This continues our series of student reflections and analysis authored by our research team.
The Evolution of tPP: Pros and Cons
“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” (Albert Einstein)
All throughout history, human beings have been curious creatures. We strive to understand the world around us, and we strive to find ways to improve that world. Conducting research is the main outlet we use to satisfy our curiosity. As human beings have evolved, so have research methods. Even research projects themselves will evolve and change. This week in tPP, I noticed the different ways The Prosecution Project has evolved, grown, and changed over the years while doing the source document swap.
The source document swap was an assignment which had students double check source documents from specific years, and then ensure those sources, and the cases they detailed, where labeled correctly according to current tPP standards. I was assigned to check case sources from the years 2004 and 2005. If a case file did not have enough sources, had a source labeled incorrectly, or was missing a primary source, it was the student’s job to rectify those errors. While going through the year 2005 I noticed a lot of small inaccuracies and differences. Many source documents were not labeled correctly according to the current tPP standards.
The current tPP manual specifies that all source documents must have a description in their title detailing whether they are a news article, court document, or something else. Many 2005 cases where missing these descriptions. I wondered why so many source files were labeled so differently, and then I realized some cases where coded long before I joined the project. Over the course of tPP, many procedures have changed and continue to change to ensure the most effectiveness. Nothing is perfect right away, and there was a learning curve to tPP that I was able to see first hand in the source document swap. I saw that originally tPP did not require source descriptions, but as the dataset grew, it became imperative to label everything correctly to avoid future confusion. tPP has evolved, and continues to evolve, but I wonder if this growth comes at a price?
The current manual to tPP is titled Manual v4.6. This means multiple versions of the manual have been given out to multiple coders over the course of the prosecution project. While growth, and more accuracy to the manual is good for the project, this growth also comes at a price. The con to the evolution of a research project, is that growth will often times make past work inadequate, irrelevant, or in need of updating. The entire source document swap assignment was an updating assignment. It was taking old coded cases and ensuring they matched current standards. However, the time it took to update all of these cases is a huge sacrifice of time. The growth and evolution of a research project has more pros than cons. The pros consist of more accuracy, helps promote sustainability to the project, and a larger dataset develops over time. However, the one set back to all of this progress, that became clear to me during the source document swap, is the large consumption of time and energy that happens when updates and corrections to past work is required.