Designing and evaluating for empowerment: a study on SeeClickFix

Erhardt Graeff

19 Apr 2018, 10 a.m.
Auditorium 1

Civic technologies aim to empower us as citizens. Unfortunately, the logic of most Civic Technology design emphasises user growth and ease of use over empowerment.

Meanwhile, the companies and organisations building Civic Technology want to claim they empower their users. This requires they not only design for empowerment but measure it too. To answer the question "how might we evaluate Civic Technologies for citizen empowerment?" this talk introduces a research design for evaluating empowerment and presents initial results from an evaluation of the local infrastructure fixing platform SeeClickFix.

Academic research has repeatedly shown how important civic experiences that cultivate political efficacy and civic identity are to ongoing civic engagement. Political efficacy—a citizen's perception that they can effect change—is a standard measure of empowerment. By adapting existing questions for different forms of political efficacy into new research designs for digital platforms, we have an opportunity to evaluate the impact of designs on empowerment. Specifically, Erhardt proposes panel surveys of users asking about their perceived efficacy and their perception of a platform's efficacy, a simple randomised control trial introducing new platform content likely to boost perceived efficacy, and then looking at platform trace data to understand the relationship between empowerment and the exposure to and use of platform features over time.

Erhardt shares the results of ongoing research among active SeeClickFix users into their perceived empowerment on the platform, focusing on the subset of Civic Technology like SeeClickFix (monitorial citizenship tools that people can use to keep tabs on issues and institutions) in order to refine this evaluative approach using a relatively straightforward form of engagement. The long-term goal is to arm the creators of Civic Technology platforms with the tools necessary to pursue a mission of designing and evaluating for empowerment.