Expanding on our work on advancing civic participation in data governance, we are currently exploring further ways in which people engage with, and intervene into, the increasing deployment of data systems and AI in the public sector. Funded by the Open Society Foundations, this 2-year project (2021-23) investigates the impact of datafication on marginalised communities and their responses, both in the Global North and the Global South. The project is run by three of the Data Justice Lab’s co-directors – Arne Hintz, Joanna Redden and Emiliano Trere – and our research assistant Jess Brand.
The drive towards data collection and use is shaping power dynamics in society. Across social life, the turn to data-driven systems is now a key component in our ability to participate in society and has reconfigured state-corporate-citizen relations. The Data Justice Lab has analysed this development and its multifaceted implications, for example through its previous research on the use of data analytics in the public sector. We have illustrated the ways in which public services are increasingly engaging in what we call citizen scoring by making use of data-driven systems to sort, categorise, assess and profile citizens with the view to allocate resources and engage with individuals. We have demonstrated the challenges to democracy that emerge from this trend, including both a lack of transparency and accountability and more fundamental questions about the future of the welfare state, and the difficulties for citizens to engage with this fundamental re-organisation of their relation to the state and their positioning in society. As a consequence, we have analysed avenues for civic participation and intervention in increasingly datafied and automated forms of governance, exploring promising mechanisms for enhancing people’s voices, but also highlighting many limitations and obstacles which lead to serious challenges for the future of democracy in a datafied society.
Democratisation from the Ground Up
While our previous research on participation has focused on institutional practices and innovations, this project has a stronger focus on the needs and experiences of impacted communities. How do we ground participation in the understandings of those who are on the receiving end of increased automation? What are ways to organise around the lives of affected communities? How do we thus elevate marginalised experiences and perspectives in the context of datafication? And how do such experiences in the UK (as our own institutional home) compare with those in other parts of the world, incl. the Global South?