Socio-technical systems for citizen empowerment

Submitted: February 2016

Paper submitted to International Journal of Electronic Governance for the Special Issue on Empowering Citizenship in the Hybrid City (Publication forthcoming).

Socio-technical Systems for Citizen Empowerment: How to mediate between different expectations and levels of participation in the design of civic apps

Authors: Naomi Bueno de Mesquita,Nazli Cila, Maarten Groen, Wouter Meys

participatory tools, data submission, civic apps, design, citizen empowerment, local knowledge, public space

In the context of the participation society, roles and expectations of citizens and municipalities are vastly changing. While designers and design researchers explore the potentials of apps to empower citizens, municipalities are interested in data dashboards—accompanied with applications and community platforms—to increase civic participation in public (space) issues. Due to diverse levels of data-literacy and expectations regarding the use of civic apps, more scrutiny is needed when it comes to claims of empowerment. This paper departs from the premise that designers and design researchers often deal with disappointments in the balance of investment and participation span due to a lack of knowledge about underlying mechanisms that enable them to make well informed decisions when creating such apps. In this paper, relevant criteria and design decisions are discussed through reflecting on the lessons learned from two civic apps that were designed by the authors and analysing prominent existing civic apps that have citizen empowerment as their objective. By laying these apps out in a taxonomy the paper aims to examine why and where discrepancies occur in expectations and levels of participation. The eventual aim is to offer designers and design researchers insights with which they can formulate better research questions in the design of participatory apps and with which they can recognise potentials in existing projects.