Public Engagement and Policymaking in the Era of Big Data (PhD project)
A PhD research project exploring how publics can engage with data technology in the context of policymaking.
About this research
The aim of this research is to examine how publics can engage with emerging data technologies in the context of local and national policymaking. We send out millions of bits of information everyday through things like filling forms in a GP surgery, searching for a restaurant on Google, and logging in to social media. Government is a key collector and user of this information, however, we do not normally have control over how they use that information nor where it is ultimately held. There is an absence of tangible public involvement with the ways new forms of data are collected and used by government. The project includes four qualitative exploratory streams of research contextualised through the history of public engagement, the current environment of public engagement around data, methods used by government data teams, and pilots of new public engagement initiatives.
The goal of this programme of work is to first understand how engagement is done in local and national government, and then to develop a set of techniques for engaging publics around new forms of data use and collection. Early results include an ethnography with the Government Digital Lab that found public engagements are often instantiated within limited bounds of influence. As well as an actor-network driven inquiry of the use of data in Bath and North East Somerset council which found that the rhetoric around data does not align easily with the day-to-day challenges and realities of local authority work. The ultimate goal of this work is to create a reflective, practical, and critical understanding of the intersections between publics and government bodies and how they fit together in a datafied society.