Mobile technology and social capital

Sociotechnical study of a mobile-based community rewards program

Individual empowerment is defined as an increased sense of confidence and control over one’s life. Empowerment is critical in low-income communities, and can be facilitated through the development of social, financial and human capital. We present a qualitative study of a community program that seeks to empower low-income neighborhood residents through a mobile application that connects them to local resources. Our findings highlight how the application and offline socio-organizational mechanisms worked in tandem to create gateways for capital building—sparking connections (to people and opportunities) that residents leveraged with varying motivations and outcomes. We also discuss how the interplay of newly developed financial, social, and human capital contributed to residents’ sense of empowerment and impacted their families. We contribute to CSCW by extending an existing community informatics framework, characterizing the value of sociotechnical systems that holistically build social, financial, and human capital amongst neighborhood residents

As a branched out project, we designed “On the move”, a social ridesharing application that allows community members to share rides to different community events and meet new members on the way. This project was in collaboration with Union Capital Boston, a rewards-based community organizing initiative. A working prototype can be accessed from here (best viewed on the mobile browsers). To access the code, please click here.

Technology used:

HTML 5.0, CSS 4, JavaScript, Atlas.ti

Related publication:

Farnaz Irannejad Bisafar, Aditya Ponnada, Ameneh Shamekhi, and Andrea G. Parker. 2017. A Sociotechnical Study of a Community-based Rewards Program: Insights on Building Social, Financial, and Human Capital. Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact. 1, CSCW, Article 55 (December 2017), 21 pages.


Prof. Andrea Parker (Asst. Prof., Northeastern University), Farnaz Irrannejad Bisafar (Ph.D. student, Northeastern University), Ameneh Shamekhi (Ph.D. student, Northeastern University; now at Nuance Communications)