What is the assessment for GEOG0163: Data, Politics and Society?
As outlined on Moodle, the assessment for GEOG0163 is a single piece of coursework, set at
3,000 words. For your coursework, we would like you to write your own commentary
article, which is a common non-research analysis type of article found in journals, such as
Nature, Science and many geographical journals.
A commentary article is:
– An agenda-setting, authoritative and informed commentary that calls for action and can be
tailored to target a (or several) specific impact(s), problem or challenge. Within this type of
commentary, there is often a road-map to a proposed solution in detail; it does not simply
snapshot a problem.
– You can use historical and current narratives or conceptual or philosophical arguments of
pressing contemporary relevance to build, illustrate and communicate your argument.
Commentaries are grounded in previous research and/or examples but have more
expressive freedom than a typical journal article in that you can put your well-justified
Whilst this may seem somewhat similar to a literature review that you may have completed
for your Undergraduate dissertation (or similar research), the difference here is that you
should put forward a proposal or call for action to help address or target the specific impact,
problem or challenge you are focusing on.
What should I write about?
The general theme for your commentary piece is to consider the role of geographical
thinking to answer the critical technical, ethical, political and social questions raised by
data science and the analysis of large-scale geographic and social datasets and its impacts
But as the content for GEOG0163 is extremely broad, we do not expect you to cover all of
the content you have learnt in the module within your article – nor do we really
recommend you try to!
We would recommend you first think about what most interested you during the module –
and how it connects to other content within the module, and even further afield, in your
other modules or interests. One approach is to think about what you felt strongly about
during our seminar discussions and directed readings, reviewing your notes and even the
files from the break-out rooms. If you think you can talk about your opinion on a topic for
ten minutes, you’re ready to write your commentary article!
In the end, your commentary article can focus on a single week of content, a single interest
or cover a wider, more integrative approach, e.g. thinking about how data ethics and
regulation (Week 4) are important when it comes to data biases (Week 3), or how social
theory (Week 5) allows us to explore the concept of data is power (Week 2) from multiple
To help write your commentary article, we would like you to set your own question – and
then structure your article as an answer to this question. This will form, if you like, your
‘research question’ that you will answer through your own opinion and use of literature,
which ultimately is the main intention of a commentary article! Below we provide example
questions you could answer from what you’ve learnt within the module. But these are
example questions and cannot be used for your own article – you are however welcome to
derive your own question from these questions, i.e. we will expect you to rephrase the
question in your own words.
What does this assessment assess?
Throughout this module, we have asked you to think critically about the content we have
provided. The module questions how data, politics (in many meanings of the word) and
society are unfolding across different arenas or fields within data science and further afield
and how geography, or geographical thinking, lends itself to interrogate these questions. In
the first half of the module, you have come across theoretical and philosophical concepts on
data power and politics, as well as practical, ethical and regulatory frameworks for the
collection, management and use of data and algorithms. The second half of the module has
questions further how data and technology operate within our social and political worlds,
outlining the relations between different ‘stakeholders’ in the theory and application of data
science. It then explores how there is opportunity through novel/relatively new geographic
methods, such as crowdsourcing and citizen science, to rethink these relations and address
many of the biases, inequalities and inequities you have come across repeatedly throughout
Across these themes, we have focused on questioning the role of data and data science in
society, the impact of (societal) biases in its uses, the ethics of its ownership and use,
including within algorithms and wider data science practices. We have also shown
alternative methodologies (e.g. VGI) as a geographical approach to accounting for some of
the challenges the more commonly associated ‘black box’ techniques in data science
This assessment provides the opportunity to develop your skills to critically evaluate these
impacts and wider implications of data science and its various applications on society, whilst
also delving further into the topics that have most interested you during the module. This
assessment will therefore assess you on your ability to think critically not only about content
within the module but, within this, on a topic that interests you.
This critical thinking begins with you setting your own question. Being able to construct an
‘answerable’ question is a vital skill in research, so remember to think about how your
question and answer will work together – often we try to be a little too ambitious in our
writing, so give yourself time and space in the preparation and write-up of your coursework
to think through the wording of your question multiple times. Using simple language and
sentence form can often help make your question more direct, and thus easier to answer!
You will score higher if your article directly answers your question, so beware of making
your questions too complex!
Furthermore, a key skill of a data scientist is the ability to communicate your results. This
assessment provides you with an opportunity to focus on your ability to construct, explain
and explore arguments that you feel strongly about – and learning how to find the right
balance between academic prose as well as personal opinion to write a thought-provoking
and spirited article.
Whilst you will set yourself a question to answer, we would also like you to think of a title
for your commentary article – this would be your attention-grabbing headline in your
journal, so think about how you’d get their readers to read your work! Your title will not be
included within the assessment of your commentary article, but we hope you can enjoy
devising your titles.
How should I present my commentary article?
