design for democracy

Facilitating online democracy

Constructive design research as an approach to connect political science and HCI


My Roles
Ongoing master's thesis at Aalto University, Finland
UX (interview, design ethnography, prototyping & test, experiments, survey, experience visualization & communication)UI (Sketch, framer)Front-end development (Html, CSS, JS, NodeJS)


Constructive design research can be a trans-disciplinary approach serving as a bridge, which connects the silos of disciplines contributing to the burgeoning body of research addressing the global recession of democracy by resolving the stand-off between the side of political sciences and the side of HCI.

The research communities in political science and HCI share their own research interests and agenda, which have formed its path dependence that has made the communities slow to respond the current changes and problems which require cross-disciplinary effort to address. The research is an attempt to form a bridge by hand-on constructive practice.

Democratic online communication is a field which has a promising potential and interest to trigger cross-disciplinary cooperation. Online communication is truly one of the most prominent types our every day’s democratic practice, and it is apparent that its impact will be more significant as we rely unevenly on digital communication technologies. It is believed to be ongoing progress, which can hardly be reversed. Given the world has suffered from a prevalent decline of democracy, there has been a burgeoning boy of researches within the boundaries each academic communities dedicated to investigating the causes and implication in order to defend democracy. The boundary between the existing communities is, however, actually a ceiling limiting more critical contribution.

The current researches in political & social sciences have made a huge effort on studying democracy. Despite many theoretical frameworks and empirical indicators which have been developed, the studies often treat internet technologies and some particular platforms/service as a whole (Dahlberg, 2001; Wright, & Street, 2007; Wright, 2012; Chaudoin, S., Shapiro, J., & Tingley, D., Working Paper). As a result, the researches addressing the impact carried by their user interface and user experience in details are rarely seen. It is not a surprise that their researches generally don’t provide hands-on insight on how to move forward, instead, they explore, describe, and explain the political activities and political behavior which have been observable. Although the knowledge in political sciences has been proven valuable for us to understand the political world, those who would like to devote themselves to craft the experience of online democracy for the future may frustratedly find that further effort is still needed in order to apply the knowledge in their practice.

the scope of this research
The scope and the premise of this research

The counterpart in HCI addressing the political issues is on another side: their strength is mostly in that they analyze the existing user interface, or develop their own systems. The link between HCI studies and political sciences is rather blurry and sometimes appears to be formed arbitrarily. Most of the works simply applied the deliberative norm of democracy in their analysis, rather than thoughtfully discuss the potential of the other norms of democracy such as communitarian and individual liberalism (Dahlberg, 2001; Freelon, 2015). Although those researches have made a great contribution to the burgeoning body of political HCI research, this way of knowledge employment from political sciences fails to provide their insight, which can be very valuable, back to the field of political science. Moreover, the wider political contexts where the interactive systems situate have been also remained beyond the scope of research (Nelimarkka, manuscript).

Constructive design research may be an effective approach to connect the gap between them. By investigating the connection, and by revealing the interests of building up cross-disciplinary cooperation, the research aims to serve as an attempt to identify the potential. The research may also shed light on how an inter-disciplinary research community and a can be formed, and thus identify a shared research agenda amongst practitioners and researchers.

Constructive design research places design construction at the center place of research, and make it a key mean in constructing knowledge (Koskinen, Zimmerman, Binder, Redstrom, & Wensveen, 2011). In this research, this is taken as a fundamental conceptual framework rather than a fixed instruction for a set of practices. I would like to leverage this flexibility so as to employ various methods from different disciplines within the development process.

Expected outcome

The expected outcomes of this research are listed below:

A novel design proposal:

  • Facilitate democratic online engagement
  • Create the good user experience
  • Align with the business goals: content publishing with the blockchain technologies

Research through design:

  • An exploration on how to connect the researches in political science and HCI for facilitating better online democracy
  • A theoretical framework on how to operationalize the democratic values in an constructive design research
  • An exploration on how to involve behavior tracking techniques in human-centered design research and experimental political sciences

Help wanted

Any suggestion is more than welcome! Please don’t hesitant to contact me. I am also working on a page for documenting the progress of this work. It will be released by the end of February, 2019.

Last update: 2019-01-14.