This research project was made up of three separate but related strands: expert interviews, a literature review, and a quantitative survey.
A series of in-depth interviews were conducted with experts and stakeholders to explore the scope of this issue in more detail, prioritise various aspects of the problem for future research and identify key potential collaborators for further research.
Thirty-five in-depth interviews were undertaken with a selection of experts, stakeholders and users drawn from the following sectors.
Policy and official
Academics, researchers and experts
The interviews were recorded and transcribed and analysed using a hybrid of content and grounded analysis in which some broad themes were used as a starting framework for the analysis, but amended and altered based on the themes that emerged from the data as the analysis progressed.
The full report on the interviews can be accessed here: Qualitative Survey Report PDF.
The literature was conducted in two parts, one looking at the nature of the opportunities and threats to democracy from digital media, and the other looking at the evidence as to effective solutions and responses.
Part one: Opportunities and Threats
In this narrative literature review, we sought to describe, from the most recent literature (searches were limited to research published in the last eight years and most are within five), what the nature of the opportunities and threats are to democracy from developments in digital media.
We asked two research questions:
What are the specific opportunities digital media presents for improving democratic participation?
What are the current threats/barriers that are in place to prevent achieving those opportunities?
A non-systematic narrative review was chosen with a view to summarising the themes that have been covered in terms of opportunities and problems (risks and threats). Searches were limited to research published in the last eight years (most are within five).
In total, 110 documents were reviewed including journal articles, reports and book chapters.
Part Two: Solutions
Following on from the review of the literature identifying the opportunities and threats that digital media pose to an inclusive and participatory democracy (Part One), we undertook a review to identify tested and workable solutions to realising the potential of digital media and/or overcoming current threats.
A non-systematic narrative review was chosen with a view to summarising the evidence. Searches were limited to research published in the last eight years (most are within five). It was not an exhaustive review, but in general we found a dearth of empirically tested solutions. This is not surprising given the relatively slow response of government and other public institutions (from where such research would most logically be situated and or funded) to the threats from digital media.
The review is presented in three parts: 1) the empirical evidence on workable solutions to threats to democracy from digital media, 2) a summary of recommendations found in the literature and 3) a brief discussion of some activities identified in New Zealand
The third component of this research was an online survey among a nationally representative sample of New Zealanders aged 18 years and over. The survey was designed to elicit the views and experiences of people using social media and digital platforms relevant to democracy (e.g. participating in debates about issues of public policy on social media.)
1,000 people were surveyed, weighted to accurately reflect the New Zealand population in relation to region, age, gender and ethnicity. Fieldwork was carried out from the 27th of September to 2nd of October 2018.
The full report on the survey can be accessed here: Quantitative Survey Report PDF.