Your commentary article should be provided as a Word document or PDF and submitted to
the TurnItIn link on Moodle by noon on Monday 11th January 2021.
Within your document or PDF, please include: your Coursework Front Page and your
Commentary Article (structured as below). We have provided a simple template for you to
download – you are welcome to change to font and formatting to your preference.
Your article should be written in a formal academic style and, in this case, primarily use the
third person. However, if and when you are proposing something new or are suggesting that
you personally believe, you can use the first person (i.e. ‘I’ or ‘we’ – you can use either,
depending on your preference). This can be useful to get across a summary of your
argument or your opinion – as a result, we would recommend limiting the use of the first
person to your Introduction and Conclusion, e.g. see the first example article provided.
Commentary Article Structure
As per the Commentary article template, we would like you to structure your article as
1. Question (Not included in the word count, but please limit to 50 words max!)
2. Title (Not included in the word count or assessment marking, but please limit to 30
3. Main Article (3000 words; see exclusions below)
4. Reference List (in Harvard formatting, UCL’s recommended referencing system; your
reference list is not included in the word count)
If you have not started using a Reference Manager yet, we highly recommend you begin
now. You’ll find them extremely useful for referencing in this coursework – and in the
future, such as your MSc thesis.
For the main article, we recommend following a typical essay structure, such as:
– Blurb (max 50 words): 2-3 sentences summarising your article – think about the
research and/or policy recommendations your commentary might lead to!
Introduction (~400 words): Introduce your topic, then briefly introduce your
arguments and how they directly answer your question.
– Main Arguments / Discussion (2000 – 2200 words): Construct and explain your
commentary through 5 -7 well-referenced and connected arguments. Remember to
introduce your point, evidence this and then explain its relevance (think back on
your original question).
– Conclusion (200 – 400 words): Summarise your arguments and suggest how your
commentary helps your area of focus, e.g. what research could or should be
conducted in light of your arguments.
You can find several example Commentary articles hosted on or linked within Moodle, to
provide you within an overview of what we are looking for.
The first article is by Jo and was written during the first year of her PhD. As a result, please
note, this article is provided for your help and reference and is not available for download –
it can only be viewed online. Do not redistribute or disseminate this article in its original or
any derivative form – this even means onto your own computers. The article is provided in
good faith that you can use it to help with your coursework, so please do not ignore these
T&Cs! Also of note, this article is not related to our content within DPS but is provided so
you can understand how you might structure and approach your writing – but this is just
one example to show the recommend structure and style of a commentary article.
The second article is actually the article Jo used for her own writing commentary and
focuses on climate change and the role of loss. The content is not relevant to our module
but the structure and approach to writing the piece may be of interest.
Three more Nature commentaries are also linked, which all have direct relevance to our
module – and may be used as templates for your own essay. In addition, you are welcome
to explore the Nature ‘comment’ section to find further articles – as well as read Nature’s
advice to how to write and construct your own commentary article.
Tables, figures, maps and charts (T/F/M/C)
You may use any tables, figures, maps or charts in your article that you feel supports your
arguments. You may either create these yourself or, you may use those presented in your
references as long as you credit them as the source. If you create your own, please also
credit yourself in your caption, e.g. Source: Author’s own. Make sure to provide captions for
any tables, figures, maps and charts; captions can be used as a replacement for titles where
titles are not already included, e.g. if taking from an external source. Titles are not needed
for tables, but can be included on figures, maps and charts (according to your own
If you use a T/F/M/C, you must refer to this within your main text (e.g. “see Figure 1”). Your
T/F/M/C must be inserted after your reference to it, not before. When referring to your
T/F/M/C, maintain consistency with spelling and formatting. Our recommendation is to:
– Capitalise your reference in your main text (e.g. see Figure 1, as shown in Table 6)
and in your caption.
– You do not need to add a full-stop/period at the end of the number when in your
reference (as you can see in the examples).
– Spell out figure each time – don’t use Fig or fig in either your main text or our
– You can class a map as a Figure if you prefer.
Alternatively, you do not need to include any of these in your article – only use them if they
do support or add to your arguments.
Your article and opinions need to be well justified and referenced but we do not expect you
to have extensive references (e.g. the 70 references in Jo’s article is far beyond what we
would expect from you!). We would expect a minimum of 15 references – and whilst we will
not set a maximum, 30 would be more than sufficient, given the reading you have
completed on this course.
You should use in-text references when:
– You use an idea or concept from another person, persons or project, despite not
using their words or directly quoting.
– You rephrase words from another person, persons or project.
– You quote directly (using “…”) but remains on a single or two lines within your
writing (please add the page number to this type of reference).
You should create a separate quote when:
– You quote directly but the quote is longer than two lines.
