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Understanding America’s Interested Bystander: A Complicated Relationship with Civic Duty

Kate Krontiris
Chris Chapman
Google, Mountain View, CA (2015)


Among those who are interested in improving democracy in the United States, a question that often comes up is how to engage the unengaged. To support the broader ecosystem of individuals and institutions working hard to make our civic life more inclusive and meaningful, we sought to contribute to these efforts by undertaking needed and detailed user research about the attitudes and behaviors of average Americans. In particular, this paper outlines a joint qualitative and quantitative study for understanding “Interested Bystanders,” or that portion of the population that is paying attention to the world around them, but not regularly voicing their opinions or taking action. These are the findings of this research, conducted by the Google Civic Innovation Team in 2014. As applied research, this work sought to inform the design of civic-related products and services at Google and across the civic technology community more broadly. In reporting what we learned, we also have attempted to share how we learned it, and offer a case study for the use of human-centered research to inform civic interventions.