Contentious social issues in a digital age

The researchers in this project want to contribute new scientific knowledge and new technical solutions to meet the need to increase engagement in contentious social issues and create constructive conversations about them.

The project is grounded in the need for greater dialogue between the state, industry and society at large, and the knowledge that the ongoing digital transition has radically changed the conditions in which this dialogue is conducted. Social debate takes place via various digital channels and forums on the internet, yet knowledge both of the opportunities and of the risks involved in digital communication processes remains very limited indeed.

This lack of knowledge applies particularly to the design of digital platforms, which governs interaction between participants and impacts the prospects of good discussions on contentious issues in various political contexts.

The aim of the project is to examine how the design of digital arenas impacts the quality and results of dialogue. The project is based on earlier research on participation and deliberation, in the sense of inclusive and constructive dialogues, in a digital context. More specifically, it is examining the relationship between platform design and the quality and results of the discussion in two controversial political areas concerning the green transition.

The study is centered on the current debate on green industries and human use of natural resources such as minerals and forests. The existence of goal conflicts, powerful interest groups, the emergence of new social movements, as well as far-reaching demands for corporate social responsibility and consultation with stakeholders, makes this field particularly interesting. 

The debate on the opening of new mines and the role played by forests in efforts to combat climate change has much to teach us about the optimal design of digital forums to support broad participation, good conversations, along with effective and legitimate collaborative processes to address contentious issues.

The research involves three stages. Stage 1 is to survey digital communication platforms in the interface between industry, public agencies and civil society.

Stage 2 is to design, analyze and evaluate digital arenas for communication on current issues relating to mining and forests. Content analyses contribute information on the nature of the dialogues; questionnaires and interviews provide information about participants’ perceptions of the processes and their results. Qualitative and quantitative methods are used to identify similarities and differences between approaches and political areas.

In stage 3 the researchers will be working in collaboration with colleagues and stakeholders to arrive at general conclusions and a model for digital arenas.

The study is multidisciplinary and is based on expertise in the fields of political science and information systems. It also involves collaboration with industry, public agencies and other stakeholders.

“From conflicts to understandings: designing online platforms to support inclusive and constructive dialogues on the green transition”

Principal investigator:
Professor Annica Sandström

Luleå University of Technology
Anna Ståhlbröst

Luleå University of Technology

SEK 4.1 million