Social Computing and Visualization Tools for Empowering the Public

April 7, 2022
3:00-4:00pm ET
Cummings 270, Zoom
Speaker: Narges Mahyar, UMass Amherst
Host: Fahad Dogar


Public participation is a pillar of a functioning democracy. Current technology for facilitating public participation has been focused on broadening access and data collection from the public. However, these technologies still face several challenges in democratizing public participation, especially for marginalized populations and integrating data analysis into civic decision-making processes. In this talk, I present examples of my recent work on building and studying social computing tools to democratize civic data collection and visualization techniques to empower the general public to understand and explore data around complex sociotechnical problems such as urban design and climate change. These examples demonstrate applications of 1) collaborative technologies and interactive visualization to increase public engagement, 2) low barrier technology to engage reticent participants to provide feedback during town hall meetings, 3) online platforms and crowdsourcing techniques to scale public participation and empower the public to contribute meaningfully in a short amount of time, and 4) visualization tools to enable civic leaders to make sense of a large amount of public input. I describe a vision for expanding my research by building novel tools and visualization techniques to empower the public to understand the data that is increasingly part of their lives and to be able to take a more active role in shaping civic policies.


Narges Mahyar is an Assistant Professor in the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Narges’s research falls at the intersection of visualization, social computing, and design with the goal of augmenting groups’ abilities to solve complex problems. She designs, develops, and evaluates novel social computing and visualization techniques that help people (both experts and non- experts) make better decisions. She holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Victoria, an MS in Information Technology from the University of Malaya, and a BS in Electrical Engineering from Tehran Azad University. She was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia from 2014 to 2016 and in the Design Lab at the University of California San Diego from 2016 to 2018. Her recognition in the field has been repeatedly confirmed through many accolades for her research, including two Best Paper awards from the ACM Conferences on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing 2020, and IEEE Conference on Visual Analytics Science and Technology 2014; an Outstanding Paper award from the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture 2017, and two Honorable Mention awards from the ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems 2021 and from Interactive Surfaces and Spaces 2016. Her research is supported by several NSF grants. She has served as a Program Co-Chair for ACM Creativity and Cognition and Fast Forward Co-Chair for IEEE VIS and served on several program committees for premier venues in her field.

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