Information Sciences and Technology

NSF award supports Carroll's creation of mobile time banking app

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- There is a growing international movement to facilitate economic exchange and build social capital through an alternative form of currency -- time. Time banking refers to community-based volunteering in which participants provide and receive services valued by the amount of time they require to perform. Jack Carroll, Edward M. Frymoyer Professor at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, is working on a project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that is intended to strengthen communities through a mobile time banking system.

“Time banking integrates economic exchange with social good to develop neighborhood relationships,” said Carroll, whose research areas include methods and theory in human-computer interaction, community informatics and social impacts of computing.

Carroll has received an award of $997,553 from the NSF to support his project, Socio-technical Issues in Mobile Time Banking. The project will incorporate mobile computing and Web 2.0 services to carry out a design research investigation of mobile time banking.

Time banks originated with anti-poverty activist Edgar Cahn, as described in his book “No More Throw Away People.” Cahn developed “time dollars” as a new currency to provide a solution to cuts in government spending on social welfare. Under a time banking system, each participant can provide community service, doing whatever he or she can do (e.g. yard work, guitar lessons, home improvements) for other members. For their services, they receive time credits that can be exchanged for other services. A community brokering entity -- a time bank -- keeps track of time credits earned and redeemed. According to Carroll, time banks are more widely used among the working classes and people of lower socio-economic status.

“Time banks have pervasive implications for conceptions of work, citizenship, volunteering, community engagement and social inclusion,” Carroll said.

Time banking has spread rapidly in recent years throughout the world, he said. One factor in this growth is the global recession. For example, in August The Wall Street Journal reported that the number of time banks in Spain alone is about 300, doubling in the past three years. Carroll’s project will work with Cahn and his organization, TimeBanks USA, a nonprofit organization started in 1995 with a mission to “nurture and expand a movement that promotes equality and builds caring community economies through inclusive exchange of time and talent.” TimeBanks USA coordinates 300 TimeBanks around the world in over 36 countries, including Community Exchange, managed by Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pa., which will be a study site for the project.

Current time banking focuses on asynchronous transactions, Carroll said. He and his research assistant, doctoral student Keith Han, are building a mobile app for Android that will “support finer-grain, near-real time scheduling of neighborhood service exchanges.” This approach allows many new time banking possibilities. For example, he said, a time bank member could post a request for someone to pick up milk from the grocery store or aspirin from the drug store, and a neighbor who is stopping by those places could fulfill those requests.

Carroll and Han will study the appropriation of mobile time banking. After developing and refining their prototype, they are planning to carry out a field trial with the Lehigh Valley Health Network. In addition, they have a partnership with Victoria Bellotti of the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), who will be studying use of the app using a distributed ethnography method and also investigating how PARC’s intelligent system technology can be incorporated into successive versions of the app.

While it is too early to predict how the mobile app will be received and what its impacts will be, Carroll said, the growth of time banks across the world is a huge opportunity.

“Bad times are a good time for new ideas and approaches,” he said.

Last Updated October 16, 2012