Designing for monitorial citizenship

Erhardt Graeff

26 Apr 2017, 12:15 p.m.
Main Plenary (Sala Verde)

High levels of mistrust in governments and politicians around the world, connected to anti-elitist sentiments among both liberal and conservative citizens, has signaled a need for effective strategies and technologies that support monitorial citizenship.

"Monitorial citizenship is a form of civic engagement in which people independently track issues or communities of interest in order to be prepared to take action when necessary. Common activities of the monitorial citizen include collecting information, sharing stories and insights, co-ordinating with networks of other civic actors, and pursuing accountability for institutions and individuals and their perceived responsibilities" (Graeff forthcoming).

With the outcome of the 2016 American presidential election, in particular, we are seeing increased interest in monitorial practices from both citizens and technologists, who have responded by developing new digital tools.

But because many projects recreate the design features of existing tools, there is a significant and immediate need to know what does and does not work.

Prior technologies for monitorial citizenship have been documented under names like sousveillance (Mann 2002), social monitoring (Fung et al. 2013), and accountability technologies (Offenhuber & Schechtner 2013), and they have been deployed for a range of endeavours from activism to participatory governance to disaster response (Madianou, et al. 2016).

This paper is a qualitative meta-analysis of the existing literature and additional original case studies, organising monitorial citizenship tools into thematic groups by their theories of change and design features. Based on the success of prior work, Erhardt proposes a set of design principles for tools supporting civic activities such as accountability, critique and solidarity, and insurrectionism, alongside recommendations for deployment.