Sep 23–26, 2019

Purposefully designing technology for civic engagement

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

Who is this presentation for?

Governments and organisations developing public tech platforms, and the general public.




Governments are becoming increasingly reliant on using digital technologies for interacting with their citizens today, 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.

We have 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 thereby influencing collective outcomes.

While it may be argued that digital platforms have the potential to become ‘persuasive technologies’, and therefore 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 emphasise 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 are 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.

In this presentation, we consider how, and to what extent, various design attributes of digital platforms provide for different outcomes in civic engagement and efficacy. Moreover, we examine how the blueprint for digital platforms may be re-framed 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.

Prerequisite knowledge

There is no prerequisite knowledge for this presentation.

What you'll learn

* Gain an awareness of how various 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; and * 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


Dr. Audrey Lobo-Pulo is the founder of Phoensight, a data and technology startup consultancy, and has a passion for using emerging data technologies to empower individuals, governments and organisations in creating a better society. Audrey holds a PhD in Physics and a Masters in Economic Policy, and has over 10 years experience working with the Australian Treasury in public policy areas including personal taxation, housing, social policy, labour markets and population demographics.

Audrey is an Open Government advocate and has a passion for Open Data and Open Models. She has pioneered the concept of ‘Government Open Source Models’, which are government policy models open to the public to use, modify and distribute freely. Audrey is deeply interested in how technology enables citizens to actively participate and engage with their governments in co-creating public policy.

Photo of Annette Hester

Annette Hester

National Energy Board, Canada

Annette Hester 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. Until recently, 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 also previously 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. Mrs. Hester has extensive experience as a consultant the private sector and to governmental agencies in several countries of the Americas, primarily Brazil and Canada.

Photo of Ryan Hum

Ryan Hum

National Energy Board, Canada

Ryan Hum is the Vice President of Data and Information Management, with the National Energy Board. Ryan’s previous post was with Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada, where he was Director of Service Insights and Experimentation, responsible for designing and implementing service improvements for people seeking refuge, immigrating, and becoming citizens of Canada. Ryan has had a long and distinguished career in public service in the departments of Health, the Food Inspection Agency, and Natural Resources, where he was Acting Director of Sustainable Mining Policy, Intergovernmental Affairs and Environmental Assessments. He was also a founding member of the Government of Canada’s Central Innovation Hub (housed at the Privy Council Office), where he served as Chief Designer and Data Scientist leading the design insights and data analytics practice to improve policy, program and service delivery.

Ryan has Bachelor of Science (Honours) and a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering from Queen’s University, a Master’s of Engineering Design from McMaster University and is working toward a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Toronto. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD) and has previously taught design, public policy and engineering at Carleton University and the University of Toronto.

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