Social networking technologies are now being used to improve community cohesion via both government-led initiatives (e.g., Gov 2.0) and community-led ones (e.g., SeeClickFix). Yet there is still a lack of understanding of how to effectively leverage social media to engage citizens on an ultra-large-scale, especially when it comes to addressing sensitive issues such as crime and anti-social behaviour. Within this cross-disciplinary account, we combine Computing and Sociology research to study the feasibility of utilising new forms of social media to empower citizens to influence the design of such systems. Such an understanding is crucial-massive UK debt is resulting in cuts to public services as well as leading to new economic models for public service provision, which place community responsibility at their core.
Design and HCI research has shown that participatory design, whereby users and other stakeholders form an integral part of the design team, is an effective mechanism for user engagement. What social networking technologies potentially offer is a way of scaling this participation up to ultra-large levels. The Account focuses on three key feasibility studies in this context:
- Feasibility of new forms of social media for large-scale public engagement in identifying target issues that are of most significance to specific communities, both online ones, such as those that exist on Facebook or Secondlife, and communities in the physical world.
- Feasibility of new forms of social media to underpin an unprecedentedly large participatory design setting that engages a range of community stakeholders while addressing ethical and legal implications and accounting for disruptive efforts of those who may be targeted by the system being designed.
- Feasibility of operationalising (into designs) blueprints of next generation social networking mechanisms that place community responsibility and empowerment at their core.
Inclusiveness of otherwise marginalised communities/individuals is a key consideration within the studies with specific social media being developed to ensure inclusion.
Thus the Account simultaneously builds on and broadens the focus of existing EPSRC investment in cross-disciplinary research in four grants; all of these grants are cross-disciplinary, multi-institutional and investigate the potentials and challenges of the internet and Web 2.0 in addressing issues of crime (e.g., paedophilia and community safety), resilience (crime reporting and disaster planning) and community cohesion (relationship building). Although the account is centred on Lancaster, it actively promotes collaboration with our large network at other institutions, e.g., the 15 higher education institutions and research centres involved in our existing grants above and partners such as, the Home Office, Interpol, various city and county councils, local police and schools.
In addition to scientific knowledge gained from the studies reported in articles and reports targeted at policy/practice audience and the general public, the Account also aims to develop a Community Empowerment Programme, to be utilised by communities to design systems to tackle anti-social behaviour issues in their area. Furthermore, the results from the studies form the basis of an Ultra-large-scale Living lab, where communities, researchers and practitioners come together to undertake unprecedentedly large studies of the role of social media in tackling societal problems.