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health impacts

April 21, 2017

Topic: Research

Community collective doesn’t sugar coat health impacts

Community initiatives tackle obesity and alcohol harm in San Francisco’s most vulnerable communities.

A collective coalition of local health stakeholders blend community engagement in an ‘evidence-to-policy’ community case study. Conducted across six years, the report details successful high-impact interventions led by The San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership (SFHIP) to tackle sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, alcohol regulation, and children’s oral health.

The city’s African American and Latinx youth consume more sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) than other communities and are most affected by related health issues, the report finds. But they continue to be marketing targets for soda companies. After a soda tax failed to pass in 2014, a participatory research project conducted in low-income areas showed that an intervention to discourage SSB consumption would need to be supported by better access to drinking water. Following this, the SFHIP partnered with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to install taps at various public venues. In 2016, the soda tax passed, prompting the city’s hospitals and schools to move to healthier alternatives.

In addition, San Francisco also has the highest density of alcohol retail points in California – despite being plagued by alcohol-related health problems. SFHIP’s Alcohol Policy Partnership Working Group collaborated with technology non-profits and health providers to produce a tool for mapping alcohol shops and demographics to visualize the relationship between alcohol availability and health challenges. An education campaign further supported community members to participate in the licensing reforms. The group addressed growing availability of powdered alcohol as a public health threat, resulting in a state law banning its sale. Their efforts also led to Starbucks and Taco Bell withdrawing their applications for liquor licences for their city franchises.          

Noting that 35% of children enrolled in the city’s public schools have poor dental health when they enrol at kindergarten, the report also describes the strategies of the SFHIP Children’s Oral Health Working Group. With the help of a community-driven blueprint, the group led the mobilization of funding and other resources to increase the provision of preventive fluoride varnish against oral caries for children in need.

Highlighting the connectedness of public health challenges and social inequalities, the report identifies the relationships, capabilities, and obstacles that shape the creation of an environment that supports health equity. Partners in SFHIP’s mission for health equity include the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), local public health service providers, schools, faith communities, and ethnic community health organizations.  

‘Achieving Health Equity Through Community Engagement in Translating Evidence to Policy: The San Francisco Health Improvement Partnership, 2010–2016’, is published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Banner image: Ian Schneider/Unsplash/cc

Online Political Participation

April 5, 2017

Topic: Research

Mind the (gender) gap: is online political participation democratic?

With women making up roughly half the population, a democracy failing to represent their interests in an equitable way cannot be considered a full democracy writes Sabrina Schöttle in ‘The Gender-Gap in Online Political Participation –New Chances and New Challenges for Social Equality’. 

Building on her previous project at NRW Fortschrittskolleg Online Participation, Schöttle focuses on the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany. Locating differences between women and men taking part online, she aims to identify how these relate to existing social inequalities. For political decisions to be legitimate and representative, she writes, they need to address the interests of all those affected by them. When people are left out of decision-making processes, their interests are too, she argues. She notes that while classical democracy and political theory fails to secure the equal participation of women as citizens, participatory democracy theory addresses this deficit.

Schöttle’s research asks can existing knowledge on offline political participation help understand gender inequalities in the digital sphere? She also questions whether existing knowledge addresses access, privilege, and trends in participation. It further highlights that while offline political participation has been investigated by political science and sociology, online political participation is an area of civic activity that demands to be studied – especially given increasingly digital political engagement.

Sabrina Schöttle is Research Assistant at Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, and sociological researcher in DIID Monitor Online Participation NRW, a project at the Dusseldorf Institute for Internet and Democracy which maps online citizen participation in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.  

Photo: Georgie Pauwels/Flickr/cc

local democracy

March 24, 2017

Topic: Research

‘Municipal burglary’ challenges local democracy in UK

Peter Latham calls for the remaking of local government – and local democracy – as he confronts the UK Conservative Government’s devolution agenda in his book Who stole the town hall?: The end of local government as we know it.  Drawing on examples from around the UK, Latham argues that the agenda hides a vision with major implications for British democracy: the privatisation of public services and local government.

Latham traces the role of the central government and private sector in diminishing local government, and projects the consequences of its reorganisation. He proposes the mending and remodelling of the tax system with reforms for taxes on land, wealth, and income to sustain critical public services and feed the revival of local and national democracy.  

In his foreword to Who stole the town hall, Rodney Bickerstaffe, former general secretary of Unison, warns of the decline of local government and the rise in civic disengagement and distrust. Bickerstaffe points to the pressing need to improve public services and save local government as a vital democratic institution. He identifies ‘municipal burglary’ and corporate profiteering through government as a major challenge for democracy, and presents Latham’s research and analysis as a diagnosis of the current situation.  

The book builds from Latham’s earlier work The state and local government: Towards a new basis for ‘local democracy’ and the defeat of big business control (2011), in which he calls for the revival of grassroots political networks and structures to address privatisation and reorient government. .    

Sociologist Peter Latham, former researcher at the London School of Economics, is an official in the University and College Union, member of the Labour Land Campaign, the Economic Committee of the Communist Party of Britain, and a delegate to Croydon Trades Union Council. He was Treasurer and then Secretary in the Labour Campaign for Open Local Government (1999-2006).

Photo: Naterally Wicious/Flickr/cc

participatory mapping

March 16, 2017

Topic: Research

Participatory mapping activates community mobility

The Street Mobility & Network Accessibility project at University College of London (UCL)  maps transport infrastructure barriers to community mobility. Muki Haklay and Louise Francis present a participatory mapping module in the project Toolkit. Illustrating concepts and practical advice, the module offers a case study of a collaborative mapping project in Southend-on-sea, UK.

The Street Mobility project creates tools to understand community severance – the impact of transport infrastructure, streets, and traffic on the movement of local people. Also called the “barrier effect”, community severance has social and economic consequences. Barriers can be psychological or physical. For example, longer pedestrian routes can affect access and make people feel unsafe. Heavy traffic can put off community members looking to make a trip.

The Toolkit offers methods to evaluate community severance and understand its relationship with community mobility and health where social inclusion and connectedness is linked to personal and community wellbeing, particularly for vulnerable and older members. The project uses participatory mapping to collect and apply local knowledge on road use and traffic.

The Toolkit identifies different types of mapping. Planning and executing participatory mapping, which suggests first visiting and identifying community locations, dynamics, institutions, and leaders; community engagements, which can capture local knowledge in one or more of three ways; rapid appraisal mapping which asks for brief input on a local map from a member of the public in the street; and, community mapping workshops that offer a way for participants to spot issues and discuss them in detail. In-depth individual interviews also allow participants to share insights and experiences.    

In the featured case study, residents of Southend-on-sea weigh in on Queensway, a local main road. Over 50 people from the affected area take part in surveys, informal mapping sessions, and intensive participatory mapping workshops to pin down issues. The exercise reveals problems related to pedestrian safety and provides primary local information and views.       

Mordechai (Muki) Haklay is Professor of Geographical Information Science, Director of the UCL Chorley Institute for Spatial Information Science, and co-director of the interdisciplinary Extreme Citizen Science research group (ExCiteS), at the University College of London (UCL). Louise Francis is Research Associate in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering Science, UCL. Haklay and Francis are co-founders in the social enterprise Mapping for Change.

Photo: Ciarán Mooney/Flickr/cc

community-engaged museums

March 15, 2017

Topic: Research

Community-Engaged Museums catalysts for sustainability

With communities revisiting local culture and heritage in an increasingly globalised world, Glenn C. Sutter, Tobias Sperlich, Douglas Worts, René Rivard and Lynne Teather point up the potential of Community-Engaged Museums (CEMs) to help achieve social change on a global scale – this despite limited resources and the push to reach new audiences. Museums are struggling with limited resources; while some have tried to reach new audiences, others have adopted business models which offer financial benefits but affect their social role, point out the authors.

‘Fostering Cultures of Sustainability through Community-Engaged Museums: The History and Re-Emergence of Ecomuseums in Canada and the USA’ explores the potential of ecomuseums as CEMs that can support sustainable development. Building on findings of ‘Newly-Forming Ecomuseums: Development Framework’, a toolkit published by the Saskatchewan Ecomuseums Initiative (SEI) Steering Committee, the authors illustrate two successful ecomuseums in North America – the Haute-Beauce Ecomuseum (Quebec), and the Ak-Chin Him Dak Ecomuseum (Arizona), chosen for their histories, and distinct contexts. They also explores the rise of ecomuseums in Canada, with a focus on Saskatchewan.

The authors attribute the transformative potential of ecomuseums to three key factors. Firstly, by integrating local natural and cultural heritage, these institutions offer ways for people to learn about and address complex issues. As all elements within an ecomuseum’s territory become part of its collection, there are opportunities for different types of learning. Secondly, as collaborative cultural institutions, they can nurture the social transformations required to build sustainable communities. And thirdly, their flexible governance structures allow them to change or adapt easily, giving them an edge over traditional museums.

Ecomuseums become catalysts under two conditions identified by the authors. They need to be locally initiated and led, so that they manifest their place and people, and showcase heritage and meet local issues through community engagement and strategic planning.

Photo: Allesio Lin/Unsplash/cc

sustainability and digitization

March 10, 2017

Topic: Research

Sustainability and digitization – a complex ‘planetary nervous system’

Peter Seele and Irina Lock draw a line between two megatrends – sustainability and digitization – in their feature editorial for Sustainability Science, ‘‘The game-changing potential of digitalization for sustainability: possibilities, perils, and pathways’.

In 2015, 193 members of the United Nations agreed to secure the world for the future. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for countries to mobilize for change in the next fifteen years, while the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) span a range of issues from poverty to climate change to overconsumption and requires stakeholders to come together on interconnected issues. Equally, Seele and Lock identify that digital technology has increasingly, and in parallel, come to dominate many aspects of human life.

Given this, Seele and Lock describe a global network connected by both technology and critical issues – a complex ‘planetary nervous system’ prone to ‘cascading’ effects from common threats. They suggest that big data and digitalization can help nations improve services and reduce threats to sustainability. Algorithms play a central role in these technologies, In particular, digital algorithms and data can help map and predict patterns and these capabilities can be harnessed to help achieve the SDGs.

Outlining the themes in the journal’s special issue, Seele and Lock identify the governance of sustainability remains a key interest for policy makers. While researchers have suggested a global digitally-enabled participatory platform, the SDGs include ‘base-of-pyramid’ development problems. But Seele and Lock question, how can digitalization address these goals? While the use of data and algorithms raise fears of surveillance, digitalization for sustainability will have to address questions of privacy and security. The relationship between technology and sustainability is just beginning, write the authors.    

Peter Seele is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Communication Sciences, Università della Svizzera italiana, Lugano, Switzerland. Irina Lock is Assistant Professor of Corporate Communication in the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR), University of Amsterdam.

Photo: Marisol Grandon/Department for International Development/Flickr/cc

women in public participation

March 8, 2017

Topic: Research

Women in public participation? Present but not heard.

How do women participate in group discussions? Are their voices heard? Do they have a fair say in deliberation outcomes? Christopher F. Karpowitz and Tali Mendelberg’s pathbreaking experimental research, The Silent Sex: Gender, Deliberation, and Institutions, looks at the role of gender in decision-making groups with real-world evidence from the proceedings of 87 school board meetings in 20 states in the United States.       

