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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Postgrad (School of Social and Political Studies)

Postgraduate Course: Technologies of Civic Participation (PGSP11444)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate)
Course typeOnline Distance Learning AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryPlease note that this course is only available to students of the Data Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) online distance learning programme

TCPs have been defined as distributed, networked, inter-operable, digital innovations that facilitate the open discovery and sharing of information and the organisation of individuals for collective action. The focus of this course is on understanding the current and potential uses of new TCPs by citizens and policy-makers in responding to mundane, everyday threats to social resilience (e.g. street crime, problems with community service delivery, environment, health, etc.), and appreciating how these activities (e.g. monitoring, informing, reporting) are linked to everyday life in the community. Through access to participants of the 'Reading the Riots Project'`, an in-depth case study will be developed to explore how the police, other organisations and individuals used Twitter as they responded to this event. The course also includes delivery of a hands-on tutorial on use of Remote Event Analysis (mapping conflicts, disasters, elections and other events) with Online and Social Media Data. This 10 credits course provides students with skills to (1) compare and interpret different visions (optimistic and critical) on technologies of civic participation; (2) understand in detail the difference in their use when put to the service of citizen or adopted by policy makers (3) monitor social media data streams by using social media monitoring tools.
Course description Week 1 - Visions of Technologies of Civic Participation
Some observers argue that new TCPs have the capacity to empower individual citizens and communities, creating a new 'public sphere' where they can engage directly with politicians, public sector organisations and services, help influence policy, shape practice and monitor delivery (Chadwick, 2008; 2011). There is mixed evidence to date of how the potential of new technologies of civic participation may be realized. More problematic for the optimistic vision articulated above is the recent use of Twitter feeds to propagate ¿hate speech¿ and intimidate high-profile feminists in the UK, demonstrating the potential of TCPs for harm and disempowerment. The new technology capacities can be used for very different social purposes. This draws our attention to how technologies are appropriated and used by particular groups.

Study Session 1 - Optimistic Vision
As well as helping to revitalise democratic processes and governance (eg Chun et al., 2010) TCPs may afford a form of 'synoptic power', where the many can have oversight over the activities of the few. In this vision, rapid and potentially disruptive technological change (Manyika et al., 2013), as reflected in the rapid rise of new TCPs, opens up opportunities to redefine the boundaries of civil society and increase its power and influence: social media (eg Facebook, Twitter) provide a digital public agora for local and wider community discussion; the Internet of Things (IoT) (eg RFID, wireless sensor networks; (Gubbi et al., 2013) enables remote environmental monitoring; 'grass roots'community tools (eg, TheyWorkForYou, talkaboutlocal, YourTown, a growing range of apps from diverse sources) enable citizens to report problems to relevant agencies or track the activities of their political representatives; crowdsourcing enables large scale volunteer effort to be mobilised (eg citizen science) and at short notice (eg flashmobs); cloud computing puts cheap, scalable computer and data hosting in the hands of a wider range of users; and policy initiatives such as open data, not only open up government datasets, but also enable citizens to request the release of previously unpublished data.

Reflective Discussion Topic
Summarise Optimistic Visions on Technologies of Civic Participation

Study Session 2 - Limits to the optimistic vision of the role of new technologies in civic participation
There is mixed evidence to date of how the potential of new technologies of civic participation may be realized. Examples of 'citizen journalism' and information crowdsourced from 'producers' (Bruns, 2006) exemplify the potential of social media to enable citizens to question official constructions of social problems (Edwards et al., 2013). More problematic for the optimistic vision articulated above is the recent use of Twitter feeds to propagate 'hate speech' and intimidate high-profile feminists in the UK, demonstrating the potential of TCPs for harm and disempowerment. The new technology capacities can be used for very different social purposes. This draws our attention to how technologies are appropriated and used by particular groups. We explore the example of social media use by Norwegian local authorities. Only a minority of authorities used social media to develop new forms of public engagement (in contrast to their universal emphasis on delivering services more efficiently). And in these cases, public participation in these online fora fell below expectations. This case highlights that technical capacity alone will not deliver new practices.

