Faculty Recruiting Support CICS

CICS/SPP Research Team Awarded UMass Institute of Diversity Sciences Grant

Illustration: Diverse crowd of people in the shape of a word bubble

UMass Amherst College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) Assistant Professor Narges Mahyar, Assistant Research Professor Ali Sarvghad, and Associate Professor Ethan Zuckerman (jointly appointed with the School of Public Policy), along with Distinguished Professor Jane Fountain of the School of Public Policy, have received a seed grant from the UMass Amherst Institute of Diversity Sciences (IDS) for a project investigating whether digital technologies can help increase public participation in municipal government and civic life.

“Community engagement is imperative for participatory democracy, yet difficult to achieve,” the researchers say in a description of the project. “Participating in town halls and public meetings can be difficult for all citizens—and poses particular challenges for diverse and marginalized populations. Some of these challenges include participants’ apprehension towards confrontation, lack of confidence in articulating viewpoints, shyness, discussions hijacked by outspoken individuals, and lack of time.”

Mahyar has developed several community-centered tools to address those problems. For this project, the researchers plan to use the CommunityClick tool previously developed by Mahyar and Sarvghad, which allows community members to silently and anonymously participate in public discussions in real time, and a social network that allows community engagement during and after public meetings.

The research team will implement the tools and collect data in the city of Holyoke and the town of Amherst. Using the data, they will analyze whether the digital tools led to more equitable participation in local government, looking closely at the relationships between civic participation and gender, race, education, and ethnicity. The results will be used to inform the development of new technologies to support equitable participation. The team also plans to expand the project to other communities.

The group is one of three teams awarded grants by the Institute of Diversity Sciences, which supports research in the areas of learning and work, health, and climate change as they relate to STEM and equity. “We are excited to see such high-impact and wide-ranging multidisciplinary research projects to advance equity,” IDS Director Nilanjana Dasgupta said in announcing this year’s grant winners.

This story was originally published by the UMass Amherst School of Public Policy with assistance from the UMass Amherst Office of News and Media Relations.