Dr Alison Powell

 Dr Alison Powell

Alison Powell has interests in in community informatics, Internet policy, peer production, culture and technology, and wireless infrastructure. Her current research focuses on the social and political implications of networked communication.


Alison Powell completed a PhD in Communication Studies at Concordia University in 2008 and now holds a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Oxford Internet Institute.

Her work focuses on the social and political implications of different forms of networked communication, including the Internet and mobile devices. In particular, she explores how innovations such as local networking projects influence policy discourses, and what these discussions imply for the governance and regulation of future communications systems. Her PhD thesis studied the outcomes of the community WiFi phenomenon in the United States and Canada. Her current work concentrates on how grassroots technology projects and processes of 'peer production' transform the technical and policy structures of the Internet.

This research describes new forms of political engagement, and poses challenging questions about the future of governance and regulation of communications. How does collective action operate when 'code is law'? What new theoretical and political challenges are posed by emerging communication systems?

Alison has extensive experience in evaluating local networking projects: she was the Principal Investigator of the Public Interest Communications Infrastructure Taxonomy project, funded by the Social Sciences research Council's Collaborative Grants in Media and Communications. She has consulted on the production of Etho's Groups Better Broadband Toolkit, and for a project on community and municipal wireless projects for the New America Foundation's Wireless Futures program. Between 2004 and 2008 she was a researcher with both the Canadian Research Alliance on Community Innovation and Networking (CRACIN) and the Community Wireless Infrastructure Research Project (CWIRP). She is committed to conducting empirical social research that helps to develop communication and information policy for the public good.

Research interests

community informatics, Internet policy, peer production, culture and technology, wireless infrastructure

Positions held at the OII

  • Research Associate, October 2010 -
  • SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, October 2008 - August 2010




  • Powell, A. (2009) Community WiFi, Resistance, and Making Infrastructure Visible. In: M.Longford, B.Crow and K.Sawchuk (eds) Sampling the Spectrum: The Politics, Practices and Poetics of Mobile Communication. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Powell, A. (2007) Île Sans Fil: rassemblement numérique [trans. C.Zekri]. In: S.Proulx, S.Couture and J.Rueff (eds) L'action communautaire à l'ère du numérique. Laval, QC: Presses Universitaires du Québec.


  • International Perspectives on Net Neutrality: A Policy Seminar

    International Perspectives on Net Neutrality: A Policy Seminar

    Recorded on: 17 March 2010 Duration: 02:04:23

    This policy seminar provides three complementary assessments of the relationships between advocacy, rulemaking, and legislation around Net Neutrality, based on data from Canada, the United States, and the UK.


  • Internet at Liberty

    Alison Powell on 22 Sep 2010 07:30AM

    I’m in Budapest at the invitation of Central European University and Google, at a conference of activists called “Internet at Liberty.” The conference features discussions about the possibilities and limits of free speech on the internet. Given its [...]

  • Farewell OII – I’m goin’ down the road

    Alison Powell on 24 Aug 2010 20:13PM

    How time flies when you are having fun . . . researching . . . writing . . . meeting excellent people and working on issues of importance.  It’s been two years since I arrived as a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the OII.  I’ve had the chance to [...]

  • Phone Book 2.0

    Alison Powell on 17 Aug 2010 21:47PM

    (It’s the media’s silly season.  So instead of telling you about the Net Neutrality paper I’m working on, or wondering about what we can learn from failed community networks, here’s a story from my visit home to Saskatchewan) My [...]

  • Filter, Feed and Funnel: Social media participation

    Alison Powell on 24 Jun 2010 02:52AM

    Nearly six weeks ago I promised to post these speaking notes from FutureEverything, and now that I’m at another conference doing another talk, I finally have. None of these ideas are really new – what I wanted to do with this piece was think [...]

  • The Future of Community Wi-Fi – you’ll have to buy a coffee

    Alison Powell on 4 Jun 2010 17:09PM

    Back in the day, we shared Wi-Fi.  We kept our connections open, and imagined that this would be a way to get to know our neighbours, or to build community.  So excited were we that Sociable Design created a “Wi-Fi Thank You.” to start making [...]

  • FabLabs and Graffiti Sunglasses – FutureEverything reflections

    Alison Powell on 17 May 2010 14:49PM

    A few days after the end of FutureEverything, the fog is beginning to lift.  The conference and festival were a whirlwind of ideas and images.  I visited the Manchester FabLab, a space where physical prototyping tools are available for use by anyone who [...]