Women in the experimental discussions take part differently from men, find Karpowitz and Mendelberg. They face more interruptions and negative responses than men. They are less likely to affect an outcome. However, the behaviour of both men and women change with context. Groups in the discussions range from all men to all women. Decisions are made by majority rule or consensus. The study reveals that the proportion of women in the group affects participation – as does the type of decision. In minority, women have greater influence when decisions are made by consensus. When the number of women in the group increases, they are more empowered when decisions are made by majority rule. Men, the study notes, make less negative interruptions in situations favourable to women.

In his review in the Journal of Public Deliberation, Nick Felts of the Kettering Foundation writes: ‘The gender inequality highlighted by Karpowitz and Mendelberg poses an enormous threat to the promise of deliberation. Those involved in deliberation should pay close attention to this finding but also to the finding that this inequality can be mitigated if enough care is given to the design of deliberative institutions.’

Karpowitz and Mendelberg highlight the importance of the right combination of representation and decision-making rules. There is also an individual factor at play, they find. Women seem to display less confidence than men in discussions. The authors suggest that the right deliberative settings can help.  

The Silent Sex, winner of the 2015 David O. Sears Book Award of the International Society of Political Psychology, 2015 Robert E. Lane Award of the American Political Science Association (APSA), and co-winner of the Best Book Award, Experimental Research Section, APSA.

Christopher F Karpowitz is Associate Professor of political science at Brigham Young University, and co-director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. Tali Mendelberg, professor in the Department of Politics, Princeton University, is the author of The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality.

Photo: Alexa Mazzarello/unsplash/cc

local food movements

March 3, 2017

Topic: Research

Local food movements anchor sustainable food governance

‘National policies have a direct impact on the decisions made by landowners, which in turn affects farm management, wildlife, and families potentially for generations,’ writes Alan R. Hunt in his book, Civic Engagement in Food System Governance: A comparative perspective of American and British local food movements.  

Hunt illustrates the importance of civic participation to create sustainable long-term change in food governance. He prefaces the study with an account of two interventions of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on his family farm in his grandfather’s time. One, a pond that supplied local species, and the other, the planting of non-native berries to draw birds. In this, he observes that decisions made by one generation can have lasting effects on the future, highlighting the need for ‘on-the-ground’ perspectives to inform policy.

The book suggests a theory of food systems practice with six key approaches involving: multiple sectors, levels, objectives, interdisciplinary analysis, participation, and inclusivity. It approaches food and farm-related practice as an interconnected whole comprised of people and places that together produce and consume food. Presenting a descriptive history of local food movements in the US and UK – built on evidence from interviews, participant commentary and documents – it also provides an examination of contextual differences of British and American movements, including understanding the role of culture, conflict, and political structures in creating coalitions.

Alan R. Hunt is owner and principal at Local Food Strategies LLC, Hampton, New Jersey (USA). His research explores farm policy, sustainable food systems, and food access. As a Fulbright Scholar, Hunt earned a PhD in Rural Development at the Centre for Rural Economy, Newcastle University, UK.   

Photo: Martin Winkler/Pixabay/cc

Indigenous knowledge

March 2, 2017

Topic: Research

Indigenous knowledge: where is ethical responsibility in land use planning?

The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) certifies professional land use planning courses. It calls on courses to teach Indigenous knowledge and protocol. But while its policies expect courses to address culture, they do little else towards achieving this, write Gareth Powell, Shay McMahon, and David Jones. 

The authors review the PIA’s approach to Indigenous consultation in ‘Aboriginal Voices and Inclusivity in Australian Land Use Country Planning’, in KnE Engineering. They find that the PIA’s conservative line of action fails planners and Indigenous Australians and graduates are not equipped to work with traditional owners, Highlighting the Australian High Court’s decision in the landmark Mabo case, Powell, McMahon, and Jones reflect on how planning education responds to Indigenous culture. Undergraduate and postgraduate planning courses seem to lack material on Indigenous knowledge systems, and, despite the PIA insisting on Indigenous content in the course, Indigenous experts are not consulted on this content. Cross-cultural awareness and capacity building are also missing. Under such conditions, courses are not just tokenistic, they also risk being offensive. In response to criticism, the PIA had re-drafted its policies. However, the authors point out that rhetoric has not translated into action.     

The article describes the mutual relationship between people and Country in Indigenous belief systems where land management and planning become a ‘form of storytelling about the past, current, and future’. It calls for planners to understand Indigenous history, laws, and culture as a professional, ethical responsibility towards not repeating past injustices.     

Gareth Powell is director in the Wadawurrung (Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation), Ballarat, Australia. Shay McMahon is faculty member in the Institute of Koorie Education, Deakin Univeristy. David Jones is Professor in Urban Planning/Landscape Architecture in the School of Architecture & Built Environment, Deakin University.

Photo: Ken Shelton/Pixabay/cc

sustainable water management

February 17, 2017

Topic: Research

Civic behaviours foster sustainable water management, survey finds

The first national survey of its kind, ‘Community Knowledge about Water: Who Has Better Knowledge and Is This Associated with Water-Related Behaviors and Support for Water-Related Policies?’  investigates community engagement practices in water management initiatives in Australia.

Published in PLoS One, the article presents a sample of over 5000 thousand Australian adults.  The survey addresses how knowledge differs across water-related themes, identifies characteristics of varying water-related knowledge and explores the relationship between this and water-related civic behaviours and attitudes.

The authors – Angela Dean, Kelly Fielding, and Fiona Newton of the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities (CRCWSC) – highlight the importance of community support for water projects. Communities drive water demand, affect water quality, and are vital to the adoption of civic behaviours that foster sustainability. Research in this area has, largely, looked into the drivers and significance of pro-environment behavior, with little focus on understanding community knowledge. In this context, knowledge is formed not only by education, but also by personal experiences and interests. The study addresses this gap, exploring social factors associated with varying levels of water literacy.

The findings show high levels of knowledge around water use and issues in households, and low understanding of broader contexts and issues beyond it. As such, knowledge is a key force in behaviour changes for sustainability. The authors suggest that meaningful community engagement will need to consider pre-existing knowledge in communities – and supplement this with jargon-free, relevant, and targeted interventions to build support for sustainable water policy.

Angela Dean is a Senior Research Fellow in CRCWSC at Monash University, BehaviourWorks at the Monash Sustainability Institute, and Research Fellow in the School of Communication & Arts, University of Queensland. Kelly Fielding is Associate Professor in the School of Communication and Arts, University of Queensland, Program Leader Society (Program A) at CRCWSC, and co-founder of the Network of Environmental Social Scientists. Fiona Newton is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Marketing, Monash University, and Researcher at CRCWSC.  

Photo: Michael Coghlan/Flickr/cc

public housing

February 10, 2017

Topic: Research

Transforming Toronto: building community participation into local planning

Slated for a mixed-income, mixed-use neighbourhood, Toronto’s Regent Park project seeks to transform Canada’s largest low-income public housing site through public input.    

Shauna Brail and Nishi Kumar’s article, Community leadership and engagement after the mix: The transformation of Toronto’s Regent Park, published in Urban Studies, suggests that by fully utilizing the area’s real estate assets with a range of commercial spaces and community facilities, the project provides for public housing residents while addressing the pressure on funding.

Across two-decades, the project has built community participation into its planning. However, as the article illustrates, despite engagement strategies used by planners, participation has not been free of barriers. The authors draw on interviews with community leaders, professionals, volunteers and resident and non-resident participants in the redevelopment, as well as those involved in the project over its long history, to provide context to the project, the consultation, and the issues addressed over time.

Three main themes emerge. First, the respondents acknowledge that existing relationships in local networks affect how they understand and engage with the redevelopment process. Second, despite the presence of strong local institutions, the planning process gives little thought to ‘institutional memory’ – referred to as undocumented knowledge accumulated over time by key people in organisations. According to participants, this is due to frequently changing or rotating administrations, and poor record-keeping. Third, the respondents suggest that training to understand challenges in administration and budgeting could help encourage community leadership and participation.

The authors recommend addressing these points to overcome tokenism, improve accountability, and give the community a fair say in their future. The Regent Park model, they argue, could benefit from continuous learning, greater adaptiveness, and community-building. Despite its challenges, they find, it remains an international point of reference – and a source of lessons for planners.

Shauna Brail is Associate Professor, Teaching Stream, in the Urban Studies Program at the University of Toronto and a Senior Associate at the Innovation Policy Lab, Munk School of Global Affairs. Nishi Kumar is a Junior Fellow at the Wellesley Institute, Toronto.  

Photo: The City Of Toronto/Flickr/cc

public engagement

February 3, 2017

Topic: Research

Moving forward: realizing Minnesota’s public engagement

Drawing on the 2015 Hamline University School of Law Dispute Resolution Institute’s symposiumLisa Blomgren Amsler and Tina Nabatchi examine ways existing laws make room for citizen input to better imagine public engagement for Minnesota. ‘Public Engagement and Decision-Making: Moving Minnesota Forward to Dialogue and Deliberation, published in the Mitchell Hamline Law Review, reflects on how engagement design can foster participation with greater meaning and impact.

Amsler and Nabatchi trace forms of collaborative governance, sounding out definitions by public administration and legal scholars. The article surveys legal frameworks for collaborative governance looks into federal, state, and Minnesota law. Analysing Minnesota’s administrative law, the authors find that current legal infrastructure and systems can offer potential for various forms, outcomes, and design aspects of public engagement. They refer to four key questions on design, focusing on recruitment, interaction, information, and impact: who gets to take part and how may they be enlisted? How will they engage with each other and decision-makers? What information will participants need? In what way will they affect decisions or solutions? Designers also need to consider goals, time factors, regulations, resources available and consider the level and nature of public concern with issues at hand.      

Amsler and Nabatchi suggest that Minnesota can make inroads into democratic decision-making. However, the law will need to encourage government innovation. In addition, great design and practice will need investments, learning, and sharing of insights to help public engagement in Minnesota realize its potential.        

Lisa Blomgren Amsler is Professor and Keller-Runden Chair in Public Service at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University. Tina Nabatchi is Associate Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs, and a Faculty Research Associate at the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC), the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.

smart cities, big urban data

January 27, 2017

Topic: Research

Not so ‘innocent’ technology: smart cities, urban big data and privacy fears

What makes people uneasy about the technologies and data used in smart cities? How do privacy risks vary in different types of smart infrastructure?  Liesbet van Zoonen’s ‘Privacy concerns in smart cities’ hypothesizes how digitally enabled cities and urban big data spike privacy concerns among city dwellers and citizens. Without question, technologies that serve smart cities, and their populations, generate big data. But while the collection and analysis of this urban big data is meant to help cities respond better to citizen’s needs, it also causes concern around ownership, rights to privacy, and security.

Van Zoonen constructs a framework to hypothesize privacy concerns. These are informed by two recurring ‘dimensions’ in research about people’s concerns about privacy: people’s perception of data as personal and people privacy concerns in the context of the purpose of the data collection (sliding between service and surveillance in the extreme). These dimensions produce a framework that suggest concerns around privacy in data-applications in smart cities range from provoking little to no concern to raising controversy in the extreme. Technologies, applications, and types of data usage and collection can be mapped along a framework formed by these two dimensions.

The article demonstrates three examples: smart waste technologies, predictive policing, and social media monitoring. In discussing smart waste, she finds certain types of smart bins use sensors to measure waste levels and prompt further action. Other types can require user authentication by smartcard to regulate activity and prevent misuse. She locates these two types of smart waste management technologies along the privacy framework. While an authentication feature can add valuable capabilities to the system, the smart bin no longer remains an ‘innocent’ technology, writes Van Zoonen.

