There is no doubt that developments in digital technologies have changed the way daily activities are carried out by many. Digital technologies have also impacted how citizen engagement practises are conducted. Digital citizen engagement platforms have had significant influence on data collection methods. In what ways? Here we present 3 areas where digital engagement platforms bring advantages for data collection: inclusivity, accessibility, and representativeness.
Inclusion in relation to data collection processes “refers to the opportunity and ability of all participants to equally contribute to the process” (Hofmann et al. 2020:5). Factors like gender, education, age, and wealth are some of the characteristics that need to be considered to create a more inclusive process (Hofmann et al. 2020:5). Digital technologies allow to gather data from more participants and include groups from different backgrounds. Digital tools make it easier to involve more diverse groups, organisations are enabled “to reach new socio-demographic profiles such as young people and families, and [digital technologies are] therefore a way of amplifying unheard voices” (Hasler et al. 2017:235). Digital tools may employ functions like translation of content which reduces language barriers allowing to collect data from different nationalities.
Digital engagement platforms can provide the possibility for participants to answer surveys or submit opinions as anonymous users, which ensures their privacy (Hasler et al. 2017:237). Compared to traditional face-to-face data collection methods such a function can improve inclusion, as people who would have not participated before might now be inclined to voice their opinion when they can choose not to disclose their identity.
Digital technologies have had a direct impact on accessibility of data collection. Digital engagement tools which can be accessed on phones or computers make it possible to involve significantly more citizens (Hofmann et al. 2020, Wilson et al. 2019) than traditional non-digital methods. Digital platforms or apps can be accessed anytime anywhere both by the administrators and the users. The fact that more people can be reached easier and faster minimises resources such as time and money. Physical workshops, interviews or calls become not needed, time and money resources are reduced as there is no need to spend time on finding spaces for workshops, hiring coordinators for them, and less time is used for inviting participants. Traditional face-to-face data collection in the case of municipalities often occurs as town hall meetings, which are time and space specific, making engagement less accessible for everyone especially in large cities (Hofmann et al. 2020:2).
On the other hand, digital platforms are limited in their access as well. Users must own digital tools that allow them to access the platforms as well as have competences to use digital technologies. This produces limits for data collection as “the technical and informational literacy of participants is a critical factor, meaning certain demographic groups are less proficient in using digital media than others” (Hofmann et al. 2020:5) and as such then become excluded from the sample.
Another important aspect for quality of collected data is representativeness. The sample of participants has to “be representative of the population affected by the project or design” (Hofmann et al. 2020:4). This relates to the aspect of inclusivity – the process of data collection has to be inclusive in order for the sample to properly represent the population. The participants in the sample have to be represented proportionally to socio-demographic groups within the population, for instance based on characteristics like socio-economic status, education, place of residence, age, or gender (Hofmann et al. 2020:4). One way of improving representativeness is to use more communication channels for gathering participants for the study and to access channels used by various socio-demographic groups (Hofmann et al. 2020.:4).
Digital platforms provide an advantage for improving representativeness as they are able to reach vider and more diverse audiences because of easier accessibility. Also, some groups might feel more free to participate as they are less intimidated to voice their opinions compared to direct contact of in-person methods (Hofmann et al. 2020.:5).
What does it mean ?
Using digital engagement platforms allows you to improve inclusivity, accessibility, and representativeness in data collection, which in turn can help organisations to make better and more data-driven decisions and empower citizens.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand that while digital platforms provide some advantages, they are limited in other ways. This is why “digital tools should not replace other practices. Instead, they should be regarded as a new layer of knowledge” (Hasler et al. 2017:238). Thus digital platforms should be used in combination with other methods to provide the best results.
If you are ready to expand your way of working and to start employing digital tools for citizen engagement and data collection, check out WeSolve’s mobile app!
- Hasler, S., Chenal, J., Soutter, M. 2017. Digital Tools as a Means to Foster Inclusive, Data- informed Urban Planning. Civil Engineering and Architecture, 5(6), 230-239, DOI:10.13189/cea.2017.050605
- Hofmann, M., Münster, S., Noennig, J. R. 2020. A Theoretical Framework for the Evaluation of Massive Digital Participation Systems in Urban Planning. Journal of Geovisualization and Spatial Analysis, 4(3), 1-12, DOI:10.1007/s41651-019-0040-3
- Wilson, A., Tewdwr-Jones, M., Comber, R. 2019. Urban planning, public participation and digital technology: App development as a method of generating citizen involvement in local planning processes. Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, 46(2), 286-302, DOI:10.1177/2399808317712515