  • FutureEverything – Day 1

    Alison Powell on 14 May 2010 10:27AM

    There’s so much going on at the FutureEverything conference that it’s difficult to sort through the experiences to find a highlight.  One that certainly stands out, from among the very reflective and critical conversations about technology, [...]

  • DIY Citizenship, social media and social change at FutureEverything

    Alison Powell on 12 May 2010 10:13AM

    I’m getting ready to head to FutureEverything in Manchester, an amazing festival of art/technology/ideas that runs from May 12-15.  The conference/ideas stream features several interesting tracks including discussions on open data, local broadband, [...]

  • Video “rant” on social media politics

    Alison Powell on 21 Apr 2010 09:58AM

    I’m late in reposting this from the excellent virtual panel at HASTAC, but here’s my video “rant” about the disconnect between social media politics and parliamentary politics.  In the video, I’m all riled up because [...]

  • Mind the Gaps? Connecting UK Digital Advocates

    Alison Powell on 11 Apr 2010 17:37PM

    Politicians have failed us: that seems to be the consensus after last week’s Digital Economy Bill fiasco. So now what? The social media sphere is still buzzing, and the Open Rights Group has experienced a surge in membership. Their web forums are [...]

  • Digital Economy Bill’s passage shows gap between politics and politicians

    Alison Powell on 8 Apr 2010 15:17PM

    The Digital Economy Bill passed last night.  As thousands watched on the BBC, most MPs skipped the debate, which was over in two hours.  And despite 20,000 letters being sent and nearly 25,000 tweets encouraging MPs to submit this bill to rigorous debate, [...]

  • “You Can’t Tweet That!” Personal Branding and Public Intellectuals

    Alison Powell on 7 Apr 2010 23:41PM

    Lewis Gordon at Truthout argues that the market model of academia has killed the public intellectual.  He argues that market pressures, including heavy competition for limited jobs, and the focus on professional academics as masters of technical and [...]

  • Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities

    Alison Powell on 2 Mar 2010 17:51PM

    The Social Science Research Council has just released a major report:  Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities.  Based on a unique qualitative study of the people traditionally on the margins of the policy-making process (low-income, minority, [...]

  • The Social Media Echo Chamber

    Alison Powell on 5 Feb 2010 12:40PM

    The Pew Internet and American Life project released their findings on young people’s use of social media yesterday. Apparently young people are less likely to use Twitter than adults aged 25-40 (although teenage girls are an exception). They are [...]

  • Evolution, Innovation, and Ethics

    Alison Powell on 21 Dec 2009 11:37AM

    I took my sweetie to London’s best holiday nerdfest last night – Robin Ince’s 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People.  It was a three-hour celebration of the wonders and beauties that science can reveal – along with lots of [...]

  • Open ecologies – can open hardware be like open software?

    Alison Powell on 10 Dec 2009 12:18PM

    The growth of the open source software development movement is held up as one of the great successes of a networked world – leaving source code open is associated with global-scale participation in software development and open-source products that [...]

  • Internet Governance Forum: Freedom and openness (UPDATED)

    Alison Powell on 17 Nov 2009 11:04AM

    In the desert, the mountains hover in the distance.  Sun glances and taxis arrive at the gates of the conference center.  Getting from outside to inside means going through security cordons, police checks, metal detectors. Inside, discussions balance [...]

  • Research Design The Fun Way

    Alison Powell on 12 Nov 2009 11:23AM

    Last month I had the most amazing experience:  with some superstar colleagues, I designed a qualitative study aimed at understanding why people don’t adopt broadband.  The goal of the study was to understand barriers to broadband adoption, and we [...]

  • Uses of Twitter – how to go to a conference when you’re home sick

    Alison Powell on 18 Sep 2009 12:11PM

    I was toying with the idea of going to the Oxford Social Media Convention when the dreaded Autumn Headcold struck.   I succeeded in slinking back to London and collapsing on the couch, and this morning staying upright during a Skype conference.  So how to [...]

  • Hacking the City – redux

    Alison Powell on 29 Jun 2009 18:16PM

    I was delighted to read that the Personal Democracy Forum’s 2009 Conference (twitter slurp here) includes a Birds of a Feather meetup on the topic of “Hacking the City.”  I first heard community technologists use this phrase in 2005, [...]