This research will design, develop, and evaluate novel smartphone applications that help youth explore and leverage their social networks to engage in collective action, and assess the impact of this action. From affiliation with social movements through the use of Twitter hashtags to collective organizing through Facebook, social computing tools have catalyzed new and exciting forms of civic engagement (efforts taken by individuals and collectives to address issues of societal concern). While historically it has been challenging to engage youth in civic action, social computing platforms offer a media-relevant way for youth to address issues that matter to them. However, despite increased opportunities for civic engagement online, youth can have difficulty navigating their social networks, which creates challenges for understanding and putting to use the social capital within networks, that is, the beneficial resources that can support collective action. This research examines how interactive visualizations of youth’s social networks can help youth more effectively understand and put to use the social capital within their networks. Such visualizations may support civic engagement by easing access to the rich and complex information about social ties, helping youth evaluate the impact they have through online civic action, preparing them to make effective decisions about future activities.

The work will include the design, development, and evaluation of two novel smartphone applications. Although there is a large literature on how best to visualize these networks from an algorithmic perspective, very little is known about how people, especially young people, interpret network visualizations, nor whether or when network visualizations may enhance access to and utilization of social capital. This project will contribute new empirical findings and novel software tools to fill this research gap. Additionally, although complex network data is increasingly packaged for public consumption, there are few standards for how to do so effectively, particularly in the context of mobile visualizations where small screen real estate dramatically amplifies the visualization challenge. The research will contribute new knowledge regarding how best to visualize network data for lay audiences, on the mobile platforms that people are increasingly using to interact with data. This work will yield empirical assessments of how designed interfaces can best manage the complexities of networked data in order to amplify cognition, action, and feelings of empowerment. This work will culminate in a conceptual framework to guide the design of social computing tools for youth civic engagement.

This project received a 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation.


  • Andrea Parker (Principal Investigator)
  • Brooke Foucault Welles (Co-Principal Investigator)
  • Catherine D’Ignazio (Co-Principal Investigator)
  • Farnaz Irannejad Bisafar

Research Video


Talks and Posters



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number #1815940. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.