The Internet, Policy & Politics Conferences

Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Erhardt Graeff: Crowdsourcing as Reflective Political Practice: Building a Location-based Tool for Civic Learning and Engagement

Erhardt Graeff, MIT Center for Civic Media


Many platforms for civic engagement, whether online or offline, are inconvenient and disconnected from the source of issues they are meant to address. They require that citizens leave the places they normally inhabit physically or virtually and commit to a separate space and set of processes. Town hall meetings are still a key point of engagement, occurring during specific times and in specific places. Online forums function similarly, in that deliberation occurs within profile-based websites for which you need to sign up and regularly return. This paper responds to the design challenge and research question: How do you address barriers to “minimum effective engagement” in community projects, and ensure that all citizens can have their voice heard on how to improve their local communities?

In order to raise levels of participation in community projects and expand the range of voices heard in governmental decision-making, there is a need for civic technology that is lightweight and compelling enough to enjoy continued use and to promote civic learning. In this paper, I develop a theoretical basis for effective citizenship through crowdsourcing monitorial activity by finding connections between several theories of citizenship and learning, which point to this activity fostering civic learning through reflective political practice.

Using a needs assessment of Boston-area municipalities, I reinforce my argument and concretize a set of design goals for a new socio-technical system to foster local civic learning and engagement around issues like urban planning. In the end, I respond to the research challenge and design goals by introducing a prototype for a location-based survey platform for Android smartphones called Action Path, and discuss early-stage user feedback and future work.

Erhardt Graeff