Digital neighbourhood planning

The Context

Neighbourhood planning allows communities to come together to create their own planning policy for their area. But, it is a long and complex process. This work aims to support neighbourhood planning groups using media technology in three ways:

  1. Helping the core group producing the policy navigate the process
  2. Engaging local people that would not otherwise get involved in such processes
  3. Using the media produced to support the neighbourhood plan (and activity beyond the plan)

Bootlegger in Neighbourhood Planning

As part of this research is using Bootlegger with neighbourhood planning groups.

LogoBootlegger is a media commissioning tool. It puts complex film production and capture tools in the hands of citizens through an easy to use web tool and mobile app.

Working with two North East groups, we used Bootlegger to capture film clips of their local area to represent the issues, challenges and positive aspects that they were looking at as part of the neighbourhood plan.


Other Bootlegger projects include Loudest Whisper – a project to dispel the myths surrounding Stockton following the Benefits Street series. The project saw local people create and contribute their own footage and take part in editing the clips to show their own story.

What happened?

  • We created over 200 short clips (10-30 seconds) between the two areas
  • Clips are to be used in future community engagement more interactively
  • Actively captured film together as a group was beneficial in exploring issues of the are
  • Groups were able to see other people’s perspectives and realise other opinions were important
  • Local people saw how representative the group was (or wasn’t!)

Example: Transport video                   Example: Youth facilities video

So what?

This is part of a much larger project which looks at supporting the neighbourhood planning process.


  • Working with planners and local neighbourhood planning groups
  • Explore how neighbourhood planning works on the ground
  • Identify where more support is needed and where communities face challenges
  • Consider what technologies could support different aspects of the process

How could technology help?

Thinking of the three aims of the research, there are lots of ways technology could support the process:

  1. Helping the core group producing the policy navigate the process
    • Platform to simplify and guide the process
    • Linking groups to official national and local advice, policy and guidance
    • Sharing experiences across neighbourhood groups
  2. Engaging local people that would not otherwise get involved in such processes
    • Media technologies for community engagement (Bootlegger and others)
    • Promoting youth engagement with technology (Park:Learn)
    • Toolkits to support groups to use technology effectively (social media)
  3. Using the media produced to support the neighbourhood plan (and activity beyond the plan)
    • Using media produced as a form of evidence
    • Media for more interactive, online methods of engagement
    • Supporting examination process

More Information


For more information, questions or to discuss the project, contact Jen Manuel



Bootlegger: find your community film crew

Bootlegger bridges the gap between professional filmmakers and people with no prior filming experience wishing to record video on their mobile phone. Improvements to camera technology have made mobile phones a viable tool for filming, but Bootlegger makes larger and more complex projects much more accessible for citizen filmmakers.

Crucially, Bootlegger coordinates different people contributing to a single project, with all of their footage uploaded to an editable archive. This makes it easy to capture multiple views of a place or topic, different stages of an event, or synchronised shots from people distributed around the world. The crew for each project can be recruited through the Bootlegger app and contribute to the design of the film shoot. The app also guides the crew members through the filming process itself, providing templates for close-ups, wide shots and many other scenarios. The shoot can even be planned beforehand, with different roles allocated and different templates set up, and Bootlegger provides tools for editing the video afterwards as well.

Bootlegger has been used in multiple digital civics research areas, ranging from education to neighbourhood planning and consultation projects. It fits within the broader digital civics theme of using technology to connect people with common needs and interests to work together on joint projects.

For more information please contact Tom Bartindale.

Newcastle at the forefront of planning

A report by Future Cities Catapult has named Newcastle as one of the leading cities in the UK for digital planning and engagement.

The Future Cities Catapult’s Future of Planning project aims to explore how digital technologies can influence and improve planning practices and making the planning process more transparent and collaborative.

As part of this investigation into the future of planning, Future Cities Catapult have published a report into existing digital tools and how they are used in the planning industry. Newcastle was one of three “exemplary cities” listed in the report, alongside Bristol and Plymouth. The report praised Newcastle’s innovative and collaborative planning environment.

“Newcastle University, as a neutral academic body with a civic mission to give back to the city, has been critical in brokering between the different sectors and bringing them together for collaborative projects in digital planning,” the report explained, “especially under the leadership of Professor Mark Tewdwr-Jones, Director of Newcastle City Futures.”

The collaboration between universities, local government and local, national and international businesses – the kind facilitated by Newcastle City Futures and the Digital Civics initiative – puts Newcastle in a much stronger position than many other UK cities when it comes to planning innovation and engagement.

