Tag Archives: public participation

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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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.

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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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Digital democracy – CFP for the RGS annual conference

three women standing near man holding smartphones

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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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New paper on ecologies of participation

ERSS paperI’m thrilled to be part of a new paper, with my colleagues Jason Chilvers and Tom Hargreaves, which is just out in Energy Research and Social Science. The paper is entitled ‘Ecologies of participation in socio-technical change: The case of energy system transitions’ and is the first academic paper to come out of our UKERC-funded project ‘Remaking Energy Participation‘. It reports on the results of the systematic mapping of energy participation in the UK 2010-2015 which I carried out. In particular it highlights the broader patterns or ‘ecologies’ of participation which we found by doing this mapping, and draws conclusions about the big picture of energy participation in emerging UK energy transitions. We argue that this shows that certain forms of participation – particularly opinion surveys and behaviour change – are valued over others – for example, protests or arts projects. There are also many unacknowledged connections between different examples of participation, for example in the models of engagement used, the topics covered/ or excluded, or the participants involved. The paper demonstrates that by trying to take account of this broader ecology of participation we can produce better evidence for energy transitions, and might view and intervene in examples of energy participation quite differently.

A plain-English briefing paper reporting on the results of this mapping work is available here.

New paper on organisational learning and participation

At the end of September I had a new paper published in the journal Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, based on my PhD research on organisational learning in the UK Government’s public dialogue body Sciencewise. I was particularly proud to see this little labour of love come out as it tries to give people an insight into my ethnographic work in an around Sciencewise’s public dialogue exercises on science policy. This is, as far as I am aware, the first extended ethnography of an organisation of participation which has been carried out. I also got to play around a bit with theories of space and learning, which I think was productive.

Transactions paperThe paper is available to read open access here.

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Mapping UK energy participation

Our new UK Energy Research Centre report is now available to download from the UKERC website. This report summarises the findings from the systematic mapping of UK energy participation 2010-2015 which I carried out in 2016 in collaboration with my colleagues Jason Chilvers and Tom Hargreaves. As far as I am aware this is the first project which has attempted to map participation related to energy in this way, and this work has brought up a whole host of new insights about public engagement and the energy system.


Photo from the UK Government’s Low Carbon Communities Challenge process which was carried out 2010-2011

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RGS-IBG CFP Decolonising geographies of democracy and participation

I currently have a call for papers out for a panel at the Royal Geographical Society’s Annual International Conference this summer on the topic of ‘Decolonising geographies of democracy and participation’. This is my response to the events of 2016 – including Brexit and Trump – focussing on what this means for how we think about democracy and participation. I was troubled by some of the assumptions which were being made about democracy, participation and the public through these events and the response to these events, so I have created a space to think about and debate this more deeply. I’m also using this as an opportunity to pursue my growing interest in post-colonial and feminist perspectives on citizens and subjects.

Please do share this with anyone who you think might be interested, and I’m also very interested to hear your thoughts and collect suggested readings around this topic.



London protest against the Brexit campaign, image from BBC newsbeat

Call for Papers: RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, London, Tuesday 29th August – Friday 1st September 2017

Session: Decolonising geographies of democracy and participation

Convener: Dr Helen Pallett (University of East Anglia)

Sponsored by the Participatory Geographies Research group (PyGyRg) of the RGS-IBG

The events of 2016, from Brexit to Trump’s victory in the US election, have led many to claim that democracy is in crisis (e.g. Levitsky & Ziblatt, 2016). In particular, the project of multiculturalism has been held up by Western commentators and theorists of democracy, such as Jürgen Habermas (discussed in Bhambra, 2016), as a potential threat to genuine democratic participation and as fuel for right wing populism (cf. Lentin, 2016; Wilson, 2016). Post-colonial perspectives counter that these arguments fail to recognise the long histories of global interconnectedness through the European imperial project, which laid the foundations of liberal democratic institutions and practices (Bhambra, 2015; Jazeel, 2011).

These ‘democracy in crisis’ arguments are often based upon universalising and fixed models of democracy and assumptions about the public. For example, deliberative democratic theories are widely evoked, envisaging a harmonious deliberative public sphere enabled by a relatively homogenous and well-informed populous. Though, agonistic theories of democracy are also evoked and equally make normative assumptions about democracy and the public, emphasising discord and debate. By perpetuating fixed assumptions about democracy, participation and the public, these kinds of approaches fail to recognise the relational and interconnected way in which democratic practices and ideals are produced – discursively, spatially, materially and institutionally – and the global diversity of existing ways of understanding and practicing democratic participation. Furthermore, these fixed assumptions shape the way in which we study and intervene in democratic practices, potentially excluding certain knowledges and bodies (Spivak, 1988) and foreclosing what can be said or done within such processes (Chilvers & Kearnes, 2016).

To begin this project of decolonising geographies of democracy and participation, contributions to this panel could:

  • explore what is excluded and marginalised by these dominant and universalising perspectives on democracy;
  • seek to challenge them by exploring the global diversity of ideas about and practices of democratic participation, and drawing on insights from post-colonial and feminist theories;
  • follow the connections, flows and interdependencies of particular ideas about and practices of democratic participation;
  • or propose methodological innovations which can help geographers to do participation and democracy in a decolonial way.

Please email proposed titles and abstracts (250 words) or any questions you have to Helen Pallett (h.pallett[at]uea.ac.uk) by 10th February. The format of the session(s) will be the presentation of 4-5 selected papers each lasting 15 minutes.


Bhambra, G.K., 2016. Whither Europe? Interventions, 18(2), pp.187–202.

Bhambra, G.K., 2015. Citizens and Others: The Constitution of Citizenship through Exclusion. Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 40(2), pp.102–114.

Chilvers, J. & Kearnes, M., 2016. ‘Participation in the Making: Rethinking public engagement in co-productionist terms’ pp 31-63 in Remaking Participation: Science, Environment and Emergent Publics Chilvers and Kearnes (eds) London: Routledge-Earthscan.

Jazeel, T. 2011. Spatializing Difference Beyond Cosmopolitanism: rethinking planetary futures. Theory Culture & Society, 28(5), 75-97.

Lentin, A. 2016. The ‘Crisis of Multiculturalism’ and the Global Politics of Trumpism. Sociological Review blog site. 4th December 2016. Available at: https://www.thesociologicalreview.com/blog/the-crisis-of-multiculturalism-and-the-global-politics-of-trumpism.html

Levitsky, S. & Ziblatt, D. 2016. Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy? New York Times. December 16th 2016. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/16/opinion/sunday/is-donald-trump-a-threat-to-democracy.html

Spivak, G.C., 1988. Can the Subaltern Speak? Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, pp.271–312.

Wilson, H. F. 2016. Brexit: on the rise of ‘(in)tolerance’. Society and Space blog site. 21st October 2016. Available at: http://societyandspace.org/2016/11/21/brexit-on-the-rise-of-intolerance/


Book Review: Publics and Their Health Systems: Rethinking Participation by Ellen Stewart

Publics and their health systemsMy review of Ellen Stewart’s excellent new book ‘Publics and their health systems: rethinking participation’ was published on the LSE Review of Books on 11th May 2016. In the review I reflect on the broader move towards systemic accounts of public participation in the participation literature. I’m looking forward to some productive conversations on this topic with Ellen and others in future as we are trying to do a similar thing in our UK Energy Research Centre project on public participation in and around UK energy transitions.

The review can be accessed via the link below.

Book Review: Publics and Their Health Systems: Rethinking Participation by Ellen Stewart