Bergen Media Use Research Group
ERC Consolidator Grant

ERC Grant for new research project

How prepared are we to get correct information and be engaged when it is needed? Media professor Hallvard Moe has been awarded a prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant to better understand citizen’s ability to get information and be engaged in democracy.

Hallvard Moe
Media professor Hallvard Moe gets the prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant for his upcoming project. The grant secures financing for the PREPARE project for five years. PREPARE aims at finding out how citizens get information when they need it, and how people succeed in their public connection.
Torhild Dahl / UiB

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“Based on public debate one might think people are either entirely passive or fanatics. It isn’t true, and we need a new approach to understanding citizen’s role in the democracy”, says media professor Hallvard Moe. 

With the ERC Consolidator Grant, Moe is going to study how we are prepared to be engaged when it is needed. 

Binge Netflix or take to the streets?
The backdrop is the turmoil democracies are seeing. Public debate is fragmented, social media is controlled by algorithms, and propaganda and disinformation are a threat. 

“Think about demonstrations against Covid-restrictions! They illustrate the deeper problem, with keywords like fragmentation, populism, and polarization. Citizens get blamed for these problems. One gets the impression that people either sit at home and watch Netflix, or are out in the streets advocating for conspiracy theories. We don’t believe it is that simple, and we need a better way to understand the citizens”, says Moe. 

Against gloomy predictions
Moe thinks it is time to reconsider the ideal of the informed citizen that exists in social sciences. 

“We social scientists have known for almost hundred years that people don’t spend that much time on politics in their everyday lives. At the same time, we have this ideal about the enlightened and informed citizen. This idea guides a lot of work in the social sciences. We then test how well people live up to this ideal, and get discouraged to find that people don’t come across as well-informed. With findings like this we get gloomy predictions about the future of the democracy, and radical suggestions about how we should solve the problem with democracy. We have seen researchers suggest, in full seriousness, to take away the universal right to vote!”

“Instead of thinking that people are constantly connected and are constantly paying attention to political issues, we should look at people’s preparedness. With that I mean that we are in a sort of stand-by mode”, says Moe. 

With the ERC project PREPARE, Moe aims to find out how people are prepared to get connected when they need to. It can be anything from a good colleague or partner to network and social media, or a favorite YouTube channel. 

“What is preparedness for different people in the society? That is the first thing we are going to find out”, says Moe. 

The project will map how people’s preparedness works when they need to get informed. The project will examine three levels of people’s preparedness. 

“We will firstly look at the emergency preparedness. Do we find the information we need in a hurry? If there is a pandemic, or if Chernobyl gets bombed and we need information to act correctly. Furthermore, we are also going to look at elections where citizens are expected to do something, to go and vote. The last level is everyday politics. How do people get informed about the drawn out, tedious processes with calculations and planning documents?”

Groundwork done together with colleagues
The ERC Consolidator Grant is given to promising researchers who have conducted excellent research, and who have presented groundbreaking and original ideas. 

“This project gives me a unique chance to use time and resources to find new ways to study groups that are challenging to reach. I can dive deep into theoretical questions that other projects rarely leave time to”, says Moe. 

Moe emphasizes that especially collaboration with media researcher Brita Ytre-Arne and the Media Use Research Group has been decisive for him getting the ERC grant. 

“I would not have gotten the grant if it wasn’t for the work that has been done in the Media Use Group that Brita Ytre-Arne and I lead. The research environment here makes a huge difference”, he says. 

The original article, written by Torhild Dahl, was published in Norwegian, and translated into English by Ella Maria Holi.