Carroll awarded $279K grant to develop community engagement app

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Timebanking -- a new paradigm that fuses community engagement with technology -- is gradually gaining ground, according to Jack Carroll, Distinguished Professor of College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State. With the aid of a new grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), he is developing an app that would help bring timebanking further into the mainstream.

“The philosophical foundation of timebanking is the equity principle that everyone’s time is worth the same,” explained Carroll. “This is an ideal in that one can plainly see that a lawyer’s time is worth more than a laborer’s time. But we also have to see that inequity in valuing time entails marginalization that benefits no one.”

Carroll has been awarded $279,621 from the NSF as part of a larger grant in support of the project “Intelligent Context-Aware Peer-to-Peer Transaction Brokering.” He is collaborating with Victoria Bellotti of Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and Anind Dey, director of Carnegie-Mellon’s Human Computer Interaction Institute.

In the paper, “Coordinating Community Cooperation: Integrating Timebanks and Nonprofit Volunteering by Design” Carroll and his colleagues Patrick Shih, Kyungsik Han and Jessica Kropczynski, define timebanking as a person-to-person relationship in which “ a service is provided to a recipient, and the service provider receives hours.” In this system, volunteer opportunities are matched with need, so that people giving their time are matched with people and opportunities that require their specific skill set and capabilities.

Carroll and his team’s responsibility is the “front end” of the project: to create a timebanking app that builds off of a previous grant with the Palo Alto Research Center. The app relies on the concept of “context awareness.”

“In this project, context awareness involves conveying to users that a preferred interaction opportunity is nearby at the current time,” Carroll said. “For example, if the system knows that I am willing to move furniture, and someone near where I am has a big chair stuck in a doorway, I might get a ping from the timebank.”

Peer-to-peer, he said, can be understood as “a new class of Web-managed services" such as task rabbit, where people hire themselves out to provide personal services, or airbnb, where people rent out part of their living space.  

“Peer-to-peer captures the lack of supervisory mediation by large corporate entities,” Carroll said. “So, airbnb would contrast with Hilton Hotels.”

Timebanking provides a measure of directness and immediacy to interactions and to volunteer opportunities, he said. Rather than relying on a vast bureaucracy or complicated set of prerequisites, a user gets exposure to a direct opportunity to complete a task from another user who needs the task done. The opportunity is matched with the user’s capabilities and interests, and builds off of what the user has done previously.

“One of Edgar Cahn’s books was titled 'No More Throwaway People,' which presents the idea that everyone has value and can contribute to society,” Carroll said. “The challenge for society is to figure out how to make that real. Timebanking is part of a solution.”

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Last Updated July 28, 2017