Digital Civics

COMPSCI 592C, 3 Credits, Fall 2018
Time: Fridays 10:10am-12:10pm
Location: Room 140, Computer Science Building

Instructor: Narges Mahyar
Office: Room 322, Computer Science Building
Office hours: Wednesdays 2-3pm

For discussion forum, in-class activities, deliverables, and grades check out Moodle


Digital Civics is an emerging cross-disciplinary area that explores new ways to utilize technology for promoting public participation in the design and delivery of civic services. Digital civics empowers the public to take a more active role in important civic decisions.

In this course, students will learn key concepts and background on HCI for digital civics, read and discuss key papers, case studies and digital civics systems that question conventional models of public participation. Students will present papers, participate in group discussions, and carry out research projects in teams.

Topics include human-computer interaction, research methods for digital civics, social computing, citizen science, collective intelligence, and community sourcing.

There is no required textbook for the course. Readings will be posted with the associated lectures.

Course Origins
This course draws on reading lists and syllabi from prior courses on designing community engagement, crowdsourcing, and HCI. The most direct inspiration comes from an undergraduate research group I co-led (along with Steven Dow) at University of California San Diego during 2016-2018. The course also borrows from Steven Dow’s course on Crowdsourcing, and Chris Le Dantec’s course on Designing Community Engagement.

This course is for junior and senior Computer Science majors who have programming experience by passing either COMPSCI 220 or 230 and familiarity with HCI principles. Email me directly, If you are passionate about the subject but don’t meet the requirements.

Assignments & Discussions

Students must complete weekly readings and participate in discussions. Each week I will post 3-4 papers. Every student must sign up to present three research papers in class, and lead the discussion for that paper. For each class, we need at least 2 volunteers to present. Please sign up for paper presentation no later than Tuesday nights and add your presentation slides no later than Thursday nights. In other weeks when you are not presenting, you need to read at least 1-2 papers per session and sign up as a discussant. In addition, students will work in a group of 2-3  to design and prototype a course project.


This class will involve a great amount of discussion with time devoted to lecture, in-class activities, student presentations, and research crits. Grades will reflect participation and performance on paper presentations, discussions, and projects.

Attendance is required. Students are expected to arrive at class on time, participate in class activities and discussions, and be a good team member. As a show of respect to fellow students, laptops and cellphones should remain off unless the instructor explicitly permits them for class activities. During crits, students are expected to offer constructive criticism on their classmates’ work. If students must miss class for an excusable reason, get permission IN ADVANCE from the instructor and keep teammates informed.

Grading breakdown
30% Paper presentations (~3 papers per semester)
10% In-class discussions (1-2 papers per week), and activity in online forum
40% Final research project
20% Final report

Poor attendance can decrease an individual student’s grade by up to 10% (one letter grade).


This schedule is subject to change.  Lecture slides will be posted after each class.

Week 1: Sept 7
Lecture: Introduction to Digital Civics

Vlachokyriakos, Vasillis, et al. Digital civics: Citizen empowerment with and through technology. Proceedings of the 2016 CHI conference extended abstracts on human factors in computing systems. ACM, 2016.

Olivier, Patrick, and Peter Wright.Digital civics: Taking a local turn. interactions 22.4 (2015): 61-63.

Zuckerman, Ethan. Understanding digital civics. My Heart’s in Accra (2012).
Week 2: Sept 14
Lecture: Tools and Applications

In-class Activitiy:
Team formation

Mahyar, Narges, et al. CommunityCrit: Inviting the Public to Improve and Evaluate Urban Design Ideas through Micro-Activities. Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. ACM, 2018.

Mahyar, Narges, et al. UD Co-Spaces: A Table-Centred Multi-Display Environment for Public Engagement in Urban Design Charrettes. Proceedings of the 2016 ACM on Interactive Surfaces and Spaces. ACM, 2016. 

Foth, Marcus et al. Fixing the city one photo at a time: mobile logging of maintenance requests. Proceedings of 23rd Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference. ACM, 2011.

Zimmerman, John, et al. Field trial of tiramisu: crowd-sourcing bus arrival times to spur co-design. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference. ACM, 2011.
Week 3: Sept 21
Lecture: HCI for Digital Civics 

In-class Activitity:
Project ideation

Hayes, G.R. The Relationship of Action Research to Human-Computer Interaction. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum, Interact, 2011. 

Carroll, J.M. Community computing as human-computer interaction. Behaviour & Information Technology. 2001.

Björgvinsson, E. et al. Participatory design and democratizing innovation, Biennial Participatory Design Conference, ACM, 2010.
Week 4: Sept 28
Lecture: Crowdsourcing for Addressing Complex Problems

In-class Activitiy:
Project pitches

Readings: Daren C Brabham. Crowdsourcing the public participation process for planning projects. Planning Theory 8, 2009. Joshua Introne et al. 2013. 

