Digital Civics

COMPSCI 592C, 3 Credits, Fall 2018
Time: Fridays 10:10am-12:10pm
Location: Room 140, Computer Science Building

Instructor: Narges Mahyar
Office: Room 322, Computer Science Building


Digital Civics is an emerging cross-disciplinary area that explores new ways to utilize technology for promoting public participation in the design and delivery of civic services. Digital civics empowers the public to take a more active role in important civic decisions.

In this course, students will learn key concepts and background on HCI for digital civics, read and discuss key papers, case studies and digital civics systems that question conventional models of public participation. Students will present papers, participate in group discussions, and carry out research projects in teams.

Topics include human-computer interaction, research methods for digital civics, social computing, citizen science, collective intelligence, and community sourcing.

There is no required textbook for the course. Readings will be posted with the associated lectures.

Course Origins
This course draws on reading lists and syllabi from prior courses on designing community engagement, crowdsourcing, and HCI. The most direct inspiration comes from an undergraduate research group I co-led (along with Steven Dow) at University of California San Diego during 2016-2018. The course also borrows from Steven Dow’s course on Crowdsourcing, and Chris Le Dantec’s course on Designing Community Engagement.

This course is for junior and senior Computer Science majors who have programming experience by passing either COMPSCI 220 or 230 and familiarity with HCI principles. Email me directly, If you are passionate about the subject but don’t meet the requiremnets.


Students must complete weekly readings and participate in discussions. Each student will do a series of assignments to gain familiarity with digital civics and available technologies. In addition students will work in a group of 2-3  to design and prototype a course project.


This class will involve a great amount of discussion with time devoted to lecture, in-class activities, student presentations, and research crits. Grades will reflect participation and performance on paper presentations, discussions, and projects.

Attendance is required. Students are expected to arrive at class on time, participate during in-class activities and discussions, and be a good team member. As a show of respect to fellow students, laptops and cellphones should remain off unless the instructor explicitly permits them for class activities. During crits, students are expected to offer constructive criticism on their classmates’ work. If students must miss class for an excusable reason, get permission IN ADVANCE from the instructor and keep teammates informed.

Grading breakdown
10% Paper presentations (~3 papers per semester)
10% In-class discussions (1-2 papers per week)
10% Activity in online forum (every paper where you are not signed up as presenter or discussant)
40% Final research project
20% Final report

Team peer evaluation can influence an individual student’s grade by up to 10% (-5% to +5%).

Poor attendance can also decrease an individual student’s grade by up to 10% (one letter grade).


This schedule is subject to change. Readings will be posted shortly.

Week 1: Sept 7
Topic: Introduction to Digital Civics
Week 2: Sept 14
Topic: Digital Civics in practice
Week 3: Sept 21
Topic: HCI for digital civics
Week 4: Sept 28
Topic: Wicked problems and Digital Civics challenges
Week 5: Oct 5-No Class-VL/HCC 2018 Confrence
Week 6: Oct 12
Topic: Designing for civics
Week 7: OCT 19
Topic: Crowdsourcing for addressing complex problems
Week 8: Oct 26-No class-IEEE VIS 2018 conference
Week 9: Nov 2
Topic: Engagement and motivation
Week 10: Nov 9
Topic: Collaboration, transparency and trust
Week 11: Nov 16
Topic: Collective innovation
Week 12: No Class-Thanksgiving break
Week 13: Nov 30
Topic: Sensemaking and decision making
Week 14: Dec 7
Final presentations
University policies and information

Accommodation Statement
The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to providing an equal educational opportunity for all students. If you have a documented physical, psychological, or learning disability on file with Disability Services (DS), you may be eligible for reasonable academic accommodations to help you succeed in this course. If you have a documented disability that requires an accommodation, please notify me within the first two weeks of the semester so that we may make appropriate arrangements.

Academic Honesty Statement
Since the integrity of the academic enterprise of any institution of higher education requires honesty in scholarship and research, academic honesty is required of all students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Academic dishonesty is prohibited in all programs of the University. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and facilitating dishonesty. Appropriate sanctions may be imposed on any student who has committed an act of academic dishonesty. Instructors should take reasonable steps to address academic misconduct. Any person who has reason to believe that a student has committed academic dishonesty should bring such information to the attention of the appropriate course instructor as soon as possible. Instances of academic dishonesty not related to a specific course should be brought to the attention of the appropriate department Head or Chair. Since students are expected to be familiar with this policy and the commonly accepted standards of academic integrity, ignorance of such standards is not normally sufficient evidence of lack of intent (