Sep 23–26, 2019
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Purposefully designing technology for civic engagement

Audrey Lobo-Pulo (Phoensight), Annette Hester (National Energy Board, Canada)
3:45pm4:25pm Thursday, September 26, 2019
Location: 1E 14
Average rating: *****
(5.00, 1 rating)

Who is this presentation for?

  • Governments and organizations developing public tech platforms and the general public




Governments are increasingly reliant on using digital technologies for interacting with their citizens, and with this comes an increased use of social and digital platforms for public discourse. While the scalability and connectivity of technology could potentially revolutionize civic engagement, the design attributes of digital platforms need to be carefully considered when intending specific civic outcomes or ensuring alignment of public perception.

Audrey Lobo-Pulo, Annette Hester, and Ryan Hum explore how, and to what extent, various design attributes of digital platforms provide for different outcomes in civic engagement and efficacy. They examine how the blueprint for digital platforms may be reframed and enriched using empowerment theory, design research and ethics, and indigenous ways of learning. For the first time, a framework for evaluating the nature of civic technology engagement, including transparency, participation, collaboration, efficacy, and consensus, is put forward in an effort to provide more deliberate design practices for civic platforms.

You’ve already seen how social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have the ability to shape social interactions and influence public debate. Indeed, the design of digital platforms inherently directs the scope, extent, and nature of user interactions on the platform, influencing collective outcomes. It may be argued that digital platforms have the potential to become “persuasive technologies,” instruments for social engineering; the benefits of using these technologies for improved civic efficacy and achieving public consensus offer governments new hope for strengthening public collaboration and trust. Studies on improving civic empowerment and social outcomes emphasize the need for low barriers to participation, creating spaces for collective action, and deliberation on public issues. Yet the most prominent digital platforms present today have not been intentionally designed for this purpose, even though they’re frequently used for civic engagement.

The NEB, Canada’s energy and safety regulator, embraced the broader concept of digital government to extend beyond just incorporating new technologies for better services by advancing new opportunities for public participation and evidence-based decision making. In 2016, the NEB launched the Data Visualization Initiative with the intention to contribute to the country’s energy dialogue through interactive data visualizations. User analytics data suggests that these platforms are preferred to static publications, and the tools for data exploration empowers users to engage in dialogue and discover new insights about Canada’s energy future. While the design features of these platforms enable new forms of civic engagement, the NEB’s current focus is on how technology can be purposefully designed so that the communication intention aligns with user perception.

What you'll learn

  • Gain an awareness of how digital platforms influence the nature of civic engagement in society
  • Understand the key elements of "civic technology design" and how these translate to transparency, participation, collaboration, efficacy, and consensus
  • Discover and explore the framework developed for considering and designing civic technologies to achieve specific outcomes
  • Learn how empowerment theory, design research and ethics, and indigenous ways of learning may be used to enrich civic technologies
Photo of Audrey Lobo-Pulo

Audrey Lobo-Pulo


Audrey Lobo-Pulo is the founder of Phoensight and has a passion for using emerging data technologies to empower individuals, governments, and organizations in creating a better society. Audrey has over 10 years’ experience working with the Australian Treasury in public policy areas including personal taxation, housing, social policy, labor markets, and population demographics. She’s an open government advocate and has a passion for open data and open models. She pioneered the concept of “government open source models,” which are government policy models open to the public to use, modify, and distribute freely. Audrey’s deeply interested in how technology enables citizens to actively participate and engage with their governments in cocreating public policy. She holds a PhD in physics and a master’s in economic policy.

Photo of Annette Hester

Annette Hester

National Energy Board, Canada

Annette Hester is a senior data visualization initiative lead at the National Energy Board of Canada. She brings innovative approaches to working with data. Through her company, TheHesterView, she assembles leading experts in their fields into teams that deliver excellence in data structuring and data visualization. The quality of the design in her work reflects decades of experience in advisory and strategic policy services. Previously, she was a faculty member of the University of Calgary’s Haskayne Global Energy EMBA, where she was founding director of the university’s Latin American Research Centre; she was a senior adviser to the deputy minister of the government of Alberta, Canada, and part of the energy and environment policy team for the leadership campaign that saw Alison Redford elected leader and premier. Annette has extensive experience as a consultant in the private sector and to governmental agencies in several countries of the Americas, primarily Brazil and Canada.

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