Gustavo Umbelino

gustavo [at] u [dot] northwestern [dot] edu

Computer-Supported Cooperative Work

Human-Computer Interaction

Northwestern University
Hi! I'm Gus.

I help local communities design and use collaboration technologies to organize around issues that are meaningful to us, like climate change and democracy.

Academic explanation

Digital technologies like crowdsourcing and peer production tools have increased our potential to address social issues like climate change and inequality, but realizing this potential depends on our ability to organize around issues that are meaningful to us. While some of this organizing work might happen online (e.g., coordinating events, managing participant lists), most of it must happen face-to-face (e.g., deliberation, outreach).

I research and design equitable hybrid work collaboration technologies for organizing civic collective actions through deliberation, group formation, coaching, and outreach. To do so, I draw on my academic training in computer science, psychology, and design as well as theories from learning, political, and management sciences. I use both qualitative and quantitative research methods to understand the social processes I study to inform the design of and to evaluate the technologies I build.


As a PhD student in the departments of Computer Science and Communication at Northwestern University, member of the interdisciplinary Delta Lab, Human-Computer Interaction + Design and Cognitive Science Fellow, I study how to design, build, and evaluate technologies to increase participation and representation in open democracy initiatives, like participatory budgeting. I worked with the City of Evanston (population 78K) to implement their first participatory budgeting process, a year-long process where the community generated ideas, developed proposals, and voted on how to spend $3M. With the help of 100+ trained and committed volunteers, we achieved 8.4% participation (a lot more than the 1-2% national average) and overrepresented underrepresented communities in this historic civic engagement process. As part of this process, I studied how organized groups formed and grew, how effective outreach was conducted, and how collaboration technologies were used and how new technologies might be designed.


Check out my Google Scholars page for a full list.