Abstract: This article discusses the results from our fieldwork at a social service intermediary organization working to reform criminal justice institutions in a large city in the American South. Our findings focus on organizational staff’s relationships with information and communication technologies (ICTs), both in the course of their daily work of delivering care work to vulnerable participants, as well as the project’s broader political goals to reduce recidivism and repair community relationships with local police. The group needed to distinguish and negotiate the various—and often competing—needs and commitments of the civic actors involved. As on-site researchers, we were asked to design and deploy digital tools to support the organization in exchange for conducting research on organizational uses of technology. This work draws from our time with the group to ask: how might community-based researchers revisit and realign our research methods to better respond to the changing needs and practices of a research site? Our observations identified three recurring technological concerns expressed by staff that pointed to competing agendas and needs within the organization, specifically across different levels of scale: operational, proximal, and temporal. We then discuss these patterns around broader organizational concerns to reflect on how they impacted our own research methods and commitments. Finally, we reflect on the limitations of participatory methods in issue-oriented organizations that do progressive work across multiple scales and agendas.
Keywords: civic engagement; community-based research; public sector; social service, social work