The framework shows how specific technologies, or smart infrastructure, in combination with how they require, generate, or collect data, can generate varying degrees of concerns about privacy. But Van Zoonen argues for the practical usefulness of this framework. The hypothetical framework provides clear directions to develop empirical and theoretical research into privacy concerns in the smart urban landscape, to help decision-makers understand risks around specific types of technologies and data usage and to provide local governments with a tool to identify privacy concerns among their citizens. 

Liesbet van Zoonen, author of Entertaining the citizen: when politics and popular culture converge, is Professor of Sociology and Dean of the Erasmus Graduate School of Social Sciences and the Humanities at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Photo: Matthew Henry/Unsplash/cc

data-driven participation

January 26, 2017

Topic: Research

Citizens excluded from data-driven participation – Toronto, Canada

Data-driven civic participation promises to improve transparency, empower citizens and unlock insights for better decisions. But can technological solutions managed by private companies be democratic? Researchers at McGill University, Montreal, Matthew Tenney and Renee Sieber, investigate impacts of civic participation and privacy. 

As citizens increasingly adopt social technologies in their everyday lives, they also become producers of data that can be harnessed to inform public policy. In Data-Driven Participation: Algorithms, Cities, Citizens, and Corporate Control, Tenney and Sieber provide an account of the New Blue Edge project of Waterfront Toronto’s Intelligent Community initiative, a data-driven citizen engagement project in Toronto, Canada. provide an account of a data-driven citizen engagement project in Toronto, Canada. Created to serve the city’s waterfront communities, the publicly-funded project involved corporate service providers. Its chosen software solution offered to connect citizens to government in ‘seamless’ ways.

But, the project’s execution saw planners and citizens left out. After 1.2 billion dollars of public investment, the community portal was still in its infancy, while citizens and officials could not fully access its state of progress or functions. The authors argue that by locking citizens and officials out of control to protect proprietary interests, such projects can contradict the purpose they are meant to serve.

Tenney and Sieber explore the rise of volunteered geographic information (VGI) as a form of public participation. VGI collects social information from different sources, and subjects them to analysis for patterns or insights. As a type of passive engagement, VGI does not depend on deliberation, draws from many contexts to offer a view of public opinion, and provides transparency by documenting processes. However, transparency and control over the algorithms that are used to collect and analyze data can be affected by who owns them, and who is allowed – or capable – of looking into their inner workings. The research illustrates why administrators are looking to algorithms to improve governance, and how the proprietary solutions in use impact active civic participation and privacy.

Matthew Tenney is a doctoral student in the Department of Geography at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. Renee Sieber is Associate Professor at the McGill School of Environment and Department of Geography.  

Photo: Hamza Ullah/Unsplash/cc

united nations e-government

January 17, 2017

Topic: Research

Digital elitism stresses need for transparent and responsive public institutions, UN e-government survey finds

Recently published United Nations E-Government Survey 2016 urges citizen participation can help align Sustainable Development Goals. 

“There is significant evidence showing that e-participation technologies and related social practices can support the realization of many Sustainable Development Goals, especially those aimed at promoting pro-poor economic growth and social services. The focus on decision-making processes in key sustainable development areas should be substantially sharpened.” 

A biennial report developed by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the recent United Nations E-Government Survey 2016 points out that shared decision-making fosters greater ownership of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and increases public faith in administration.

Improved participation assists vulnerable, underrepresented groups inform strategies to aid their own empowerment; it also highlights the role of participation in effective service delivery, and the mobilization of new capacities and resources.

The survey also points to a worldwide spike in e-government and digitally-enabled civic participation. It ranks countries based on their E-Government Development Index (EGDI), which addresses three criteria: scope and quality of digital services; quality of telecommunication infrastructure, and civic capacity. Illustrating the connection between public participation and digital media, it recommends a national and local focus on e-participation for development sectors. It addresses the potential of existing e-participation tools available via social media, and the need for contextual, user-friendly civic engagement tools designed to solve key development questions.

The survey suggests that public management should aim to achieve universal e-participation access. To do so would require substantial training and capacity development across leadership, administration, civil society and marginalized groups. This echoes the World Bank’s concerns on digital elitism and control, and stresses the need for transparent, responsive, and accountable public institutions. It calls for digital enablement to focus on poverty eradication and inclusive development as core objectives outlined by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  

Photo: Mike Wilson/Unsplash/cc

police civic engagement

December 21, 2016

Topic: Research

Madison, Wisconsin, body-camera pilot seeks public input

The City of Madison, Wisconsin, asked for public input on a controversial issue of the use of body-worn cameras by local police. Katherine J. Cramer reveals insights from the practitioners who conducted the process in ‘Equity through Learning to Listen: The Case of Public Discussion on Body-Worn Cameras in Madison, Wisconsin’. 

Despite Madison’s progressive reputation, writes Cramer, it also has some of the most troubling racial inequalities in the US. Following nation-wide protests against police shootings – and the death of a local youth – Madison’s leaders sought community input on the pilot run for local police use of body-worn cameras. They commissioned Colleen Butler (Racial Justice Director, YWCA Madison) and Jacquelyn Boggess (Executive Director, Center for Family and Policy Practice) to conduct and report on community focus groups. Cramer reflects on their experiences as facilitators of this project.

The author mines four lessons from Butler and Boggess’ insights on the deliberations. She finds that the intentional exclusion of the usual (mostly white) participants in such discussions can create space for more diverse views. Second, disenfranchised people may not expect their contributions to affect policy, but can be motivated to participate by the opportunity to be heard.

Third, these conversations can have different meanings for participants with different levels of privilege. In the focus groups, people of colour spoke on survival and justice, while white voices looked at democratic rights. Finally, attempts to  give marginalized people a say in democratic conversations may need advocacy to ensure that they are heard. This may mean additional campaigning to compel leaders to use public input in their  decision-making.

Through Cramer’s research, the Madison deliberations show that public discussions can reveal complex viewpoints different from the yes/no positions that participants may be expected to take in relation to policy. Decision-makers will have to demonstrate that they are willing and able to grasp these perspectives, writes Cramer.

Professor Katherine J. Cramer is Director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service and Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Photo: Patrick Finnegan/Flickr/cc

social media

December 15, 2016

Topic: Research

Social media lets us participate instantly – but at what cost?

Marco Adria and Yuping Mao research the unfolding relationship between social media and civic involvement in Handbook of Research on Citizen Engagement and Public Participation in the Era of New Media. They explore how social media is shaping, and being shaped by, a new democratic environment enabled by technology. A collection of critical perspectives, the book delves into the pros, cons, and nuances of the role that new media plays in civic life.

Section 1 addresses motivations, context, and demographics at play, along with insights on the technology and methods in use. It also engages with the possibility and implications of social media homogenizing public opinion. Section 2 looks at emerging patterns in social media usage and how they relate to mass media and civic life, both online and offline. Section 3 examines global cases where social media has played a significant role in citizen participation alongside other channels. Section 4 reaches further into social media in national public spheres, presenting cases from around the world for comparison and analysis.   

The authors illustrate their research in a metaphor borrowed from Marshall McLuhan: the mirror effect described in the story of Narcissus. Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection in the water, numb to all else, and responsive only to this extension of himself. They refer to McLuhan’s view on the numbing effect of media and communication as an exchange with consequences. In parallel, they write, social media can hold up a mirror that extends human capacities, but can create a closed loop that causes the loss of broader, deeper understanding.

The research suggests that while social media offers opportunities for better risk management and democratic innovation, it can also create echo chambers or closed feedback loops.

Marco Adria is an engagement specialist and Professor Emeritus of Communication in the University of Alberta, Canada. Yuping Mao is Assistant Professor in Communication Studies at California State University, Long Beach.

Photo: Yolanda Sun/Unsplash/cc


smart city planning

December 14, 2016

Topic: Research

Public participation central to resilient smart city planning

Technology can connect the urban environment. But, that’s not all it takes to build a resilient smart city. Citizen engagement has a critical role to play, writes Sam Musa in ‘Smart Cities – A Roadmap for Development.’

Referring to research, Musa points out that, each week, nearly a million people migrate to cities worldwide. With 52% of the global population currently inhabiting cities, they are responsible for about 70% of the world’s energy consumption. Governments will need to manage such pressures on resources, while also improving liveability, writes Musa as he explores the promise of smart technology for urban governance.  

Smart cities, the author argues, should make space for citizen involvement in planning and responsive policies from decision makers.  He describes the smart city as one in which citizens are served by electronic infrastructure that connects community and government, provides solutions to problems, manages the city’s assets, and improves quality of life. He calls for governments to build public participation into a roadmap to put technology to use effectively across sectors.  

Musa presents three major areas of focus for creating a smart city roadmap. He identifies the first dimension as establishing the need for technological transformation. Residents, as stakeholders, can be consulted to understand their requirements and their relationship with the government. The second dimension is the development of a policy that shapes the project by outlining goals, strategies, and responsibilities. Charters can help assign resources and capabilities to decision makers in charge of the technological interventions.

The third dimension is the active involvement of citizens in finding solutions and improving services. Open data, civic engagement through mobile applications, and location-based sensors for services can support community-driven governance. The author advocates for city-wide access to high-speed connectivity to drive citizen participation, support commerce and government services.   

Dr. Sam Musa, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the University of Maryland University College, serves as a cyber security expert to the United States Federal Government.

Photo: Seth Doyle/Unsplash/cc

bilingual students deliberative democracy

December 8, 2016

Topic: Research

Lost in translation: bilingual students and deliberative democracy in the classroom

English language education can equip bilingual students with skills for civic participation. But can it hear their voices? Esperanza De La Vega looks at barriers to learning and participation in ‘Deliberative Democracy: A Contested Interactive Space’.

De La Vega refers to previous research by Tonda Liggett. Liggett calls for English language students to be skilled in presenting ideas in the classroom that aim to prepare students for democratic participation. De La Vega responds to this with a closer look at social and cultural contexts that shape language learning environments. She draws from personal experiences as a bilingual student to illustrate how differences of language and culture affect participation. She reflects, when language is closely connected to identity and learning, what can it mean for students and teachers?

Language proficiency affects perceptions and assessments, her research shows. She also looks at how classrooms reflect political realities of the world beyond the classroom; how teachers can create an encouraging environment for bilingual students, and how educational participation relates to civic life. Deliberative democracy, as an educational focus, is a worthy ideal, she argues. But it needs to address how it excludes marginalized voices. Education, like democracy, is affected by systemic injustices, making participation a loaded issue, she writes. How can teachers counter these background inequalities mirrored in the classroom?

De La Vega proposes that teachers can look at bilingual student participation through a ‘sociocultural lens’ to understand the classroom as a contested interactive space. While she acknowledges the importance of English language proficiency, she cautions against an oversimplified view of learning standards and participation. She calls for educators to address the systemic injustices that keep bilingual students from achieving their potential.    

Professor Esperanza De La Vega coordinates the Bilingual Teacher Pathway (BTP) program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Portland State University.  

 Photo: Joao Silas/unsplash/cc

youth political participation

December 1, 2016

Topic: Research

Youth political participation in UK far from disappearing

Jacqueline Briggs, University of Lincoln, reveals why politicians and decision-makers should pay attention to a demographic who are, quite literally, the future in Young People and Political Participation: Teen Players.  

