Empowerment-based design and evaluation of civic technology

Erhardt Graeff

Civic technology should empower us as citizens. But despite its breadth as a field, civic technology often takes its lead from Silicon Valley companies that espouse design goals potentially hazardous to participatory democracy. As an example, Facebook has been used to help organize democratic social movements around the world, but it has also allowed undemocratic actors to inflame partisanship and hate at the same time. I explore: How might we design civic technologies for citizen empowerment and evaluate their impact on this goal? 

With their increasingly important role as mediators of democracy, it is insufficient for civic technology designers to evaluate their designs in terms of ease of use and increased engagement with their platform. Research from political and developmental psychology shows the importance to lifelong civic engagement of learning experiences that cultivate a citizen's perception they can make change (political efficacy) and their belief in having responsibilities to the public good (civic identity). To achieve these positive feedback loops, we need a richer framework for civic technology design. 

This project proposes two solutions: 1) empowerment-based design principles for civic technology, and 2) a prototype toolkit for evaluating the impact of civic technology on political efficacy. Because empowerment is contextual, the proposals here focus on tools and platforms built to support "monitorial citizenship," an increasingly popular form of civic engagement aimed at holding institutions accountable.