Exploring Spatial Patterns of Guardianship Through Civic Technology Platforms

Date01 March 2019
Published date01 March 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Exploring Spatial Patterns
of Guardianship Through
Civic Technology Platforms
Reka Solymosi
Civic technologies levy advances in digital tools to promote civic engagement, giving people a voice
to participate in public decision-making. While democratizing participation, the use of such civic tech
also leaves behind a digital trace of the behavior of its users. This article uses such a digital trace to
explore spatial patterns in active guardianship of public space. Through mapping people’s partici-
pation in a platform for reporting neighborhood concerns (a form of digitally enabled guardianship),
the spatial range of guardianship is unpacked using exploratory spatial data analysis. Typologies for
guardianship behavior are then created using k-means clustering. Results provide an insight into the
heterogeneity of spatial behavior of different groups of guardians outside the home environment.
Guardians appear to not be limited to activity within a neighborhood, and instead cover a larger
awareness space with nodes and paths, and also show distinct patterns, indicating heterogeneity in
guardianship patterns. Recommendations are made to consider operationalizing guardians as
heterogeneous, and active in their entire activity space, rather than homogeneous groups assigned as
crime prevention forces to a residential area.
guardianship, civil tech, crowdsourcing, spatial patterns, neighborhood
Digital technologies designed for enabling citizens to hold governments to account are proliferating
at a steady rate around the world (Rumbul, 2015). Something can be considered civic tech, if it acts
to leverage digital tools to improve democratic governance toward more transparency, inclusion,
and participatory outcomes. This covers a range of activities, from “civic hackathons,” which are
participatory events for prototyping of innovative services through collaboration between citizens
and engineers toward addressing social issues (Shiramatsu, Tossavainen, Ozono, & Shintani, 2015),
to citizens who want information about government housing policies but lack the mobility to visit a
council office being able to request electronic copies to their homes (Rumbul, 2015). The growth in
adoption of these civic technologies has the potential to invigorate citizen engagement and broaden
School of Law, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom
Corresponding Author:
Reka Solymosi,School of Law, University of Manchester,Room 4.53 Williamson Building,Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL,
United Kingdom.
Email: reka.solymosi@manchester.ac.uk
Criminal Justice Review
2019, Vol. 44(1) 42-59
ª2018 Georgia State University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016818813428
public debate, while also leaving behind digital footprints of the active roles people take in their
communities. These developments provide researchers with unprecedented insight into social pro-
cesses relevant to the study of crime (Solymosi & Bowers, 2018). When the data thus generated
contain a geographic component, they can be used to explore spatial patterns in people’s activities.
This article makes use of such data to explore spatial patterns in the guardianship of public space.
Guardianship is a social process where people protect an environment by blocking crime oppor-
tunities (Cohen & Felson, 1979). For example, people who stay at home during the daytime might
act as guardians protecting their homes from burglary (Hollis-Peel, Reynald, van Bavel, Elffers, &
Welsh, 2011). Further, it is important for a guardian not only to be present but also have capacity and
willingness to intervene (Reynald, 2009). This form of active guardianship has been explored
relevant to guardianship inside the home but has not yet been applied to guardianship explored in
public space.
Data from civic technology platforms can be used to understand how people engage in a form of
digitally enabled guardianship. The spatial component of these data allows the mapping of guar-
dians’ activity spaces and to explore guardianship typologies. This has been done in prior work for
offenders and victims but not guardians. Instead, spatial exploration of guardianship has mostly been
approached by operationalizing guardianship in public plac es as an attribute of neighborhoods.
Traditionally, some spatial unit of analysis, such as a census block, is attributed a guardianship
score based on residents’ answers to survey questionnaires about willingness to intervene or col-
lective efficacy. However, it is possible that individuals can act as guardians outside their census
tract that they live in. Mapping individual-level guardianship in public spaces allows commentary on
how this behavior relates to traditional approaches to analysis of guardianship.
The contribution of this article therefore is 2-fold. First, exploratory spatial data analysis is used
to map individual-level spatial patterns in guardianship behavior, with reference to some measure of
neighborhood. Second, based on the spatial patterns of guardianship behavior, guardianship typol-
ogies are created to differentiate between different types of guardians who may have different types
of effects on crime opportunities in different areas. Results highlight diversity in people’s engage-
ment with guarding their physical environments, which means there should be consideration of
individual guardians and their reach beyond their home neighborhoods and that guardians, even
active guardians, should not be treated as one homogeneous group.
Theoretical Background
Civic Engagement and the Democratization of Data
People’s participation in online activities leaves behind a digital trace, available to researchers to
gain insight into their everyday experiences. For example, protesters are making use of new tech-
nologies of video streaming to engage more people with their cause (Melgaco, 2016). In this way,
protests are not only being registered but also broadcast in real time (Melgaco, 2016), allowing for
researchers to tap into these with little cost and observe events from across the world. Similarly,
smartphone applications are being used to record people’s experiences with outcomes such as
mental health (Bakolis et al., 2018) and fear of crime (Solymosi, Bowers, & Fujiyama, 2015). Data
from Twitter are commonly used, for example, to create a measure of “broken windows” using a text
classification procedure (Williams, Burnap, & Sloan, 2016), explore activity patterns to estimate
crime risk (Malleson & Andresen, 2015), or to explore the relationship between citizens and the
police (Lee, Mccormick, Spiro, & Cesare, 2015).
The rise of digitally engaged citizens has been facilitated through the emergence of “civic tech.”
Civic tech, short for civic technology, concentrates on how technology shapes how communities
govern, organize, serve, and identify matters of concern (Boehner & DiSalvo, 2016). T he
Solymosi 43

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