The UK’s Measuring National Well-being Survey of 2014 showed that 42 per cent of surveyed 16-24-year-olds claimed to be totally uninterested in politics, writes Briggs. Delving deeper into such claims, and borrowing from scholars in the area, she finds that the problem may not be one of apathy, but of visibility. Youth participation in UK civic life is far from disappearing, apparently. It has, however, moved location, she argues – and politicians, decision-makers and social scientists should be watching and listening.

The author lays out evidence that contradicts popular notions of youth apathy and political disconnect. While young people may not be as keen to vote, they are, she notes, having their say in new ways – about issues that matter to them. Pointing to youth involvement in issue-based campaigns, direct action, petitions, and politics-based brand endorsement or rejection, she identifies these acts as new forms of political involvement. In addition, she highlights digital social networking sites as new locations for youth discussions and mobilisation on political issues.

The book discusses a number of questions around youth participation. Should people be able to vote at age 16? Do exercises like youth parliaments and cabinets help foster participation in the long run? How may policy-makers support greater participation from young women? What lessons could the book’s cross-national review of youth participation hold for practitioners, politicians and researchers? The author argues that youth involvement in politics goes beyond mainstream party politics, into engaging with broader socio-political issues. She further cautions against ignoring or dismissing this, and calls for acknowledgement of the new forms and priorities of youth political engagement.      

Professor Jacqueline (Jacqui) Briggs is Head of the School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Lincoln.  

Photo: Andrew Moss/Flickr/cc

rural public libraries

Topic: Research

Rural public libraries engage youth, renew community

Can community engagement help public libraries renew relationships with shrinking rural youth populations? Heather Reid and Vivian Howard interview Nova Scotia’s librarians for their study ‘Connecting with Community: The Importance of Community Engagement in Rural Public Library Systems’.

Nova Scotia’s largely rural public libraries, write Reid and Howard, operate with a population-based funding strategy. Costs continue to rise; yet, more young people migrate to urban centres. The study investigates community engagement efforts of libraries looking to attract young patrons and suggests that these strategies may not only help libraries deliver responsive services, but also revive civic life in these communities. It places community engaged-libraries in the broader context of the demographic challenges facing Nova Scotia and related funding challenges faced by public library systems.

The total provincial population of Nova Scotia adds up to a little less than a million, the study notes. Apart from a major urban hub, its population is spread widely across the primarily rural province. The authors interview librarians from eight of Nova Scotia’s nine public library systems. They find its public libraries run on a funding formula that relies on a mix of community, municipal, and provincial fundraising channels. Declining rural populations, and tax bases, are straining resources for library systems who have to not only serve scattered populations, but also cope with stagnant or decreasing funding. Despite having no formal guidelines on community engagement in library systems, the authors note there is evidence of a strong commitment to engagement in each of the interviewees.

Heather Reid is a professional at Halifax Public Libraries. Vivian Howard is Associate Professor in the School of Information Management at Dalhousie University, Halifax.

Photo: claude_star/Pixabay/cc

citizen engagement economic development

November 23, 2016

Topic: Research

World Bank report links citizen engagement to economic development

How does citizen engagement affect economic development? What if politics was not a barrier but a pathway to good governance? ‘Making Politics Work for Development: Harnessing Transparency and Citizen Engagement’, a World Bank report, looks at how to align engagement and economic development.

Conflicting interests, corruption and ideological differences can result in government failure to adopt and implement sound, evidence-based policy. Development work has traditionally worked towards finding ways around such barriers. This World Bank report presents evidence for a fundamental shift in this approach. It calls for development practitioners to confront political obstruction by understanding and targeting political behaviour. Citizen engagement and transparency hold the key.   

Previous innovations in the field have focused on social accountability in the face of political problems: citizens solving public sector service delivery problems through collective action. This is in contrast to the long term goal of political accountability, where political leaders and public officials are answerable to citizens. This report shows how citizens’ political engagement is closely tied to the functioning of political leaders, public officials, and service providers. An example offered by the report suggests political behavior that supports corrupt elections can affect accountability from service providers.

‘Making Politics Work for Development’ looks at how the quality of political engagement can be improved by instruments of transparency, such as the media. It calls for the  strengthening of institutions that act as checks and balances for political accountability. The report presents a typology of political incentives and behaviors: questions on what to do when faced with political barriers to development, and options for policy actors to fix government failures. The lessons cater to policy actors in government, civil society, and development agencies.  

Photo: art_inthecity/Flickr/cc

community engagement folk festivals

November 13, 2016

Topic: Research

Jamming together: how folk festivals engage local communities

Community is central to the idea of the folk festival. But communities that host these public events don’t just provide inspiration, venues or cultural backdrops to art or performance. They actively shape its success. 

What community engagement practices are organisers using at Australian folk festivals? And what does this mean for host communities? Francesca Piazzi and Rob Harris look at how organisers are collaborating with locals in their article, ‘Community Engagement and Public Events: The Case of Australian Folk Festivals’.

Piazzi and Harris interview event organisers and their survey reveals three types of engagement practices in use: transactional, transitional, and transformational practices. Transactional practices keep the host community informed, support local businesses, and provide special access, training or opportunities for locals. Transitional practices ask for community input, partnerships, and can extend to long-term collaborations. And transformational practices see communities formally share resources, decision-making powers and event management responsibilities with organisers.

Why do event managers choose these approaches, and how does this play out in the community? Piazzi and Harris spot the factors influencing these decisions and outcomes as they study the social aspects of community engagement.   

Francesca Piazzi is program administrator at WestWood Spice. Rob Harris is a Senior Lecturer at University of Technology Sydney, and Director of the Australian Centre for Event Management.

Photo: Christian Bowman/Flickr/cc

patterns of political engagement

October 27, 2016

Topic: Research

Tune-in, tune-out patterns of political engagement

Mats Ekström and Adam Shehata’s study of social media queries whether low thresholds encourage tune-in, tune-out patterns of political engagement.

Ekström and Shehata investigate how social interaction on social media effects online political engagement.  Featured recently in New Media & Society, Ekström and Shehata’s article ‘Social media, porous boundaries, and the development of online political engagement among young citizens’ is an empirical analysis of the level and development of political engagement on social media. The authors use a five-wave panel study of the digital life of Swedish adolescents to provide insights on political information, production, interaction and collective action in the group.

Popular discourse represents social media as a site for personal and political self-expression, where social media platforms enable individual, personal, and social interactions. Research on digital political participation frequently explores themes such as ‘porous boundaries’ and ‘low thresholds’ between political and nonpolitical interactions on social media platforms, arguing that the less distinct lines between these activities lower thresholds into political engagement. Research attributes this to the shifting boundaries between political and non-political engagement by members in their posts, comments, and conversations.    

Ekström and Shehata find that social interactions through these channels concur with engagement in political information and interaction. The study offers limited support to the notion that social media encourages tune-in, tune-out patterns of political engagement. In addition, it argues that the impact of social interaction on online political participation goes beyond motivation factors and political socialization for young citizens.    

Mats Ekström is Professor in Media and Communication  and Director of Studies, Doctoral program, at the University of Gothenburg. Adam Shehata is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Journalism, Media and Communication, University of Gothenberg.  

Photo: geralt/Pixabay/cc

participatory budgeting case studies

October 26, 2016

Topic: Research

Participatory budgeting nurtures democratic values

Participatory budgeting purports to improve transparency and accountability. It is usually described as a tool for public administrators in the process of resource decision-making and allocation, Participatory Budgeting in the United States: A Guide for Local Governments is a primer that explores a classic and increasingly popular form of participatory governance, in which local citizens deliberate on budgetary priorities and limitations before supplying local government with feedback, comment, and recommendations.

The book is authored by Victoria Gordon, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, also Director of the Master of Public Administration program at Western Kentucky University, Jeffery L. Osgood, Jr. Professor of Public Policy and Administration, Vice Provost, and Dean of Graduate Studies at West Chester University, and Daniel Boden, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Western Kentucky University.

Reflecting on case studies in Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Greensboro, and Clarkston, and original interviews with city employees, elected officials, and communities, Gordon et al illustrate participatory budgeting processes in action through firsthand accounts. The authors mine experiences for insights and lessons on the perceptions of community leaders, uses of social media, and tactics, strategies, and processes of participatory budgeting. Three major themes emerge from the research: the development of participatory budgeting infrastructure, mobilization of citizen participation in deliberations, and the evaluation and improvement of the impact of participatory budgeting.

While book provides a broad overview of partnerships in action, it also develops a comprehensive account of participatory budgeting, presenting recommendations and guidelines to nurture civic engagement and democratic values.

Data-driven governance

October 20, 2016

Topic: Research

Data-driven governance crucial to social change

Decision-makers are investing in data-driven practices and programs to achieve real social change where community members are not just recipients but producers of project outcomes. Melody Barnes and Paul Schmitz reflect on public participation’s vital role in the success of evidence-based policy in their article ‘Community Engagement Matters (Now More Than Ever)’  in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Melody Barnes, former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama, is a chair of the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions and senior fellow at Results for America. CEO of Leading Inside Out, Paul Schmitz also serves as advisor to Results for America, and senior advisor to the Collective Impact Forum.

Sponsored by Results for America, the authors undertake a research project built on interviews with city administrators, nonprofit leaders, philanthropists, researchers and community builders on their unprecedented capacity to use data for effective programming. Barnes and Schmitz argue that the adoption of data-driven approaches is both an economic and moral imperative, but caution against top-down methods that fail to engage the community as active partners. They see community engagement as a continuous process crucial to creating and sustaining the support for long-term social change. Its goal, as the research understands it, is to encourage communities to not just participate in a social change project, but to champion it.   

Barnes and Schmitz identify six complementary factors necessary for building community support for evidence-based solutions: 1) Organizing for ownership, 2) Allowing for complexity, 3) Working with local institutions, 4) Applying an equity lens, 5) Building momentum, 6) Managing constituencies through change. The article lists resources for community engagement, and offers recommendations on effective communication for the management of expectations.    

Twitter:  Melody Barnes: @MelodyCBarnes
Paul Schmitz: @PaulSchmitz1

Photo: bjpcorp/Flickr/cc

children civic engagement

Topic: Feature Articles

Children’s civic engagement

The Scratch online community addresses children’s civic engagement. Children and youth are provided a space to program, share, and discuss interactive media projects. A project by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, members have shared over 16.3 million projects and 87.4 million project comments.

In ‘Children’s Civic Engagement in the Scratch Online Community’, published in Social Sciences, Ricarose Roque, Sayamindu Dasgupta, and Sasha Costanza-Chock present an inquiry into how young Scratch community members aged between 8 and 16 years engage with global, local, and community governance issues. They offer a typology of the strategies used by members for self-expression, peer engagement, and calls to action.

The research suggests guidelines for designers and educators that encourage youth to connect to topics with personal meaning, and enable them with familiar tools and practices. It also identifies facilitation as crucial to support youth participation, and community ownership as a pathway to genuine civic action. The authors recommend structures that help members engage in traditional civic practices, to bridge the gap between the models of dutiful citizenship and actualizing citizenship.    