Reflective Discussion Topic
Add your comment and identify further limits of the optimistic vision.

Week 2 - Putting new tools to the service of citizens
In this week we will analyse whether there is evidence that citizens and communities may be represented and empowered or disempowered through the use of TCPs. The precise character of the form of social relational ordering through TCPs as the local world unfolds will be a key concern. Through discussion of real life case studies, students will begin to learn the practical lessons for realising promises of citizen and community representativeness and empowerment through TCPs, assess its potential impact and understand its wider implications for civil society, citizen engagement, agency and deliberative democracy

Study Session 1 - Online Civic Agora
TCPs can be used by citizens either as a space for community building and participative decision making or as a tool to improve individual access to information owned by policy makers. In this first study session we will address evidence from early experients of tools for mapping community activity (Liste, 2011). Aspects addressed will be latest evolution of technology designed as space for civic society to operate: cases of success, failure and appropriation of civic participation initiatives for commercial purposes.

Study Session 2 -Tools for Community Resilience

Another type of TCPs includes informational tools for community resilience. These are forms of TCP that serve more the purposes of search/query rather than participation/involvement.

Reflective Discussion Topic:
How do community members use TCPs as tools for information gathering, dissemination and interacting with representatives of public agencies? Take the following three cases (Greener Leith, ALISS Project, and discuss for each case whether TCPs are used purposes of (i) search/query or (ii) participation/involvement.

Study Session 3 - Strategies of players to adopt technology to their purposes

In this study session we will raise questions about the respective roles of dedicated TCPs, designed for particular purposes. It may be argued that many of these new forms of engagement could be achieved with earlier generations of digital technology such as email, telephone or bulletin boards, suggesting that new TCPs can also be used to sustain traditional models of civil society rather than transform them. We will discuss cases such as the 'Global missed call campaign' developed by Indian Special Interest Groups. This may question the presumption that new practices will be driven by new technology. These are cases where (1) there is synergy between use of new and old media - contrasting the substitution model with a perspective that conceives of new social media as a supplement to existing communication practices or where (2) new technologies contribute to existing social relations, making aspects of efficiency measures prevail on aspects of civil society involvement.

Week 3 - Policy Use of Technologies of Civic Participation

Study Session 1 - Social Media & Social Control
How do public and private sector organisations (local government, police, health, education, etc.) respond to the challenges of identifying and exploiting the potential of TCPs while minimizing their risks (e.g. to privacy)? How might we seek to regulate the use of TCPs (formal regulation; community self-regulation, nodal governance) in a way that achieves an appropriate balance between opportunities and risks? These are some of the problems addressed in this study session, where we will investigate current understandings of the potential of social media monitoring tools for policy making (Dunleavy, 2010).

Study Session 2 - From media monitoring tools to social media monitoring tools

This study session addresses whether and how new social phenomena are identified through TCPs as opposed to more traditional media monitoring tools. Examples of existing media monitoring tools are offered such as the EU Commission media analysis tool: and compared with novel social media monitoring tools such as the Collaborative Online Social Media Observatory (COSMOS) platform: COSMOS facilitates analysis of Twitter data, media RSS feeds, administrative and curated sources. The COSMOS platform also includes data interpretation tools that include the capacity for users to monitor social media data streams for signs of high tension, which can be analysed in order to identify deviations from ¿normal¿ social media activity. We will then analyse the dynamics through which news are foregrounded in traditional media (Boczowski, 2010; Bright & Nicholls, 2014) and compare them with how rumors are spread in social media (Mendoza, Poblete & Castillo, 2010; Landsall-Welfare, Lampos & Cristianini, 2012).

