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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Computer Science

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Narges Mahyar

Second Advisor

Ali Sarvghad

Third Advisor

Mohit Iyyer

Fourth Advisor

Sheelagh Carpendale

Subject Categories

Graphics and Human Computer Interfaces


The meteoric rise in the popularity of public engagement platforms such as social media, customer review websites, and public input solicitation efforts strives for establishing an inclusive environment for the public to share their thoughts, ideas, opinions, and experiences. Many decisions made at a personal, local, or national scale are often fueled by data generated by the public. As such, inclusive collection, analysis, sensemaking, and utilization of pubic-generated data are crucial to support the exercise of successful decision-making processes. However, people often struggle to engage, participate, and share their opinions due to inaccessibility, the rigidity of traditional public engagement methods, and the lack of options to provide opinions while avoiding potential confrontations. Concurrently, data analysts and decision-makers grapple with the challenges of analyzing, sensemaking, and making informed decisions based on public-generated data, which includes high dimensionality, ambiguity present in human language, and a lack of tools and techniques catered to their needs. Novel technological interventions are therefore necessary to enable the public to share their input without barriers and allow decision-makers to capture, forage, peruse, and sublimate public-generated data into concrete and actionable insights.

The goal of this dissertation is to demonstrate how human-centered approaches involve the stakeholders in the design, development, and evaluation of tools and techniques that can lead to inclusive, effective, and efficient approaches to public-generated data collection and analysis to support informed decision-making. To that end, in this dissertation, I first addressed the challenges of empowering the public to share their opinions by exploring two major opinion-sharing avenues --- social media and public consultation. To learn more about people's social media experiences and challenges, I built two technology probes and conducted a qualitative exploratory study with 16 participants. This study is followed up by exploring the challenges of inclusive participation during public consultations such as town halls. Based on a formative study with 66 participants and 20 organizers, I designed and developed CommunityClick to enable reticent share their opinions silently and anonymously during town halls. Equipped with the knowledge and experiences from these works, I designed, developed, and evaluated technologies and methods to facilitate and accelerate informed data-driven decision-making based on increased public-generated data. Based on interviews with 14 analysts and decision-makers in the civic domain, I built a visual analytics system CommunityClick that can facilitate public input analysis by surfacing hidden insights, people's reflections, and priorities. Leveraging the lessons learned during this work, I created a visual text analytics system that supports serendipitous discovery and balanced analysis of textual data to help make informed decisions.

In this work, I contribute an understanding of how people collect and analyze public-generated data to fuel their decisions when they have increased exposure to alternative avenues for opinion-sharing. Through a series of human-centered studies, I highlight the challenges that inhibit inclusivity in opinion sharing and shortcomings of existing methods that prevent decision-makers to account for comprehensive public input that includes marginalized or unpopular opinions. To address these challenges, I designed, developed, and evaluated a collection of interactive systems including CommunityClick, CommunityPulse, and Serendyze. Through a rigorous set of evaluation strategies which include creativity sessions, controlled lab studies, in-the-wild deployment, and field experiments, I involved stakeholders to assess the effectiveness and utility of the built systems. Through the empirical evidence from these studies, I demonstrate how alternative designs for social media could enhance people's social media experiences and enable them to make new connections with others to share opinions. In addition, I show how CommunityClick can be utilized to enable reticent attendees during public consultation to share their opinions while avoiding unwanted confrontation and allowing organizers to capture and account for silent feedback. I highlight how CommunityPulse allowed analysts and decision-makers to examine public input from multiple angles for an accelerated analysis and more informed decision-making. Furthermore, I demonstrate how supporting serendipitous discovery and balanced analysis using Serendyze can lead to more informed data-driven decision-making. I conclude the dissertation with a discussion on future avenues to expand this research including the facilitation of multi-user collaborative analysis, integration of multi-modal signals in the analysis of public-generated data, and potential adoption strategies for decision-support systems designed for inclusive collection and analysis of public-generated data.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.