Ricarose Roque, Assistant Professor in Information Science at the College of Media, Communication and Information, University of Colorado (Boulder), leads the Family Creative Learning project. Sayamindu Dasgupta is a postdoctoral associate at the MIT Media Lab. Sasha Costanza-Chock is Associate Professor of Civic Media in the Comparative Media Studies/Writing Department, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of Out of the Shadows, Into the Streets! Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement.  


Twitter: Ricarose Roque: @ricaroseSayamindu Dasgupta: @sayaminduSasha Costanza-Chock: @schockThe Scratch Team @scratchteam

Photo: ITU Pictures/Flickr/cc

transport planning accessibility

October 18, 2016

Topic: Research

Interactive mapping operationalizes accessibility

In transport planning, locational accessibility measures offer insights into the possibilities of broader economic effects. Linking transport systems and land use, accessibility measures can transform complex technical information into representations more easily understood information for diverse stakeholders that can support co-creative planning.

Anson F. Stewart and P. Christopher Zegras illustrate the development and initial testing of CoAXs, a Collaborative Accessibility-based Stakeholder Engagement System. CoAX, an open source stakeholder engagement tool for co-creative transport planning. Stewart and Zegras explore initial development and focus group testing with example bus rapid transit corridors in Boston, Massachusetts. Published in Research in Transportation Economics, their article, ‘CoAXs: A Collaborative Accessibility-based Stakeholder Engagement System for communicating transport impacts’.

As Stewart and Zegras’ research sees it, interactive mapping tools can operationalize accessibility measures for stakeholder participation in deliberating impact and value of transport investment.

Anson F. Stewart is a PhD candidate in the interdepartmental transportation doctoral program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). P. Christopher Zegras is Associate Professor of Transportation & Urban Planning at MIT.

Twitter: Anson F. Stewart @ansoncfit

Photo: Unsplash/Pixabay/cc

sustainable cities

October 12, 2016

Topic: Research

Sustainable cities foster a community-engaged university

Portland, one of the world’s most sustainable cities, benefits from university-community partnerships on sustainability exemplified by Portland State University’s (PSU) community engagement. B.D. Wortham-Galvin, Jennifer H. Allen and Jacob Sherman discuss Portland State University’s (PSU) community engagement experiences, and reflect on the importance of teaching and service in Volume 2 of the Sustainable Solutions series. The Sustainable Solutions Series compiles best practices in community-engaged scholarship with a focus on sustainability. Its key themes include capacity-building, socio-political questions, case studies on partnerships in play, partnership orientations and emerging trends, and innovation. In addition, it proposes questions for sustainability-focused community-university efforts.

Sustainable Solutions: University–Community Partnerships explores thirteen partnership projects in areas including arts support, food access research and Indigenous history, to illustrate collaborations in practice. Critical reflections of PSU’s work has been shaped by theories of engagement. The research provides an accessible introduction to models of effective collaboration and practice.  

Award-winning B.D. Wortham-Galvin is Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture, Portland State University (PSU). Jennifer H. Allen, Associate Professor of Public Administration in the Hatfield School of Government, PSU, serves with leading sustainability organizations.  Jacob Sherman, Sustainability Curriculum Coordinator, PSU, manages  a number of university-community initiatives.

Twitter: PSU Sustainability @sustainablepdx

Jacob Sherman: @JdbSherman

Photo: John Hult/unsplash/cc

smart city innovative government

October 10, 2016

Topic: Research

Smart city: from innovative concept to government vision

The idea of smart city comprises multiple facets and collaborations. Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Genova, Renata Paola Dameri, investigates the relationship between principal actors she identifies at its conceptual core: university, government and industry.

‘The Conceptual Idea of Smart City: University, Industry, and Government Vision’, in the series Progress in IS (Information Systems), offers an analysis of the most referenced professional and scientific research to substantiate diverse perspectives of these three smart city actors. It also analyses how they define and realize the smart city in relation to their own capacities.

Dameri highlights the role of local government, research institutions, and technology suppliers in creating and sustaining innovative technologies that enable  the smart city. While local government drive planning and administration, research institutions utilize their capabilities to identify innovations and solutions, while technology suppliers offer platforms and infrastructures necessary for smart city implementation.

Dameri also examines the relationships between consulting companies and these key players and reflects on how they shape the outcome of the collaborative smart city ideal.

Photo: Mathew Lynch/Pexels/cc

Digital engagement empowers a new political participation

October 6, 2016

Topic: Research

Digital engagement empowers a new political participation

Digital engagement facilitates new forms of civic and political participation. Yet questions continue to emerge around online engagement and social change. Karolina Koc-Michalska, Darren G Lilleker, and Thierry Vedel interrogate the increasing uses, and circulation of information in digital citizen engagement in ‘Civic political engagement and social change in the new digital age,’ published in New Media & Society.

Koc-Michalska, Lilleker, and Vedel examine the forms of digital participation with politically engaged citizens, and explore their sociopolitical implications. The authors find that digital interactions with political information can lead to further dialogue and participatory behaviour. In addition, some forms of participation can have an empowering effect on communities in strong personal and collective ways, sometimes to the extent of informing political responses and impacting mainstream agendas. The study tentatively suggests that political participation can be affected positively by social media, calling for further inquiry into the effects and variables across demographics, and a broader definition of political participation that accounts for new, non-traditional forms.

Karolina Koc-Michalska is Associate Professor of Communication and Culture at Audencia Business School. Darren Lilleker, lecturer and researcher of political communication at Bournemouth University, is also the Director of the Centre for Public Communication Research.  Thierry Vedel is a researcher at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), Centre for Political Research (CEVIPOF), Paris.

Twitter: Karolina Koc-Michalska @kocmichalska
Darren Lilleker @DrDGL
Thierry Vedel @ThierryVedel

Photo:Backbone Campaign/Flickr/cc


October 5, 2016

Topic: Research

E-government promise to transform citizen-government relations

Robert Cropf offers a practical appraisal of the role of information and communications technology (ICT) in  closing the gap between citizens and government in his book E-Government for Public Managers: Administering the VIrtual Public Sphere. In the contribution to to better governance, efficient service delivery, and greater civic involvement, Cropf speaks to the promise of e-government to transform the citizen-government relationship into a transparent and responsive collaboration.

Illustrating the impact of technology on public policy, Cropf offers perspectives, tools, and skills for e-governance, and explores the role of social media in the contemporary socio-political landscape of the United States. Shaped by the belief that the teaching of public administration should contribute to reflective practice, the book serves as a resource for practitioners – and students – in public administration, public policy and nonprofit management.

As a supplemental text and a practical guide, the book captures the ICT trends in processes of government at local, state, and federal levels. Although the research recognizes the benefits of these innovations and interventions for improving public policy, decision-making processes and increasing citizen participation, it is also conscious of the dangers of electronic surveillance and issues of personal privacy.  

Dr. Robert A. Cropf is Professor of Political Science and Director of the M.P.A. Program at Saint Louis University, Associate Editor of the International Journal of Electronic Government Research, and serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Information Communication Technologies and Human Development. His teaching focuses on public finance and administration, while his research interests range from policy process, to e-governance, public budgeting, comparative public administration, and politics at the state and local level.   

social inclusion smart cities

September 29, 2016

Topic: Research

Social inclusion in smart cities: participatory innovation in Finland

The notion of social inclusion in smart cities has given rise to the need for smart environments to support participatory innovation, where the ‘city as a platform’ enables citizens to co-create solutions.

Published in Sustainability, Ari-Veikko Anttiroiko’s article ‘City-as-a-Platform: The Rise of Participatory Innovation Platforms in Finnish Cities’ discusses citizen participation in initiatives that facilitate urban economic development in the context of a democratic welfare society. The study examines the forms of citizen involvement at work in participatory innovation platforms, and offers an empirical analysis of the cases of three leading Finnish post-industrial cities: Helsinki, Tampere, and Oulu.The case studies show a range of citizen roles, from user involvement in product development, the creation of rights-based initiatives to the discussion of citizen concerns in open platforms.

Although participation varies, ‘user involvement’ tends to be instrumental, while ‘resident involvement’ is linked to representative modes of participation. Even as platforms are embedded in city governments, they can differ significantly in their organizational scopes and forms. Anttiroiko observes that welfarism, democratic culture and redistributive policy offer contextual support for platformization by enhancing social inclusion and addressing the tensions between pro-growth and anti-growth factions.

Ari-Veikko Anttiroiko, Senior Lecturer and Adjunct Professor in the Department of Local Government Studies, University of Tampere, Finland, is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Information Society Institute. Previously, he has lead the Local Governance in the Information Society project, funded by the Academy of Finland, in addition to numerous collaborations with regional and international institutions in Europe and local government specialists around the world.  

Twitter: @kuaran

Photo: Dodo/Flickr/cc

facebook mobilises citizen political engagement

September 28, 2016

Topic: Research

Facebook mobilizes citizen political engagement

Citizen political engagement on Facebook can vary with activity. Isadoropaolo Casteltrione explores how the role of Facebook adapts to the purpose of political information and mobilization. His article, ‘Facebook and political participation: Virtuous circle and participation intermediaries’, published in Interactions: Studies in Communication & Culture, centres on Italy and the United Kingdom. He finds that politically active individuals are more likely to use Facebook for political mobilization, rather than their less active counterparts who tended to use the social networking platform as a site for political information. He examines how activists take advantage of Facebook as a tool for enabling political initiatives, allowing them to communicate, coordinate, and function independently of traditional institutions.

With citizens who are less involved in online and offline political activities, Casteltrione observes that the informative and user-friendly aspect of Facebook can contribute to the lowering of participatory thresholds. The study finds that the activity of participation intermediaries in networks can disseminate political information in less engaged citizen users, thereby enabling a virtuous circle, and potentially, generating a mobilization effect in the long term.

Isadoropaolo Casteltrione is Lecturer at the Media, Communication & Performing Arts department at Queen Margaret University. Recently, he served as research administrator/assistant in the AlcoLOLs project, facilitating dialogue on issues of alcohol safety with youth across a number of Edinburgh high schools.


Photo: mikegi/Flickr/cc

Virtual town halls, e-governments

September 27, 2016

Topic: Research

Virtual town halls, e-governments the future of civic society?

Twenty-first century public service suggests the promise of new media and digital technologies: are virtual town halls and e-governments the future of civic society?

Robert A. Cropf provides a comprehensive exploration of public administration research trends and practices and the promises of e-government and virtual town halls, in American Public Administration: Public Service for the 21st Century.

In American Public Administration, Cropf covers public administration, examining the broader context within which these concepts operate. An extensive survey of current developments and standing practices unfolds topically per chapter. The book also offers a number of resources to aid readers by way of case studies, visual representations and web  links.

Cropf discusses the growth of the nonprofit sector, quasi-governmental entities, the role of private firms in public service delivery, and new, complex sociopolitical realities of the digital age. Noting that most research on public administration tends to speak at the federal level, Cropf addresses the need for focussing on the state and local levels and provides greater discussion at these levels. Pointing to the need for greater collaborative qualities in contemporary leadership,he discusses effective leadership and connects effective public management with the empowerment of citizens, facilitated through new technologies that enable participatory processes such as the virtual town hall.

Cropf explores the promises of new media and digital technologies that enable virtual town halls for public deliberation as an emerging and contended space. Cropf argues that while virtual town halls and e-governments can serve as incubators for future civil societies, their potential to strengthen democracy will be shaped by how public administrators and elected leaders address issues of access and impact.
Dr. Robert A. Cropf is Professor of Political Science and Director of the M.P.A. Program at Saint Louis University, Missouri. His teaching focuses on public administration with areas of research in e-governance, public budgeting, policy processes, state and local politics, and comparative public administration.

