Talk at STIS, Edinburgh, 3rd Feb 2020: ‘Public (participation) observatories and responsible innovation’

I’m looking forward to visiting STIS (Science, Technology & Innovation Studies) in Edinburgh next week to give an invited seminar. It will be a great opportunity to catch up with new friends, meet some new faces and try out some of my emerging work on ‘public observatories’ with a specialist audience. The seminar is open to all and will be held 15.00-17.00 on 3rd February 2020 in the Violet Laidlaw Room, CMB, 6th Floor. The title and abstract are below.


Public (participation) observatories and responsible innovation

This talk will explore and offer justification for the recently proposed models for public participation in science and technology policy collectively referred to as ‘public observatories’. While a number of different models have been proposed, a common thread in these approaches is the aim of monitoring and mapping diverse forms of public engagement around a given issue space or area of technological innovation. In contrast to the one-off, institution-led processes of public engagement generally advocated in toolkits for responsible research and innovation (RRI), this approach instead speaks to an understanding of public participation as taking place within a wider interrelating system or ecology. I will argue that public observatories have the potential to offer a significantly better evidence base to policymaking and RRI processes, by providing a more complex and dynamic picture of relevant citizen views and actions. In particular, this approach goes beyond the typical focus in RRI-related public engagement on immediately controversial topics to also encompass more mundane engagements and views, while also allowing for an exploration of potential alternatives to a proposed decision or technology. Throughout the talk I will draw on two examples of public observatories which are currently in development: the Societal Engagement with Energy Observatory which is a core capability of the fourth phased of the UK Energy Research Centre; and the ‘Just Public Algorithms’ project which is mapping public engagement with the adoption of algorithms in UK public services.

Funded PhD position on ‘Democracy in transit’

There is a fully-funded PhD position currently advertised for the project ‘Democracy in transit: The circulation, adaptation and appropriation of democratic practices in environmental policy’ which will be lead supervised by me with support from my colleague Professor Jason Chilvers. This project builds on recent scholarship in Science and Technology Studies (STS) which has looked at the travel and translation of different ‘technologies of participation’ into new contexts, and brings it into conversation with recent work in Human Geography on policy mobilities. The project is suitable for candidates with a background in human geography, sociology and political science. For more information about this position and how to apply see here. We’re planning for a September 2020 start, with an application deadline of 30th January 2020.

I very much welcome inquiries from interested candidates – I’m very happy to give more details on the thinking behind this project outline, and to try to give you a sense of what it would be like to work with Jason and I over the next 3 years. The successful candidate would become a member of the 3S Research Group and through that would get to know all of the wonderful people who are part of this grouping, as well as being based in the ‘World-leading’ and interdisciplinary School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. There would be lots of opportunities to get involved with other activities related to research, teaching and impact for those who are interested.

Below is the full project advert text.

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Digital Democracy RGS panel

Smart watchI am running a panel at this week’s Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers Annual Conference in London on the topic of digital democracy. I’m really exciting about this double session panel for a number of reasons, not least because I’ve long been curious to hear other geographer’s perspectives on this contested object of digital democracy, and because of the range of different cases, topics, domains and framings being used across these 8 presentations. See full details of the sessions below:

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Research Associate on ‘Just Public Algorithms’

We have a 6 month 0.5FTE research associate post available in the 3S research group at the University of East Anglia, UK, on the Just Public Algorithms project. The successful candidate will work with me and Professor Jason Chilvers of the 3S research group, as well as the participation NGO Involve UK. The project is funded as part of the EPSRC Not Equal network+.


The project will produce the most comprehensive picture yet of citizen responses to the ways in which algorithms are being adopted in and around UK public services, from welfare payments to policing, healthcare and immigration. More broadly it will suggest a roadmap for the responsible and transparent governance of these technologies and approaches. The primary duties of the research associate will be to carry out the literature review and mapping work around the use of algorithms in public services in the UK and the ways in which citizens are engaging with these developments, with support and supervision from me and Jason Chilvers. This work will be primarily desk-based using conventional systematic review methodologies but may also involve some scoping interviews or the use of digital methods. The research associate will also feed into a stakeholder workshop concerning the responsible future governance of these approaches and help to write the briefing note and academic paper produced at the end of the project.

Not Equal logo

Essential criteria include: Postgraduate research qualifications in Science and Technology Studies or related fields, or equivalent experience; Ability to communicate complex information clearly, both orally and in writing; Ability to organise own time and work, to meet deadlines, and manage competing priorities.

The post is available to start on 1 October 2019 on a part time (0.5 FTE) basis for a fixed term period of 6 months.

See here for the particulars of the post and to apply. The closing date for applications is 3rd September.

Please do get in touch with me if you would like to discuss this position.

New paper: Mapping participation

rawpixel-658249-unsplashI’ve had a new paper, written with my colleagues Jason Chilvers and Tom Hargreaves, published in the journal Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. The paper is entitled ‘Mapping participation: A systematic analysis of diverse public participation in the UK energy system‘ and is one of the major papers from our work on the remaking energy participation project as part of phase 3 of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).

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Book review of ‘Democratic Experiments’ by Brice Laurent

Democratic ExperimentsI have a book review out in the Journal of Responsible Innovation of Brice Laurent’s ‘Democratic Experiments: problematizing nanotechnology and democracy in Europe and the United States‘, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press, 2017, pp. 261.

It’s a fantastic book which rewards close reading, with lots of useful insights into the governance of emerging technologies and the object of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). Laurent proposes the very useful concept of ‘critical constitutionalism’, which I summarised the review as “the need to conduct analysis in the midst of processes of problematization of technologies and democracy – rather than waiting until everything is settled and stabilised”. This is a disposition I will definitely be taking forward in future work.

The full review is available here, and I can also provide a pre-print version to anyone who is interested in reading it.

Digital democracy – CFP for the RGS annual conference

three women standing near man holding smartphones

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about digital participation and digital democracy lately, and hope to be able to do more writing on this topic and get some projects off the ground in 2019. I’m also hoping to connect with others with similar interests – thus this call for papers for the RGS annual conference in London this summer (28th-30th August). I’m also thrilled that the Digital Geographies Research Group of the RGS-IBG has agreed to sponsor this session at this year’s conference!

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