Participating Counterpublics

User Experience Design for Online Communities of Practice

PhD Research Abstract 

Technology mediated Public Participation initiatives are strongly based on the premise that the public has the right to participate in decision making that affects it. Actions for the public to be involved can take multiple forms in a variety of settings, such as e-governance, online local community engagement, Citizen Science platforms etc. Even though these strategies may be purposefully targeted at the general public, not everyone participates. Using online Citizen Science and its communities of practice as a case study, this research aims to explore what is the definition of “public”, whether there’s more than one, who decides to participate, and why; as well as other psychological and sociological aspects of online Public Participation. The ultimate aim is to apply for first time this knowledge in the design of a User Centered Design (UCD) based design framework for technologies such as crowdsourcing, data classification etc. By looking at the participants of such initiatives as a specific user group, the present research focuses on the formation of identities, and approaches citizen scientists both in physical and online settings as counterpublics; forms of publics that deviate from larger publics. As UCD is based on the proposition that any technological project should centre its conception and development according to the needs of the people that are going to use it, it is not realistic to think about one-size-fits-all solutions for Public Participation technologies either, as no technology or product can be used by everyone at once. A mixed methods approach will be utilised to investigate existing applications and their users, and the insights from the analysis of data will feed into a framework for guidelines and best practices.


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