Geofencing, smart cities shaping citizen involvement

September 22, 2016

Topic: Research

Geofencing, smart cities shaping citizen involvement

Location-based, context-aware notification systems enabled by geofencing offer a new way to connect citizens with proximate opportunities for engaging in collaborative policymaking. Thore Fechner, Dominik Schlarmann, and Christian Kray explore the potential of location-based technology for motivating citizen engagement.

Fechner, Schlarmann, and Kray published ‘Facilitating Citizen Engagement in Situ: Assessing the Impact of Pro-Active Geofenced Notifications’ as part of the Proceedings of MobileHCI’16, the 18th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services. Acknowledging the role of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in the enablement of Open Government and Smart City programs, the research identifies of communication enabled by location-based technology.

The research understands that spatial vicinity is a major factor in shaping citizen involvement with processes and policy. Fechner, Schlarmann, and Kray leverage geofencing and proactive notifications on mobile devices to connect citizens with engagement opportunities in their locational vicinity, also drawing on the existing uses of location based services in e-commerce, tourism, and situated storytelling in local heritage awareness initiatives.

The study reports the development of a notification app for smartphones that offers information on engagement opportunities located near the user. The app enables virtual spatial barriers, or geofences, which allows citizens to be notified of the opportunity in their spatial context, for example, a meeting or a contested area. The notification service can also be customized to cater to specific categories such as culture or sustainability, as well as spatial specifications so that users may choose to receive notifications in select areas of their city. Reporting on field and lab based studies, the research offers insights into the applicability, motivational aspects, usage patterns, and pragmatic qualities of the app – and reflects on the outcomes and limitations highlighted by the evaluation.

Photo: US Fleet Tracking/Vimeo/cc

Facebook tokenistic in engagement impact for aslyum seekers

September 21, 2016

Topic: Research

Facebook tokenistic in engagement impact for aslyum seekers

Fiona H. McKay and Matthew Dunn examine digital participation and advocacy on asylum seeker issues in Australia.

McKay and Dunn recently published ‘Can online participation on issues of asylum seeking lead to action? Understanding the intent to act’ in the Australian Journal of Psychology. Their research attempts to understand individual participation and willingness to advocate on issues of refuge and asylum seeking. It locates individual participation within a broader discourse that is often contested and controversial.

The study employs an online survey to examine the activities and perspectives of digital participants or subscribers of an asylum seeker support organisation’s Facebook page and newsletter. The survey included 1,688 newsletter subscribers and 2,416 people who ‘liked’ the organisation’s Facebook page. A majority of the respondents were tertiary educated women from Victoria.  

As indicated by the study, respondents who had ‘liked’ the Facebook page were primarily Internet-based in their engagement on asylum seeker issues. The findings suggest that engagement tends to be tokenistic when the cost of engaging action is less. McKay and Dunn present their interpretations of these findings and recommend that organisations find impactful ways to engage such stakeholders.

Fiona H. McKay is a Lecturer in the School of Health and Social Development, Faculty of Health, Deakin University, Victoria, Australia, with research interests in refugee and asylum seeker health and policy. Matthew Dunn is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Health and Social Development, Faculty of Health, Deakin University, with a diverse range of interests that include sports medicine, drug studies, and the scholarship of teaching and learning.        

Twitter: Fiona H. McKay @feemck  Matthew Dunn @drmdunn1

Photo: Mark Riboldi/Flickr/cc

public engagement and transportation services in Illinois

September 20, 2016

Topic: Research

Public engagement and transportation services in Illinois

By improving public engagement and transportation services, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) address barriers to participation and inclusivity in engagement initiatives. IDOT recently commissioned a report by researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago, to improve and expand the agency’s public engagement practices. ‘Recommendations to Enhance Quality Engagement’, serves as a roadmap to help IDOT grow and nurture its public outreach initiatives, particularly with disadvantaged and underserved communities.

Managed by the Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement and Urban Transportation Center, the research offers a theoretical and practical guidance on public participation in the context of transportation. The study found engagement expertise to be unevenly distributed across the agency, along with a prevalence of traditional engagement techniques. In creating the recommendations, the research leverages the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation, as well as case studies of impactful public engagement projects in four state transportation departments, a regional planning agency, and community college.

It also provides a background to the advantages and legal implications of engagement, examining barriers to participation and considerations for including disadvantaged communities in engagement initiatives. The study offers eight major recommendations: 1) Know Your Audience, 2) Use Existing Community Resources, 3) Perform Informal Outreach and Use Nontraditional Locations, 4) Match Engagement Technique with Goal and Context, 5) Enhance Staff Capabilities through Training, 6) Build Institutional Memory through Knowledge Management, 7) Measure and Assess, and 8) Use Technology to Enhance and Complement Outreach.

Photo: Steven Vance/Flickr/cc


Interactive governance: critical perspectives

September 14, 2016

Topic: Research

Interactive governance: critical perspectives

Jurian Edelenbos and Ingmar van Meerkerk compile critical perspectives of interactive governance in the recent publication, Critical Reflections on Interactive Governance: Self-organization and Participation in Public Governance. Edelenbos and van Meerkerk bring together eminent scholars from diverse disciplines to critically examine issues within and around interactive governance.

Critical Reflections offers a comprehensive overview of societies shift toward ‘smaller government’ and actionable insights into its theories, concepts, potential and limitations. The authors assess how civic engagement, self-organization and participation are shaped by interactive governance in contemporary sociopolitical contexts.

As a resource for scholars of public administration, political science and sociology and management, this volume explores a number of key debates around interactive governance, including effects of political leadership, the effectiveness and inclusiveness of government strategies, compatible leadership types, and collaborative relationships between citizens, government and civic organizations. Through the Edelenbos and van Meerkerk present an empirical, critical exploration of the concept of interative governance to arrive at the potential of hybrid arrangements for citizens, institutions and organizations.

Academic Director of the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies, Jurian Edelenbos is also Professor of Public Administration, in the area of Water Governance, Department of Public Administration (Faculty of Social Sciences), Erasmus University Rotterdam. Ingmar van Meerkerk is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of Public Administration, also at Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Photo: gavilla/Pixabay/cc

Citizen participation Emergency Management

September 13, 2016

Topic: Research

Citizen participation in Emergency Management

Technology-mediated participation in Emergency Management (EM) can identify how citizens contribute to disaster management. In ‘Coproduction as an Approach to Technology-Mediated Citizen Participation in Emergency Management’researchers Paloma Diaz, John M. Carroll and Ignacio Aedo illustrate uses of technology to integrate citizen skills and discuss social and mobile computing in participatory EM processes.

Published in Future Internet,  Diaz, Carroll and Aedo explore the role of technology in collaborations between EM organisations and communities. They further examine how digital technologies build meaningful partnerships through the alignment of safety protocols and community capabilities. Through case study analysis they demonstrate participatory design that brings emergency management professionals and decision-makers together to understand the constraints of technological solutions, citizen competencies and operation protocols.

In their survey, the authors explore how digital technologies create opportunities for leveraging citizen knowledge and social capital. Increased participation enables citizens as informants and responders, thus contributing to community resilience and security. Effective participation in this context would require collaboration between EM organisations and communities to build a meaningful partnership through the alignment of safety protocols and community capabilities.  

The research acknowledges that technologies for effective emergency management collaboration are sociotechnical systems, built around structures and behaviors. Technology that connects communities to EM organizations should be informed by a close understanding of the specific skills that citizens bring to the table and how these capabilities are aligned to the needs of the EM organizations. The authors explore a 2011 study conducted by the City of Richmond and Simon Fraser University, on the challenges  faced by EM professionals in British Columbia and Washington State in integrating social computing with their working protocols. They also examine a questionnaire-based 2013 study of technology-mediated participation involving Spanish emergency organizations in their research survey of co-production for community resilience. 

Online Forums for Citizen Participation

Twitter: Paloma Diaz @MPalomaD 

Ignacio Aedo @nachoodea

Photo: William Murphy/flickr/cc

facilitating online policy deliberation

September 8, 2016

Topic: Research

Facilitating online policy deliberation

Studies of facilitating online policy deliberation usually focus on participant perspectives. Dmitry Epstein and Gilly Leshed instead examine the role of the moderator in ‘The Magic Sauce: Practices of Facilitation in Online Policy Deliberation’, published in the Journal of Public Deliberation.

Epstein and Leshed consider the moderator or facilitators’ viewpoint in the context of the experimental civic engagement platform RegulationRoom,  a consultative space for public feedback on federal policy proposals. Developed by the Cornell eRulemaking Initiative (CeRI), RegulationRoom is designed to enable deliberative participation by citizens, and is stewarded by trained human facilitators. Epstein and Leshed interview RegulationRoom moderators for insights on their practices and their view of the participant community.

In their findings, Epstein and Leshed identify two types of primary activities as practiced by moderators. The first is focused on monitoring and managing the commentary to maintain quality of the discussion. The second type is focused on interacting directly with the participants to sustain and nurture meaningful contributions from the public into the policymaking process. While both activities aim to improve public commentary in the short term, tensions emerge when it comes to the long-term goal of improving broader participatory literacy. Epstein and Leshed examine their findings in light of this conflict, illustrating the tensions surrounding these goals by way of limitations and constraints, and offer a number of design recommendations.

Dmitry Epstein is Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, University of Illinois at Chicago, in addition to serving as Communication Officer and Program Committee member at the Steering Committee of the Global Internet Governance Academic Network (GigaNet). Gilly Leshed is Senior Lecturer and Director of the MPS Program in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University.

Twitter Dmitry Epstein: @Think_Macro


Redesigning civic education and youth engagement

September 6, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Redesigning civic education and youth engagement

In ‘Redesigning Civic Education for the Digital Age: Participatory Politics and the Pursuit of Democratic Engagement’, Joseph Kahne, Erica Hodgin, and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl address transforming civic education to help youth respond effectively to the democratic opportunities and challenges presented by digital media. Published in Theory & Research in Social Education, the research analyses a nationally representative survey to understand new technology-driven practices in civic engagement, and explores a responsive curricular reform of civic education.

Joseph Kahne, Professor of Education at Mills College, Oakland, is also Chair of the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP), in addition to being the Ted and Jo Dutton Presidential Professor for Education Policy and Politics at the University of California, Riverside. Erica Hodgin, Associate Director of the Civic Engagement Research Group at Mills College, is also the Research Director of the Educating for Participatory Politics project, attached to the MacArthur research network. Kahne and Hodgin are also Co-Principal Investigators at the Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age initiative, created in partnership with Oakland Unified School District and the National Writing Project. Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Executive Director of the National Writing Project, founded NWP’s digital media and learning initiative Digital Is, in addition to co-creating the YOUmedia Learning Labs network, the Connected Learning Alliance, the Make to Learn Initiative.

In light of the major social transformations driven by new media and digital technology, and the socially responsive traditions of civic education, the research examines how civic and political engagement is manifested in the digital age and identifies the gaps in civic education practice. Kahne, Hodgin, and Eidman-Aadahl draw on the 2013 Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) Survey, and look further to the Pew Internet and American Life Project surveys (2008, 2012). The authors identify major challenges to effective youth civic engagement, and discuss the democratic potential of curricular reform.