Week 4 - Tutorial: Remote Event Analysis

This tutorial is devoted to the remote analysis of events. When Twitter changed its byline in 2009 from "What are you doing?" to "What's happening?" it acknowledged a transition in its use and value to a news and event-following one. Indeed there is a growing literature on the relationship between social media and events, often focusing on conflicts and disasters as well as formal political events like elections. But what do events look like online, and how does one follow them analytically? Students will be introduced to use of a set of tools to extend the research into the blogosphere, online newssphere, discussion lists and forums, folksonomies as well as search engine behavior (see These tools include scripts to scrape web, blog, news, image and social bookmarking search engines, as well as simple analytical machines that output data sets as well as graphical visualizations. As well as allowing students to get started in using with social media monitoring tools, this basic tutorial will lead to 'device critiques' - exercises in deconstructing the consequences of social media monitoring tools and debating about the value and reputation of information.

Week 5 - Case Study: Reading the Riots

In this week we will host a guest lecture from members of the Reading the Riots project:
The guest lecture will explore in technical detail how social media monitoring tools have been applied around the riots to explore how the police, other organisations and individuals used Twitter as they responded to this events.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Only available to students of Data Science, Technology and Innovation online distance learning programme
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. assess evidence deriving from monitoring digitally derived internet data, recognizing its strengths and limitations in comparison to other ways of apprehending citizen needs;
  2. make best use of the results of digital data analytics for service design, marketing and institutional reputation management;
  3. appreciate the practical benefits and limitations of digital data for organizational decision-making;
  4. identify, access and commission on-line data analytics tools and services appropriate to their needs;
  5. understand when and how to procure social media data analytics services and how to combine them with existing knowledge practice.
Reading List
Boczowski, P. (2010). The Divergent Online News Preferences of Journalists and Readers. Communication of the ACM, 53(11), 24-26.
Bright, N., Nicholls, T. (2014). The Life and Death of Political News: Measuring the Impact fo the Audience Agenda Using Online Data. Social Science Computer Review, 32(2), 170-181.
Bruns, A. (2006). Wikinews: The Next Generation of Online News? Scan Journal 3(1).
Chadwick, A. (2008). Web 2.0: New challenges for the study of e-democracy in an era of informational exuberance. I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society (ISJLP) 5: 9.
Chadwick, A. (2011). Explaining the Failure of an Online Citizen Engagement Initiative: The Role of Internal Institutional Variables, Journal of Information Technology & Politics 8, no. 1: 21-40.
Chun, S.A., Shulman, S., Sandoval, R., & Hovy, E. (2010). Government 2.0: Making connections between citizens, data and government, Information Polity, 15, no.1: 1-9.
Dunleavy, Patrick (2010) New worlds in political science. Political Studies, 58 (1). pp. 239-265. ISSN 0032-3217
Edwards, A., Housley, W., Williams, M.L. Sloan, L., & Williams, M. (2013). Digital Social Research and the Sociological Imagination: Surrogacy, Augmentation and Re-orientation, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 16:2.
Lansdall-Welfare, T, Lampos, V & Cristianini, N (2012), ¿Effects of the Recession on Public Mood in the UK¿. in: Mining Social Network Dynamics (MSND) session on Social Media Applications in News and Entertainment (SMANE) at WWW '12. ACM, pp. 1221 ¿ 1226.
Liste Munoz, Lucia Munoz; de Soysa, Indra. (2011) The Blog vs. Big Brother: New and Old Information Technology and Political Repression, 1980¿2006. International Journal of Human Rights. volum 15 (8).
M. Mendoza, B. Poblete, and C. Castillo. (2010) Twitter under crisis: Can we trust what we rt? In 1st Workshop on Social Media Analytics (SOMA ¿10). ACM Press, July 2010.
Procter, R., Crump, J., Karstedt, S., Voss, A., & Cantijoch, M. (2013b). Reading the riots: what were the police doing on Twitter? Policing and Society, (ahead-of-print), 1-24.


Link to the missed call campaign:
Recent ¿Internet, Policy & Politics¿ Conference:
Us initiative to explore use of TCPs in Government:
Relevant Journal:
Policy and Internet Special issue on the potentials and challenges of big data:
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Special Arrangements Enrolment is restricted to students on the Online Distance Learning Data Science Programme only.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserProf Robin Williams
Tel: (0131 6)50 6387
Course secretaryMr Jason Andreas
Tel: (0131 6)51 3969
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