Solving wicked social problems with socio-computational systems. KI-Künstliche Intelligenz 27, 2013.

Paul André et ql. Community clustering: Leveraging an academic crowd to form coherent conference sessions. HCOMP, 2013. 

Le Dantec, et al (2015) Planning with Crowdsourced Data: Rhetoric and Representation in Transportation Planning, 2015.
Week 5: Oct 5
No lecture-Studio Time

In-class Activitiy: 
Project drafts
Week 6: Oct 12
No lecture-Studio Time

In-class Activitiy:
Teams will presnent problem-solution statemnets
Submit your slides no later than Friday Oct 11 11:55pm
Week 7: OCT 19
Lecture: Designing for Civics

In-class Activitiy:
Small group teachning and learning questionaire to obtain students feedback on the course 

Feedback on students presentations 

Tanja Aitamurto and Helene E Landemore. Five design principles for crowdsourced policymaking: Assessing the case of crowdsourced off-road traffic law in Finland, 2015. 

Mariam Asad et al. Creating a Sociotechnical API: Designing City-Scale Community Engagement. CHI 2017, 2017. 

John M Bryson et al. Designing public participation processes. Public administration review 73, 2013. 

Caron Chess and Kristen Purcell. Public participation and the environment: Do we know what works?, ACS Publications, 1999.
Week 8: Oct 26-No class-IEEE VIS 2018 conference
Week 9: Nov 2
Lecture: Engagement and Motivation

In-class Activitiy:
Feedback on project prototypes  

Beebeejaun, Yasminah, The participation trap: The limitations of participation for ethnic and racial groups, International Planning Studies, 2006.

Haichao Zheng, Dahui Li, and Wenhua Hou. 2011. Task design, motivation, and participation in crowdsourcing contests. International Journal of Electronic Commerce 15, 4 (2011), 57–88.
Week 10: Nov 9
Lecture: Collaboration, Transparency and Trust

In-class Activitiy:
Project presentation 

Corbett and C. A. Le Dantec Going the Distance: Trust Work for Citizen Participation, CHI 2018, ACM, 2018. 

Corbett and C. A. Le Dantec The Problem of Community Engagement: Disentangling the Practices of Municipal Government. CHI 2018, ACM, 2018.

Archon Fung and David Weil. 2010. Open government and open society. Open government: Collaboration, transparency, and participation in practice, 2010. 

Suzanne J Piotrowski and Gregg G Van Ryzin. 2007. Citizen attitudes toward transparency in local government. The American Review of Public Administration, 2007.
Week 11: Nov 16
Lecture: Collective Innovation

In-class Activitiy:
Project dicussion and reflection on feedback 

Visitor: Amy X. Zhang

Mark Klein. 2011. How to harvest collective wisdom on complex problems: An introduction to the mit deliberatorium. Center for Collective Intelligence working paper, 2011. 

Chris Le Dantec. Cover: Design Through Collective Action/Collective Action Through Design, interactions, 2017. 

Eric von Hippel. 2017. Free Innovation by Consumers–How Producers Can Benefit: Consumers’ free innovations represent a potentially valuable resource for industrial innovators. Research-Technology Management, 2017. 

Shirky, C. Collective Action and Institutional Challenges, pp. 143‐160 in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. New York: Penguin, 2008.
Week 12: Nov 23-No Class-Thanksgiving break
Week 13: Nov 30
Lecture: Wicked Problems and Digital Civics Challenges

Project deadline:
Wriiten report due 

Horst W. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. Planning problems are wicked. Polity 4, 1973. 

Donald A Norman and Pieter Jan Stappers. DesignX: Complex Sociotechnical Systems. She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 2016. 

Charles E Lindblom. 1959. The science of "muddling through". Public administration review, 1959. Charles E Lindblom. 1979. Still muddling, not yet through. Public administration review, 1979.
Week 14: Dec 7
Final Presentations

University policies and information

Accommodation Statement
The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to providing an equal educational opportunity for all students. If you have a documented physical, psychological, or learning disability on file with Disability Services (DS), you may be eligible for reasonable academic accommodations to help you succeed in this course. If you have a documented disability that requires an accommodation, please notify me within the first two weeks of the semester so that we may make appropriate arrangements.

Academic Honesty Statement
Since the integrity of the academic enterprise of any institution of higher education requires honesty in scholarship and research, academic honesty is required of all students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Academic dishonesty is prohibited in all programs of the University. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitating dishonesty. Appropriate sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty. Instructors should take reasonable steps to address academic misconduct. Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the appropriate course instructor as soon as possible. Instances of academic dishonesty not related to a specific course should be brought to the attention of the appropriate department Head or Chair. Since students are expected to be familiar with this policy and the commonly accepted standards of academic integrity, ignorance of such standards is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent (