Public engagement and policy-making in the era of big data

  • Emily Rempel

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Data design, collection, and use are increasingly part of public life in the United Kingdom. Policy-makers in particular are engaging with these kinds of data technologies to increase efficiencies and cut costs in public service provision. Data technologies are subsequently increasingly important in mediating the processes and relationships of communities, citizens, and government. This thesis aims to examine how publics and policy-makers can engage with emerging data technologies in the context of local and national government in the UK. The objectives are as follows. First, to summarise and evaluate the current research and state of government public engagement with data technologies. Second, to scrutinise the current use of data technologies in government through qualitative semi-structured interviews and other qualitative methods. And third, to examine the potential for new forms of public data engagement in government through qualitative workshops and analysis of public views on government and data technologies. This thesis uses a mixed methods approach, which is primarily qualitative, to explore these objectives including a narrative literature review, ethnography, semi-structured interviews, story completion exercises, focus groups and statistical modelling through difference mediation analysis. Key findings include, first, that current public engagement practice on government data use is often limited in topic and form. For example, small-group discussions on public views of privacy that have no clear line to impact policy change. Second, that data use in government is subject to political motivation that generally takes the form of narrative testing. And third that public engagement in the era of big data in government must focus both on means and ends. Government must move beyond a model of seeing ‘the public’ as a roadblock on the way to civic datafication and instead as an integral part of debating the components of ethical and socially relevant data practice.
Date of Award6 Nov 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorJulie Barnett (Supervisor) & Hannah Durrant (Supervisor)


  • Thesis
  • Rempel
  • Public engagement
  • Big Data
  • Data science
  • Public Policy
  • Government
  • policy
  • Qualitative
  • Feminism

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