Policy insight through social and online media

A systematic mapping of qualitative passive citizensourcing studies


  • Kane Callaghan Charles Sturt University
  • Michael Mehmet University of Wollongong
  • Peter Simmons Charles Sturt University
  • Belinda Curley New South Wales Department of Primary Industries


Systematic mapping, Qualitative research, Online comments, Citizensourcing, Public policy, Social media


This systematic mapping study examines how and why researchers conduct qualitative studies of online citizen commentary on public policy matters, and identifies procedural commonalities and differences. Findings indicate that researchers typically: choose online comments to help understand public discussion and salient attitudes to important policy matters; believe online citizen commentary can give insights into community attitudes because it is unsolicited and relatively anonymous and unconstrained; believe anonymity is the main disadvantage because it can be difficult to ascertain who is commenting or which groups are represented; justify their choice of source data sites by preferring those with ready access to a large readership or large numbers of comments; manually ‘copy and paste’ online comments from one or more sites, mostly news media websites; use thematic analysis to identify emergent attitudes and influences; and either omit discussion of ethical issues or assert that because the data is freely accessible to the public, it is open to use without ethics permission. Recommendations include: more specificity in research areas and questions; greater use of multiple and diverse source types; less use of frequency and description in analysis and more use of theory and complex analysis; and integration of ethical considerations into research design.


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