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The University of Southampton
Web Science Institute

Gefion Thuermer

Gefion Thuermer
Gefion Thuermer

Gefion was awarded her PhD in 2019 and is currently working as a Research Fellow on the Data Pitch project in the Electronics and Computer Science (ECS) department, and the Web and Internet Science research group (WAIS).

Your academic and professional background before you joined the DTC / CDT

I started in retail, where I completed an apprenticeship as a bookseller. When this was finished, I signed up for a bachelor’s degree in cultural sciences at a distance university, and completed the degree over the course of seven years, while working full-time. I had a variety of roles in Germany, before I moved to the UK in 2011. In my last role before I became a PhD student, I managed global projects and clients in a marketing consultancy business.

Why you chose to study Web Science

I have always studied Web Science, I just didn’t know it existed. In my bachelor’s degree, I focussed on political sociology, and the influence of the web on political parties. When I saw the MOOC Trailer for Web Science, I immediately knew that this was what I wanted to do.

What was you PhD research topic?

My research is about the effect of online participation tools on the participation behaviour of members of political parties. I am working with the Green Party in Germany to understand how the tools they introduce to engage their members are adopted, by whom, and – importantly – who does not use them. The party wants to use online participation tools to engage members that cannot participate through traditional routes – and I want to know whether they achieve that.

My reason to pick this particular topic is my own experience. I used to be in a political party which was focussed on bringing politics into the 21st century. They used a large number of online tools – and they failed, in that they could not create discourse, or make binding decisions, or even become a coherent group. After having seen it fail, I want to understand how online participation can work!

I am using a variety of methods to understand this, from participant observations at party events, through interviews and focus groups, as well as a series of surveys.

What is great about my work with the party is that I have a direct feedback channel for my results – and an audience willing to listen and adapt. I can see the impact my research has, when I present my findings to the executive board, or am invited to speak at workshops, which are created to help address the problems that I have identified. This is extremely rewarding, and a great validation of the importance of the work I do. Even if the solutions I am working on with the party may not be applicable to everyone, my results will not only be important to the Green Party: the themes and problems I identify will be relevant to any party, or indeed organisation, that aims to use online participation tools in a democratic context.

What training did you receive?

The cohort system is great – knowing that there are other people who may not do the same research, but go through the same process, and ‘get’ where you are at is really useful. I was also lucky, as my cohort is a very close knit group, and we are still meeting up regularly. More than just my own cohort, I enjoy talking to people in the other cohorts. Being in my final year, most of the people ahead of me are finishing now, and it’s amazing to see what they end up doing, and that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. For the younger cohorts, it’s fantastic to see how they develop, talk about their ambitions, and occasionally help them figure out how to do things.

I’ve been to a great many events hosted by the CDT. The annual welcome event, as well as the Christmas networking event, are the highlights of the year, and a great opportunity to catch up with everyone. I also went on a trip to Amsterdam, where we worked with students at the VU on small projects – this was one of the best interdisciplinary work I’ve been involved in.

I also got to present my work at a lot of conferences all across Europe, and even got invited to talk at a workshop for local politicians in Ukraine!  

I was lucky to get onto a secondment with the Open Innovation team at the Cabinet Office.

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