Twitter: @jkahne, @EricaHodgin, @ElyseEA

Photo: Fabrice Florin/flickr/cc

participatory budgeting in europe

August 30, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Participatory budgeting in Europe

Recently published, Participatory Budgeting in Europe: Democracy and public governance, is a comprehensive analysis of the practice of participatory budgeting across local governments in the European context. Through the study of a range of participatory budgeting experiments in over ten European countries, Yves Sintomer, Anja Rocke, and Carsten Herzberg explore the implications of participatory budgeting for democracy and governance, social justice, sustainable development and gender mainstreaming.

Widely translated, Yves Sintomer is a Professor of political science at Paris 8 University and Senior Fellow at the French University Institute.  Anja Rocke is Assistant Professor at the Department of Social Sciences, Humboldt University, Berlin, where she is Chair of General Socioloy. Carsten Herzberg is a researcher at the Nexus Institut, and has taught at the University of Potsdam, and the University of Applied Sciences (Berlin), among others. The research questions whether democratic innovations such as participatory budgeting can improve the effectiveness of public services for the stakeholder communities.

Participatory Budgeting in Europe illustrates the origins and emergence of the practice by detailing the pioneering decade of European participatory budgeting. It examines the results of such practices in the context of contemporary agendas and, at a theoretical level, the participatory model itself. Comparing of cases within Europe, it points to commonalities and divergences in the varying political cultures that have shaped these cases. This enables a discussion of the theories of participatory and deliberative democracy and articulates some of the conflicts prevalent between public systems and democratic practices.

Photo:Costa Constantinides/Flickr/cc

Creating meaning in public participation

August 26, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Creating meaning in public participation

Creating meaning in public participation is addressed by Kathryn S. Quick and John M. Bryson, who explore the theories and practice of participation in governance in Chapter 12 of Handbook on Theories of Governance, edited by Jacob Torbing and Chris Ansell.

Quick and Bryson highlight critical concerns in public participation theories and identify areas that demand further development. Key concerns examined include: the scope of meaningful participation; politics of representation, diversity and inclusion; the role of knowledge, and the alignment of contexts and methods. In addition, they explore the identification of suitable participation contexts and the complexities of diffuse governance systems.  

The research surveys the scholarly meaning and definition of public participation. It traces the evolution of the concept, the inherent and surrounding tensions, and illustrates the value that public participation brings to democratic theory and practice.  

Examining legitimacy as a key theme, Quick and Bryson evaluate a number of theoretical perspectives, including the quality of participatory exchange, the nature and impact of outcomes and the quality of process.  On diversity and inclusion, they analyse participatory processes for opportunities, barriers and limitations. Quick and Bryson also illustrate the tensions between expert and lay knowledge, in decision-making.   

This Chapter examines the challenges of creating meaningful participation processes pointing to the need for responsive, contextual practices. From a design science perspective, processes would need to be created based on evidence, context, and knowledge. Contextual factors that may shape participation include the nature and structure of government, social conditions, and various civil society dynamics.

Twitter: @kquickly

Photo: artefatica/Flickr/cc

August 25, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Hashtags, Twitter and civic engagement

Alison N. Novak, Kristine Johnson, and Manuel Pontes examine how Latino communities use Twitter as a platform for civic and political engagement. Their article, ‘Latino Twitter: Discourses of Latino civic engagement in social media’, published recently in First Monday, offers a discourse analysis of the Latino population’s relationship with Twitter, focusing on the use of the #LatinoTwitter hashtag.

The research responds to the need for a greater understanding of how distinct communities use Twitter for civic engagement, given the platform’s significant role in contemporary popular and public discourse.  Novak, Johnson, and Pontes collected and analyzed Twitter data related to #LatinoTwitter, the most popular hashtag for the digital Latino community, from 2014-2016. Their study identified four discourses that emerged from the data set: racial positionality, social and civic purposes, information sharing, and promotion.

Tweets identified as a discourse of racial positionality offered expressions of identity, community, and culture, and countered mainstream representations. Posts that called for action and protest, or responded to rhetoric about the community were identified as discourse with social and civic purpose. The use of the #LatinoTwitter hashtag to circulate news and research on Latino experiences was recognized as a discourse of information sharing. The study also found a discourse of promotion, formed by user interactions or endorsements from and around celebrated Latino public figures.    

The patterns that emerge from the study demonstrate the diverse ways that members of the Latino community leverage Twitter to communicate identity, culture and politics. The responses to political systems, channels, and rhetoric in the data set point to the use of Twitter as a tool for change, participation, and strategic campaigning. Even as it calls for deeper explorations of community uses of Twitter, the study offers beginning evidence of how Twitter facilitates and contextualizes community communications – and discusses the implications for future research.  

Twitter: @AlisonNovak

Photo: longislandwins/Flickr/cc

Public participation digital age

August 24, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Public participation in the digital age

Tina Nabatchi and Matt Leighninger offer a comprehensive exploration of public participation theory and practice in their new book, Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy.

Nabatchi, Associate Professor and Faculty Research Associate at the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PAARC), Maxwell School of Syracuse University, is also Co-Director at CNYSpeaks, a collaborative governance project. Leighninger, Director of the Yankelovich Center for Public Judgement, leads Public Engagement at Public Agenda, is a Senior Associate at Everyday Democracy, and serves on the boards of the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2USA),, The Democracy Imperative, and the Participatory Budgeting Project. The authors trace the emergence of public participation, its uses across sectors, and provide a framework and practical guidance for responsive citizen engagement for the digital civic sphere.  

The book offers a rich account of the conceptual and practical aspects of public participation, while also analysing contemporary challenges and reflecting on the possibilities for the future of public engagement. It traces an evolutionary journey for public engagement in the US, from its emergence in colonial democracy to the infrastructures of participation in use today, and the dynamics that continue to shape civic life in the digital age.

Nabatchi and Leighninger identify a distrustful disconnect between citizen and government that remains unaddressed by participatory infrastructures. They propose a number of reforms for participatory practice, including a six-point list of recommendations around communication, data collection, deliberation, decision making at scale, and nurturing civic engagement. They prescribe a number of tactical adjustments and systemic changes to fill the gaps in participatory practice.

Although their commentary invokes the enabling possibilities of technology, it also looks at contemporary experiments in democracy in the light of historical democratic landscapes. Packed with resources and case studies, particularly relevant to practitioners working in public engagement, the book is practice oriented, but also sketches an aspirational vision for public participation.

Twitter: @nabatchi

Photo:Christopher Allen/Flickr/cc

Democracy and digital technology: lessons after Brexit

August 17, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Democracy and digital technology: lessons after Brexit

Illustrating tensions between representative and direct democracy, Luciano Floridi’s recent articleTechnology and Democracy: Three Lessons from Brexit‘ suggests digital technologies will continue to shape a European future.

Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford, Director of Research, and Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, Floridi is also Fellow of St Cross College, Distinguished Research Fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and Adjunct Professor (Department of Economics) at American University. In ‘Technology and Democracy’, published in Philosophy & Technology, Floridi reflects on the United Kingdom’s referendum to leave the European Union and dissects Brexit for insights on democracy and digital technologies.  He examines democratic theories and practices, the role of digital technologies in civic engagement, and the emerging challenges and possibilities arising from Brexit.

Floridi explores representative and direct democracy and how digital facilitation impacts citizen participation. As with the referendum, direct involvement can generate decisions that reflect popular will, leaving political and administrative actors to implement them. However, as Floridi points out, the reality of such a promise would not necessarily be ideal. Contrasting procedural (form-focused) and substantial (content-focused) interpretations of democracy, he offers an alternative interpretation that would offer a way of organizing power between those who hold, delegate, and exercise it.

Representative democracy, which separates sovereignty and governance, would seem less of a compromise and closer to an ideal. Floridi argues that the resilience of representative democracy offers greater protection against the misuse of power. He explores the limitations of direct democracy, and cautions against an idealistic view of its possibilities. In this light, the role of digital technologies, as enablers of greater participation in democracy, are vulnerable to populism and demagoguery, evident in the campaigns and narratives around Brexit.  As Floridi sees it, digital technologies will continue to play an important role in shaping the European project of the future.

Twitter: @Floridi

Photo: Tomek Nacho/Flickr/cc

Participatory budgeting

August 16, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Participatory budgeting: a comprehensive view

Widely published scholar and former White House policy advisor Hollie Russon Gilman conducts the first comprehensive academic exploration of participatory budgeting in the United States in Democracy Reinvented: Participatory Budgeting and Civic Innovation in America.

Currently a postdoctoral scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), and a Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, Georgetown University’s Beeck Center, and New America, Gilman has served as Open Government and Innovation Advisor at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Gilman’s Democracy Reinvented is a thorough academic examination of the challenges and opportunities afforded to contemporary democracy through the innovative civic practice of participatory budgeting.

Democracy Reinvented explores participatory budgeting in the context of larger conversations around democracy and its institutions in the United States, identifies the potential for inclusive governance and offers practical recommendations on leveraging digital and technological innovations towards achieving this end. Gilman uses field observations, interviews, survey research, etc., to generate a framework of assessment for such democraticexperiments by way of impact, efficacy and inclusiveness.   

As civic innovationparticipatory budgetings like participatory budgeting gain momentum in communities around the world, Gilman’s research seizes the opportunity to enrich the theory and practice of participatory democracy. It projects an alternative to the discourse of the disaffected citizen and mistrusted government by illustrating democratic innovations in practice, and compelling a re-imagination of the possibilities for civic engagement.  Apart from a deep and wide assessment of contemporary participatory budgeting, Gilman also explores pilot programs in government data transparency, crowdfunding for public policy making, and peer-to-peer microlending in different cities.

As the first in-depth academic treatise on participatory budgeting, Democracy Reinvented is a rich offering of rigorously gleaned insights  relevant to current and emerging understandings of citizenship and governance. It also addresses the dynamics that drive and shape digital civic engagement.


Twitter: @hrgilman

Photo: Costa Constantinides/Flickr/cc

Community consultations in urban stormwater management

August 10, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Community consultations in urban stormwater management

Peter Dillon, Ron Bellchambers, Wayne Meyer, and Rod Ellis’s recent publication illustrates two successive but sharply contrasting community consultation initiatives for an urban storm water management plan for Brown Hill Creek, South Australia. The article, Community Perspective on Consultation on Urban Stormwater Management: Lessons from Brownhill Creek, South Australiawhich appeared in the journal Waterprovides an analytical account of community consultation efforts toward a water management plan and is informed by the perspective of a participating community environmental and heritage conservation group. 

The project is a collaboration between Adelaide, Burnside, Mitcham, Unley, and West Torrens councils. Drawing on the participatory experiences of the Brownhill Creek Association, the plan was conceived to reduce vulnerability to flood events within the catchment and is now operationalized in the Brown Hill Keswick Creek Stormwater Project.  The article provides an institutional and geographic background to the case, describes the consultation domains involved, and analyses the local political processes that played a role in the progress and outcome of the consultations.  

The draft plan presented to community members at the first public consultation was met with dissenting feedback, as the options presented to the residents were effectively limited to either constructing a dam or risking floods. Residents were compelled to form an action group against the dam on environmental grounds, and further, stall decision-making on the plan. The second consultation engaged more effectively with local stakeholders, including those with opposing or varying stances, to generate a publicly supported, viable, environmentally sound alternative that not only met the objectives of the project, but also saved public money.

