Thesis title: Does use of the Internet further democratic participation? A comparison of citizens’ interactions with political representatives in the UK and Germany.
My doctoral research is an empirical analysis of German and UK e-democracy websites, assessing whether they bring in people not otherwise involved in political debate, or whether they simply reinforce the influence of those already active in politics.
The major concern driving this research is that political participation should be inclusive (ie people engaging in this activity should be representative of the population) but so far usually have not been. By taking a comparative perspective involving Germany and the UK this work aims to assess the potential of online-supported contacting for reducing biases in political participation patterns and in this way contributing to more equal political representation.
My research describes the development of patterns of participation in both Germany and the UK as well as between online and offline forms of contacting but also sets out to pin down the reasons that shape these patterns. My case studies are WriteToThem.com in the UK and Abgeordnetenwatch.de in Germany.
- For mySociety, a not-for-profit that is a major player in online democracy and citizen empowerment, I have been leading the evaluation efforts. This work includes surveys of users of TheyWorkForYou.com and WriteToThem.com. The reports have now been officially released and can be downloaded from the mySociety website.
- For the German Parliament (namely its Office of Technology Assessment) and Zebralog I have carried out an extensive survey of petitioners to evaluate the potential of the Bundestag’s ePetitions system.
- I have been responsible for setting up and managing the Oxford Experimental Lab (OXlab), a computer lab for social science experiments that is a collaboration between the Oxford Internet Institute and the Saïd Business School with a subject pool of about 1,500 participants.
- Together with Prof. Helen Margetts and the London School of Economics’ Public Policy Group led by Prof. Patrick Dunleavy we have been commissioned by the UK National Audit Office to evaluate the UK government’s online efforts. These have resulted in a number of reports that are available from www.governmentontheweb.org.
- In the past I have also worked on agenda setting in the blogosphere, trying to develop a methodology to assess whether bloggers rate topics independently from media. I also worked on the geography of friendship in the age of the Internet, basically investigating whether online communication (especially in the form of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook) has increased the geographic scope and scale of social relations. Previously my Master’s dissertation analysed the political motivations of the Free and Open Source software community.
Publications / Presentations
You can find a complete list of publications I have (co)authored and presentations I have given in the publications database of the Oxford Internet Institute.
- Summer Term 2008: seminar “Technologies of Freedom? Internet and Democracy” (24 SWS = hours) at Department for Communication Sciences, University of Bonn, Germany. For details see my related blog entry.
- Trinity Term 2008: tutorial session on “The Death of Distance” in social relations. See the reading list here.
- Spring 2005: Tutor for course “Statistics for Geography” for BSc Geographic Sciences at Freie Universität Berlin
- 1999-2000 & 2001: Visitor guide and assistant to educational services at Memorial Museum Ravensbrück
- meine-demokratie.de – This is a German project that translates as my-democracy and that I run together with friends from the NGO Netzdemokraten. It aims to provide a localized search engine for political participation opportunities that are automatically aggregate and geotagged. Its still under development but you can find the latest news here (only in German I’m afraid)
- Difficult Forms Checklist – For the UK National Audit Office I was tasked to set up online tool for rating the difficulty of government forms (for paper, online as well as phone). The toolkit is based on a guide that a team led by Professor Patrick Dunleavy from the LSE and Professor Helen Margetts from the Oxford Interet Institute developed for the National Audit Office and that underwent a consultation process within government. For some background see my blog post.
- SocSciBot2Pajek – A Perl script that converts link structure files collected with the SocSciBot crawler of Mike Thelwall into .net files for analysis with the social network analysis application Pajek. It also does some other useful stuff like creating a partition indicating the file types as well as producing a Pajek syntax file that will automatically compute some basic network statistics. You can download it here and let me know if you encounter any problems.
- WWW::Myspace – I contributed to the development of the Perl module WWW::Myspace that acts as an API to MySpace, helping you to get the (public!!) data from people’s profiles.
I have acted as a reviewer for the following journals: