meeting point of ideas, it’s not the only objective.
A post-doc fellow will work with and be mentored by Luther to develop their own research agenda, Allard said. This is a way to draw in additional perspectives to the institute as well as make CCI a standout college where high-quality interdisciplinary research is fostered. “We would like to be known as a spot where people want to come to build their research reputation, which will help them get their dream job,” Allard said.