Dillon et al. note that the second consultation was benefited by improved process rigor and – significantly – openness in dealing with all affected stakeholders so that community members could feel assured that their concerns had been taken into account. The research locates the consultations on the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum, and offers a number of important takeaways for practitioners involved with new water management projects.   


Photo:Michael Coghlan/

human centric governance

August 9, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Human-centric governance: behaviour-based design in Finland

Design for Government: Human-centric governance through experiments is a translation of an original report on the Design for Government project, commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Office of Finland. The project was executed by the think tank Demos Helsinki in partnership with Avanto Helsinki and the Department of Design at Aalto University.

Prepared and written by Mikko Annala, Tuuli Kaskinen, Seungho Lee, Juha Leppänen, Kalle Mattila, Aleksi Neuvonen, Johannes Nuutinen, Eevi Saarikoski and Antti Tarvainen, in collaboration with Antti Hautamäki and Tuuli Mattelmäki, the project constructs a framework for operationalizing behavior and evidence-based policy approaches for the Finnish government. In its first phase, it created a comprehensive benchmark of best practices informed by international experts and regional stakeholders.  In its second phase, the project fed and drew from the Design for Government course at Aalto University, where it invited students and participants to engage with the Finnish government’s current challenges.  The outcome was an operating model for applying these methods to the planning of governmental steering.

The operating model proposed by the report is designed to improve steering mechanisms, enable successful collaborations with citizens and nurture best practices. It also aims to enrich public sector competence in the implementation and assessment of such methods. Additionally, it hopes to enhance innovative cooperation between the governmental stakeholders involved, and drive change in the existing planning and steering culture towards a more open, citizen-oriented approach.  

Chapter 3 recommended the embedding of a two-year behavior-based experimental system into the government’s incumbent plan, with the intention of creating a development process for governmental steering mechanisms shaped by behavior-based knowledge. In a foreword to the paper, Sirpa Kekkonen, Head of the Secretariat for Government Strategy Work, confirms that the project has inspired and informed the Finnish government’s efforts towards nurturing an experimentation culture for public policy.


Photo: Willowbloo/wikimedia commons/cc

inclusive cities

August 4, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Inclusive cities: planning for intercultural communities

In their recent article, Inclusive Cities for Intercultural Communities. European Experiences, Gabriella Esposito De Vita Stefania Oppido investigate the relationship between cities and citizens affected by migration. It explores the role that spatial, social, and economic bodies could play in building inclusive cities.

Published in the journal Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, and presented  through the 2nd ‘New Metropolitan Perspectives’ International Symposium,the paper evaluates local initiatives of select cities and illustrates the challenges faced by their communities in the context of urban policy and intercultural integration. The research case studies include investigations of a number of initiatives from Italy and other European countries; from migrant-rich urban areas to peripheral and historical neighbourhoods.  The inclusion of these case studies illustrates the relationship between new social structures of the city to the need to reconfigure spaces, functions and services to cater adequately to citizen requirements. The case studies are compared through keywords, period and scale of intervention, stakeholders, urban and social contexts, findings, dissemination tools and the use of participatory processes.   

Research findings point to the compelling demand for addressing the needs of local citizens and migrants – and to reflect urban diversity and create equity in the urban context. Through evidence from the case studies, the authors emphasize a number of strengths that could enhance local urban diversity management: support networks, collaborative and participatory means to enrich bottom-up processes, intercultural engagement to identify solutions to collective problems, peer-enabled mediation services for migrants, and the leveraging of multimedia. 

The study finds that the inclusive city nurtures social cohesion by enabling interaction between the various cultural groups and offers a number of recommendations for policy, administration, and planning practitioners focused on multicultural communities. 

Photo: Michael Coghlan/Flickr/cc

Educating youth for online civic engagement

August 3, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Educating youth for online civic engagement

Erica Hodgin‘s Educating Youth for Online Civic and Political Dialogue: A Conceptual Framework for the Digital Age examines digital affordances, challenges, and learning opportunities for youth participation in civic dialogue.

Associate Director of the Civic Engagement Research Group, attached to Mills College, Hodgin is Research Director at the Educating for Participatory Politics project, supported by the MacArthur Foundation. Her article – published in the Journal of Digital and Media Literacy – draws from the activities of four high school teachers on a participatory academic platform to illustrate five stages of opportunity that nurture youth civic engagement – and engages with the challenges faced by the teachers.  The research uses these opportunities and challenges to generate a conceptual framework for education practitioners and policymakers.

Hodgin’s new research recognizes that digital civic participation can be shaped by such dynamics as access, literacy, technological affordances, supports gaps – and that digital civic learning opportunities needs to be equitable. Three of the teachers in the study were involved with Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age (EDDA), a digital civics initiative enabled by the Oakland Unified Schools District (OUSD), the National Writing Project (NWP), and Mills College. The fourth teacher connected with the group through Youth Voices, an educational social network platform and dialogic community. Apart from teacher interviews, the study also employed student interviews, classroom observations, and a focus group.

On analysis of the sample group’s experiences on the Youth Voices platform, the research finds five opportunities that build on each other. The initial step for students was to join an online dialogic community where, as a next step, they could safely and meaningfully navigate diverse perspectives and gain a multi-faceted understanding of civic issues. Then, students could engage in productive and respectful civic dialogue to practice meaningful conversational strategies. The next stage of opportunity would involve publishing and defending their reflections, and finally, leveraging media to create change. The research identifies the following challenges: maintaining the quality of discourse, time and space limitations, and access to the digital technologies and literacies for online dialogue. To conclude, Hodgin discusses the implications and offers recommendations to close the support gap for productive and equitable participatory opportunities.

Twitter: @EricaHodgin


Photo: David Shankbone/Flickr/cc

participatory politics and youth civic engagement

July 27, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Participatory politics and youth civic engagement

Award-winning writer, Research Director and Senior Producer at Youth RadioElisabeth Soep’s new book, Participatory Politics: Next-Generation Tactics to Remake Public Spheres explores youth civic engagement across digital and face-to-face contexts.

Soep examines new ways youth are engaging in civic life, both online and offline. She offers insights on next-generation tactics for civic participation, particularly useful to practitioners and researchers involved with digital citizen engagement practices. Within her research, she dissects a variety of cases where youth merge cultural and political articulations to engage with civic issues in innovative ways, and illustrates that youth are increasingly involved with the production of media and culture that engages with civic questions.

Exploring participatory activities across the sharing of information, dialogic conversations, content creation, public interest investigation, and grassroots mobilization, she draws from existing literature and her findings to identify five tactics to nurture youth civic engagement. These tactics are broadly built around mobilization, storytelling, leveraging public data, leveraging digital capabilities, and managing visibility.  Soep then examines the literacy that these new participatory forms demand, and the consequent risks, in particular, risks around the questions of simplification, sensationalization, slippage, unsustainability, and saviorism.

Participatory Politics  points to a repeatedly articulated mistrust in institutions and processes of policymaking. It explores three broad areas: the nature of youth participatory tactics; possibilities for improving the quality and impact of these methods; and, ways for participatory opportunities to be more inclusive.

Soep illustrates the ways in which interrelated tactics, risks, and literacies shape youth participation in the digital age. Her research observes that changes to communication structures and hierarchies have opened up new possibilities for the finding, sharing and analysis of information – and consequently, new conditions and opportunities for dialogue and participation.


Photo: Backbone Campaign/

Engaging healthcare for Aboriginal Australians

Topic: Feature Articles

Engaging healthcare for Aboriginal Australians

Angela Durey et al. recently published ‘Improving healthcare for Aboriginal Australians through effective engagement between community and health services,’ an assessment of a community engagement strategy between health providers and Aboriginal communities across five southern districts of Perth, Western Australia.

Angela Durey, Suzanne McEvoy, Val Swift-Otero, Kate Taylor, Judith Katzenellenbogen and Dawn Bessarab of Curtin University present an assessment of a community engagement strategy between health providers of the South Metropolitan Health Service under the Department of Health, Western Australia, and Aboriginal communities. The strategy enabled District Aboriginal Health Action Groups (DAHAGs), implemented by the South Metropolitan Public Health Unit’s Aboriginal Health Team, to partner with local service providers on culturally responsive health care services. Durey, et al. appraise the strategy for effectiveness and identify the success factors. They assess the process for how it captures a range of community perspectives on health service needs, and ask if Aboriginal participants’ expectations of the process were met. Further, the evaluation looks at the implementation of the participants’ recommendations and whether – consequently – this improved Aboriginal community access to local health services.

The evaluation involved participants from four stakeholder groups across five districts: Aboriginal DAHAG members who used Aboriginal and mainstream health services, Health Providers of Aboriginal Services (HPAS) who delivered services to local Aboriginal people, Aboriginal Specific Service Users (ASSU) who were members of the local Aboriginal community but not of DAHAG, and Mainstream Health Service Providers (MHSP) who were members of services that took part in DAHAG engagements. Data was collected through one-to-one interviews and yarning circles (narrative, Indigenous, culture-appropriate methodology that is safe and credible for qualitative research in Indigenous communities).  Two-way accountability procedures were established, for both health service providers and community.     

The Indigenous context for evaluation design was conscious of the work of Maori researcher Linda Tuhiwai Smith. Key themes that emerge from the evaluation indicate that, despite their initial skepticism, participants across the stakeholder groups feel that the strategy was effective, with recommendations translated into action, stronger relationships between service providers and community, and improvement in culturally appropriate health services. The engagement also seems to have positively impacted local Aboriginal community trust in, and access to, these services. The evaluation locates its findings in the broader contexts and literature on partnerships with Aboriginal communities, and identifies concerns for sustainable community engagement.  

Building New York Public Library’s Community Oral History Project

July 13, 2016

Topic: Feature Articles

Building New York Public Library’s Community Oral History Project

Kate Cordes, Assistant Director of Maps, Local History, and Genealogy at The New York Public Library (NYPL) recently published Together We Listen: Generating Accessible Oral Histories of NYC through Community Participatory Projects, a descriptive overview of the origins, processes, and progress of the NYPL’s Community Oral History Project.

NYPL has mobilized local communities and stakeholders in an ongoing attempt to create one of the city’s richest collections of oral histories. The Community Oral History Project has given rise to Together We Listen, an accessible repository of unique personal accounts of city life from the mid-20th century to the present. Apart from being a celebration of community history and a valuable addition to existing historical records, it is also part of a broader attempt to nurture and grow community engagement at local libraries.

Launched in 2013, the Community Oral History Project is a convergence of community participation, crowdsourcing and the capabilities of a number of branches and research divisions of the library. The project trains local volunteers to interview residents on their experiences of their neighborhood’s history, people, and places. These collected local memories are then digitally archived and made accessible as part of the local history collection of the research library. The Library created a crowdsourced transcription verification tool, which further allows a thorough exploration of the interviews. The project uses social media platforms to share the resources, spread word of the project, and encourage and sustain participation from local stakeholders.

Cordes’ paper provides a context to the project by way of the broader role and objectives of the NYPL in the community. It also highlights the departments and divisions that have stewarded the project, and the ways in which these stakeholders have both enriched and benefited from the project. Cordes outlines the execution of the project in a stage-by-stage breakdown of the planning and implementation, including challenges and opportunities that have unfolded throughout these stages. The paper illustrates a working example of a collaborative effort built across community, institution, and shared knowledge, enabled by digital technology.   


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