Citizenship and public spaces


Our contemporary digital society has re-shaped citizenship, governments, as well as everyday public spaces, both for better and worse.

Citizens are developing and making use of new communication repertoires to raise their voices and weigh-in on everyday decisions making processes. For example, new movements rely on people’s digitally social sharing on social media, in which private actions can become political and public (e.g., MeToo Movement). At the same time there is also a shift towards new public services which causes governments to explore and develop new web-based services and data-driven interaction models (e.g. digital twins, linked open data infrastructure, e-government). The physical and digital are also increasingly entangled, hereby redefining physical public spaces. For example, smart city initiatives that aim to improve urban transportation.

Unfortunately, systematic inequalities when using digital media sources are becoming a growing problem, at which the digital divide manifests and strengthens itself. Hence, not all citizens have access to digital media or have the means and skills to raise their voices. Other societal issues emerge as well, including the spreading of misinformation or the presence of algorithmically amplified echo chambers. In addition, new public spaces could also result in mass surveillance systems that violate individuals’ data protection and privacy rights.


It is imec-mict-UGent's mission to empower citizens in a digital society. We investigate the opportunities, pitfalls, and resources of citizens to participate in online and offline publics spaces, as well as the role of the government and other actors in facilitating managerial, consultative, and participatory tasks. We aim to include vulnerable and underrepresented civic populations and overall seek to develop socially responsible, ethical, and technically feasible technologies, policies, public spaces in line with citizens' practices, norms, and values.

Research Pillars 

At imec-mict-UGent, we: 

  1. Critically examine new forms of digital activism, political engagement and media literacy  
  2. Analyze the role of new technologies (e.g. news algorithms) and the larger political economy in which these are embedded. 
  3. Explore how digital technologies could support actors (e.g., governments, news media) in their managerial, consultative and participatory roles online  
  4. Put forward a participatory action research approach and citizen-centric design when developing technologies in public spaces 
  5. Experiment in public spaces (e.g., urban living labs, hackable cities) and involve representatives from all members of society (public authorities, industry, academia, and citizens)