You can also use Latin quoting structures, such as: ibid, when using the same reference as
the immediate previous reference; c.f. or see further, when you are not directly quoting a
person, persons or project but recommend the reader to follow these references for further
information, as well as use … to join two quotes together as well as  to make personal
changes to quotes to improve legibility within your writing.
You are welcome to use multiple sources of references, including but not limited: journal
articles, newspaper articles, books, book chapters, reports, webpages, statutes, online
books, blog posts, podcasts etc. Please make sure to reference these correctly.
Please use the Harvard approach for all in-text and quote references, i.e. your references
should be detailed within the text (e.g. text (Wilkin et al, 2019)) and not substituted with a
superscript number (e.g. text1
) as found in the first article, which uses Nature’s referencing
Please follow the UCL advice for further information on how to reference within your
Your question and your article title are not included within the word count, but please
limit these as advised above.
Your coursework word count is set to 3,000 words, i.e. this is for the Main Article. This is
exclusive of references, tables, figure and table captions as per the Geography
Departments guidelines. However, it is inclusive of footnotes – whilst you are welcome to
use these, please make sure they are suitable for purpose. Please not UCL abides by a strict
limit to word counts – there is no ‘10% over’ rule here, and anything over the 3000-word
count will be subject to penalties!
Our recommendation when it comes to footnotes is to only use them to provide a
definition, short explanation or reference which would otherwise likely detract from the
flow of your writing. The majority of journals no longer accept footnotes, so we would
advise to not put anything critical to your argument in your footnotes as in the future, these
could be simply removed by a journal in the editing process! Whilst footnotes are included
within the word count, they will not be included within the assessment of your article (nor
will you be penalised for using them). Ultimately it is your decision if you want to include
footnotes in your article, i.e., if you feel they contribute to the understanding of your main
How will the Commentary Article be assessed? What marking scheme are you
The article will be marked according the Geography MSc marking scheme, which can be
found within your GEOGRAPHY MSc Moodle.
As outlined at the start of this guidance document, we are looking for an article that shows
critical thinking around your topic of choice that is well-justified and utilises your own
opinion to provide an interesting narrative to your writing. It should, concomitantly, show
good knowledge and understanding of the content covered in the module, whether focusing
on a narrow topic or addressing a wider issue.
There will be additional marks available for flair within your use of words/language, but our
prime concern with writing is that your commentary is presented clearly and arguments are
conveyed and, in general, your writing adheres to expected academic conventions.
Help! I’m still stuck and do not have a clue what to write about!
Discuss with your peers: You can discuss with others on the module your potential ideas and
suggestions – but please note, we will not accept co-working on this assessment. If we find
similar pieces of coursework submitted, we will need to consider raising this as a plagiarism
issue. Please therefore be considerate to your colleagues – if you do engage in discussions
and they discuss their question with you, please do not use their ideas as your own.
Ask Questions in our Q&A forum: You’ll find a new channel within the DPS Team on Moodle
called “Assessment Q&A”, where you’ll be able to ask questions. At the end of each week,
we will collate your questions and post either a written or recorded response to the
questions for you to read/watch.
Attend the Q&A session in Week 10: We will host a Question and Answer session on the
coursework, directly after the seminar in Week 10. Please post your questions to the forum
prior to the session.
Use Week’s 10 Presentation to begin building your article: In Week Ten, you’ll be presenting
on how current and future societal challenges may be addressed with data and data science,
by creating a short proposal for a potential research project (this may be a systematic
literature review or a data analysis project, depending on your interest). You may use this as
an opportunity to trial your theory or conceptual ideas that are likely to constitute your
article and to gain feedback from us and your colleagues.
Read our Example questions – but remember you cannot use these questions directly:
1. To what extent does geographic thinking help us critically assess the challenges that
data scientists are likely to face in utilising data for future societal good?
2. ‘Data is power’. With reference to recent examples, explain your understanding of
3. ‘Data politics and data ethics are inextricably connected – we cannot consider data’s
politics, without understanding its ethics, and vice versa.’ Discuss.
4. The “social” nature of data emerges from the variety of stakeholders involved in any
data-process and the meaning of the social will differ according to this aspect’. What
does this mean? Illustrate with appropriate examples.
5. ‘The idea that “data is political” provides an entry into processes of both restrictions
upon agency as well its resurgence’. Discuss this statement through concrete
6. Undoubtedly, we rely more on spatial data, which are collected and shared by nonprofessional experts. Given the implications of Volunteered Geographic Information
(VGI) (as addressed in Week 8), how do you envision the production and
consumption of geographic information in the future (e.g. in the next ten years) and
what in your opinion would be the impacts in the field of data science?
7. ‘Citizen Science can transform science and it can be utilised to successfully address
some of most critical challenges of the 21st century’. With reference to materials
from Week 9, critically reflect on how much you agree or disagree with this
statement. Justify your answer using examples from existing citizen science projects
to reflect on their social, environmental and economic impacts.
8. How good is ‘data for good’?