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AI, Data and Digital City Governance

Project Description

Recent years have seen a surge of digital democratic innovations and the adoption of new forms of democratic engagement as governments across Europe have been struggling to cope with political realignment, increasing inequality, the rise of anti-democratic forces, as well as challenges specific to an emergent digital society, such as the political effects of online and social media, big tech dominance and increased public concerns about the ownership and use of private data. Open data initiatives began the process of opening government-held data to citizens and the digital transformation within government saw the expansion of online public services. However, much of the digital innovation agenda has so far been driven by local and municipal authorities, and existing research lacks a comprehensive framework for evaluating these recent developments.

This project is associated with the UKRI CDT in Accountable, Responsible and Transparent AI (ART-AI), which is looking for its first cohort of at least 10 students to start in September 2019. Students will be fully funded for 4 years (stipend, UK/EU tuition fees and research support budget). Further details can be found here:

The project will use computer science and social scientific concepts to analyse digital innovation in city governance across several European cities (Barcelona, Madrid, Amsterdam and Paris). It will evaluate the use of AI and open source software by city and municipal governments and the way new digital technologies and forms of data can be generated and used to enhance democratic governance. In doing so, it will contribute to knowledge and understanding in social science and computer science disciplines. The successful PhD applicant will be offered a placement in a London think-tank - The Centre for London – and will work together with the Centre’s research team to study the implications that the European findings have for the Greater London Area, and to develop a specific approach to using AI and machine learning for citizen engagement and democratic self-government in London.

Indicative questions, some of which the project may address, include:

1. How do new initiatives, partnerships and models of digital interaction between the public, private and academic spheres contribute to digital empowerment and allow cities to move away from technology-led agenda and develop new open hardware, software and business models?

2. Under which conditions do e-democracy and participatory budgeting successfully enable direct participation of citizens in local governance and integrates them in the decision-making process and lead to better services and infrastructure?

3. What are the social, political and technological forces that shape the new models of data generation, storage, management and transfer between the governments, the private sector, civic organizations and the public?

4. What methods and tools are used by the studied European city governments to move towards technological sovereignty and citizen ownership of data?

5. How can single APIs and open data platforms make good quality data available to business and citizens while guaranteeing privacy and protecting personal data through new technologies such as the blockchain?

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or good Upper Second Class Honours degree in a social science related subject, such as sociology, politics and/or geography. A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous.

In addition, applicants should have good quantitative skills, to enable them to take full advantage of the interdisciplinary training. Prior knowledge and work on computer-based decision-making would be an advantage, but is not essential. Students will receive training tailored to their background and project. This is likely to include: programming, digital data and advanced quantitative methods (social statistics), AI ethics, AI and government.

Informal enquiries about the project should be directed to Prof Nick Pearce on email address .

Enquiries about the application process should be sent to .

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Computer Science:

Start date: 23 September 2019.

Funding Notes

ART-AI CDT studentships are available on a competition basis for UK and EU students for up to 4 years. Funding will cover UK/EU tuition fees as well as providing maintenance at the UKRI doctoral stipend rate (£15,009 per annum for 2019/20) and a training support fee of £1,000 per annum.

We also welcome all-year-round applications from self-funded candidates and candidates who can source their own funding.

How good is research at University of Bath in Social Work and Social Policy?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 35.55

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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