Advancing Social Justice in an Age of Datafied Governance

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SSHRC Insight Grant
Applicant: Joanna Redden
Co-Applicants: Alison Hearn and Valerie Steeves

FIMS professors Joanna Redden and Alison Hearn and University of Ottawa professor Valerie Steeves were announced as successful grant applicants in a press release from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council on June 16, 2022. The funding will support a collaborative research project titled “Advancing Social Justice in an Age of Datafied Governance,” submitted by Redden, Hearn and Steeves.

The project will address the increasing use of artificial intelligence (AI) and automated decision support (ADS) systems by Canadian governments in administering social services such as children’s care, education, employment, housing, justice, policing, public health, taxation, and welfare. Using a series of four interrelated work streams, the team will look closely at how AI and ADS is being implemented and what impact it may have on frontline decision makers as well as marginalized communities.

In particular the group will examine how the uncritical adoption of AI and ADS technology to conduct formal assessments or make decisions related to social services potentially threatens citizens’ privacy rights, exacerbates the discrimination, exclusion and exploitation of marginalized groups, necessitates that the government collect ever more data about people. Through research and collaborations, the team’s goals are to increase public participation in decision-making about if, where and how AI and ADS systems should be used.

“As a research team, we have all been involved in projects investigating the impacts of datafication in Canada and abroad,” says Redden.

“Drawing on that experience, we understand how important it is for early appreciation of the complexities of AI and ADS systems and the fact that they can lead to great human and financial harm. By researching impact and oversight and prioritizing collaborative design, we hope to produce work that can help Canadian government bodies avoid some of the harms seen where AI and ADS systems have been implemented too hastily.”

The first two streams will look at where and how AI and ADS systems are being used in Canada and the specific impacts that result from this use. The third stream will use the data from the first two components to assess the effectiveness of Canada’s existing regulatory frameworks and oversight structures and make recommendations for strengthening the system. The final stream will seek to ensure that research findings are targeted to reach the public, service organizations, community groups and government policy makers.

The research team aims to contribute work that fosters more widespread public debate about the uses of AI and ADS systems as well as findings to enhance appreciation of the impacts of these systems on service delivery and on the people who rely on government services.

SSHRC Insight Grants are awarded yearly to researchers who are engaging in projects that will run from between two and five years. This most recent round of SSHRC Insight Grants provided funding for 560 projects over five years with a total of $96.5 million invested.

For a complete list of projects funded for 2022, visit: