Hacking for Situated Civic Engagement

Lead Research Organisation: University of Dundee
Department Name: Social Digital

Abstract

Local civic participation in the UK is typically low, despite many important aspects of our day-to-day lives being determined on a local level. Although there have been some recent attempts to design novel technologies in public spaces that engage citizens, many of these interventions have operated in a top-down fashion, being designed by researchers with content sourced from authorities.

This project will investigate how aspects of DIY and hacking cultures can empower citizens to design their own civic engagement technologies that fit their agendas, and to do so in a way that is both sustainable and replicable. We propose that this can be achieved through 'hackathon' events that bring together researchers, members of the public and technology enthusiasts to intensively imagine and prototype new technologies for civic engagement in public spaces and communities. Where hackathons have most frequently been used for developing software, we propose to appropriate this approach as a means for non-technical participants to design and co-create physical computing prototypes.

These events will serve dual purposes by 1) acting as a participatory design activity to bootstrap the development of civic engagement technologies that will be trialled and evaluated 'in the wild' with participants; and 2) encouraging further innovation by introducing participants to new technologies and skills and by producing documented tools and processes that other communities can replicate and build upon.

The intended outputs of this project will be: an understanding of the attributes of hackathons as a method for engaging community groups in design; an evaluation of situated civic engagement technologies generated through this method; and an exploration of methods for documenting hackathon outputs for other community groups and stakeholders.

Planned Impact

We anticipate that this project will have potential impact in three broad areas: on the participant community; on the wider making and activist community; and on policy at a local and national level.

- Direct participants: for the Ardler community, this project represents a way to identify and take action on issues that affect their local area. While this can have a direct impact on these issues, by engaging disenfranchised members of the community we hope to have a continuing impact beyond the project. We also aim to create excitement around technology and making that might be sustained in the longer term. Through a combination of these factors, we hope to promote a sustainable community of making around local issues, capitalising on recent spike in engagement seen during the Scottish Independence referendum.

- Activism and makers: beyond direct beneficiaries, the findings of this project will help to inform a wider movement around technology-driven activism and making. Outputs from the project will be documented, allowing other communities to replicate and build upon our prototypes, and the methodological findings around hackathons will demonstrate the potential for these events to engage non-technical users in civic issues. The maker community, accessed through Dundee MakerSpace, will play a key role in this. For them, this project will identify methods of engaging broader cross-section of the population rather than just technology/making enthusiasts.

- Local and national policy: this work takes place against ongoing debates around localism, digital engagement in politics and evidence-based policy-making, and we expect this research has the potential to inform policy in all of these areas. The project will demonstrate how local communities can take a leading role in addressing their own issues, creating mechanisms for digital engagement and collecting data and evidence to support decision-making. It will also evaluate a new method of engaging members of the public in all of these activities. We have planned to organise or attend events both locally and nationally to support this.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description - Through fieldwork at six hackathons, we have identified the contributions made by non-technical attendees at what is ostensibly a technically-oriented event, the value they gain from hackathons and the barriers that might discourage attendance. This contributes a greater understanding of hackathons as a growing phenomenon and how a more diverse audience might be engaged in innovating around technology.

- We have developed a new model for Community Inventor Days, which are hackathon-like event to bring together community members with makers to develop longer-term relationships, skill and enthusiasm that can be used to scaffold grassroots innovation. We developed an understanding of how these relationships formed and were maintained, and saw examples of continuing activities after our events.

- A further finding relates to the specific adaptations that we made to the typical hackathon model that made attendance by community possible. These included structural elements, ways of foregrounding the community's knowledge, and methods of fostering creativity.
Exploitation Route Community Inventor Days might be utilised by other organisations who wish to engage with communities, specifically those who want to mobilise communities to address challenges in their local area. We have had particular interest in this from voluntary organisations, who see the potential of such approaches for creating community resilience, where individuals would have the skills to address challenges in their lives.

More broadly, aspects of our findings could be utilised by organisers of hackathons in various sectors where it is desirable to engage with a wider audience than just coders. Such hackathons have been a growing phenomenon in creative and cultural sectors, as well as in areas like healthcare where practitioner knowledge is critical to the development of new technologies.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description - Participants from the events have gone on to set up after-school clubs for local children and one is now working as a science communicator at a regional science museum. The participants have directly credited these ongoing activities to skills and relationships formed during the project. - Findings from the first stage of the project have fed into the design of further events as part of Notwestminster (a network of local government represeantatives) and Mozilla Foundation.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Title Ardler Inventor Days Data (Interview transcripts and materials generated) 
Description Anonymised data collected from three Ardler Inventor Day events held as part of the EPSRC Hacking for Situated Civic Engagement projects. The dataset includes transcripts of interviews held with participants after each event, as well as Further information about these events can be found in: Taylor, N., Clarke, L. and Gorkovenko, K. (2017). Community inventor days: scaffolding grassroots innovation through maker events. Proceedings of DIS 2017. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None 
 
Title Ardler Inventor Days: Stage 3 interview transcripts 
Description Anonymised data collected from a one-day Inventor Kits workshop held as part of the EPSRC Hacking for Situated Civic Engagement projects. The dataset includes transcripts of interviews held with participants and researchers after the event. Further information about this work can be found in: Taylor, N., Clarke, L., Skelly, M. and Nevay, S. (2018). Strategies for engaging communities in creating physical civic technologies. Proceedings of CHI 2018. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None 
 
Title Hackathon fieldwork 2016 (interviews and field notes) 
Description Fieldnotes and interviews from six hackathons attended as part of the "Hacking for Situated Civic Engagement" project. Further information about these events can be found in: Taylor, N. and Clarke, L.(2018). Everybody's hacking: participation and the mainstreaming of hackathons. Proceedings of CHI 2018. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None 
 
Description Volunteer Dundee 
Organisation Volunteer Centre Dundee
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are acting as the research partner on a submission to the Scottish Social Innovation Fund led by Volunteer Dundee. This proposal has been submitted but not yet accepted.
Collaborator Contribution Volunteer Dundee will support us in reaching diverse communities across the city using their existing network.
Impact Submission to Scottish Social Innovation Fund.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Dundee Design Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Workshops based on activities from the project were run as part of Dundee Design Festival.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Dundee Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Workshops run with families based on activities from the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Notwestminster Design Experiments Day 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact We co-organised a hackathon-style event at Notwestminster 2017 in Huddersfield. The preceeding year's event was studied as part of fieldwork for this project, and we had the opportunity to feed back into this event using findings from our own community hackathons.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Talk for Make/Share 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We presented our project at Make/Share, a monthly local event for designers and creative practitioners to share their work with others. This was co-presented with one of our participants. A significant output of this presentation was a contact with Dundee City Council relating to open data and hackathons, who will now be supporting a follow-up project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://creativedundee.com/2016/11/makeshare-nov16/