Faculty Talk: Abigail Jacobs

Mon, 01/14/2019 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm

Ehrlicher Room, 3100 North Quad

Firms, families, and the Facebook: Why populations of networks matter


Sociotechnical systems allow us to observe the social structure of organizations, from the traditional firm to the family unit to the upstart online social network. Studies of sociotechnical systems primarily focus on single instances.  However, such studies cannot in general reveal how much of observed network structure is explained by historical accidents, random noise, or meaningful social processes. In this talk, I explore three empirical settings: the organizational structure of communication in large firms; the spread of prescription opioids in families; and the adoption of Facebook on college campuses. I show how the comparative approach allows us to estimate the natural variability in these systems and study processes across the individual-, organization-, and system-level. Across one million families, 100 universities, and 65 large companies, I show how populations of networks can be used to reveal how social processes are encoded in sociotechnical systems, and how social theories can fail. 

Understanding how social processes are reflected in, and reinforced by, sociotechnical systems is crucial---to design better organizations, platforms, and policy interventions.

Speaker Bio

Abigail Jacobs is a postdoc in the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley, where she is also a member of the Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Working Group. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Women in Machine Learning. Previously, she worked at Microsoft Research in New York and received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Colorado Boulder, where she was funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. She previously received a B.A. in Mathematics and in Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences at Northwestern University.