One of the Open Lab projects featured in the report was Jen Manuel’s research using Bootlegger to engage local people in planning decisions. The app facilitates the creation of videos, filmed collaboratively by multiple users, that document issues, opportunities and challenges of their neighbourhoods. These can then be used in planning discussions, and help to break down barriers between residents and planners.

The report states, “the app has been a great success with Berwick-upon-Tweed, as it has been used as a powerful device to communicate changes in a way that the public can easily access and recognise rather than by statutory documents.”

Change Explorer is another of the projects highlighted in the report. The app was designed by Zander Wilson, a doctoral researcher at Open Lab, and notifies people when they are close to an area that has plans for redevelopment. They will then be able to view and comment on the plans, making it much easier for local residents and visitors to have their say on planning decisions.

Zander also used Open Lab’s App Movement platform to design an app that allows members of the public to identify and review examples of Brutalist architecture. This means people can document the significance and condition of Brutalist buildings, which can help with heritage and conservation, as well as sparking discussion over architecture and town planning.

Newcastle’s application of digital technologies to planning decisions and processes fits within Open Lab’s digital civics research, and suggests one way in which planning could change in the future. The report comes out at a time of wider discussion on the future of planning and communities and age-friendly cities.

For more information, please contact Mark Tewdwr-Jones.

Help shape Metro’s future

Big changes are coming to the Tyne and Wear Metro, including the first redesign of Metrocars in nearly forty years. Open Lab are working with Nexus, who manage the Metro, to involve people in the design of the new Metrocars.

Through a series of workshops, pop-up labs, video diaries and online discussions, Open Lab will gather people’s experiences of using Metro. Everything from seating layouts to wifi availability will come under scrutiny as the public help to design the Metrocars of the future. Open Lab will lead pop-up labs and workshops at locations across Tyne and Wear throughout November, while the Metro Futures website will allow people to explore the past, present and future of Metro. The project is a major example of Open Lab’s interest in citizen-led public service commissioning.

Simon Bowen, who leads the project for Open Lab, explained: “We believe it’s the people who use Metro – and also those who don’t – who are best placed to tell us what works and what doesn’t. For example, should there be somewhere for bags? What are the issues when travelling with prams or wheelchairs? How accessible is Metro for older people?

“At Open Lab, instead of the traditional passenger survey we are interested in how modern technology such as mobiles, tablets and web-based tools can be used to give people a voice in how the future Metro should look. By sharing experiences and imagining alternatives, we hope to discover how Metro is used now and how it might be used in forty years’ time. Our findings will be used to help Nexus commission a Metro that is right for the future.”

Serving communities for several decades

These insights will then be used as designs for new trains are developed with suppliers in 2017. The new carriage designs form part of a £1 billion investment into the Metro system and infrastructure.

Haymarket under construction

Haymarket station under construction in 1976

Tobyn Hughes, Managing Director of Nexus, said: “A new Metrocar fleet is essential to the future of Metro, and ranks as one of the most important projects we have led.

“These new trains will be serving our communities for several decades so we want to involve local people as much as possible in the design process, thinking not just about how they might use trains now, but through their whole lives. We are delighted to be working in partnership with Newcastle University’s Open Lab who are bringing exciting new digital and social tools to improve public engagement.”

These new tools will sit alongside more traditional forms of consultation, with passenger group Transport Focus providing market research, and Nexus conducting their own online consultation.

Newcastle City Futures

As well as helping to inform the design of new Metrocars, the Metro Futures project forms part of Newcastle City Futures, a partnership between academics, government, industry and local communities to explore the challenges and changes facing Newcastle in the future.

Mark Tewdwr-Jones is the Director of Newcastle City Futures. “Newcastle City Futures is delighted to support Metro Futures as an innovative project for Tyneside. This initiative demonstrates the way citizens, businesses and the university can all work together to proactively shape the future of Newcastle and its region.”

For more information on how to get involved visit or pick up a leaflet from a Metro TravelShop, or contact Simon Bowen.

Neighbourhood planning through a new lens

This year I’ve been working with Berwick-upon-Tweed’s neighbourhood planning group to capture the process they’re going through on film. This is part of a larger vision to create a media representation of a neighbourhood plan to supplement the lengthy policy documents usually created in town planning.

By using Bootlegger, a mobile app developed by Open Lab, I worked with the neighbourhood planning groups to film the local area with the intention of raising awareness of the work of the group and using the footage in future consultations. Bootlegger allows the use of templates and graphic overlays to plan and organise a film shoot. Although originally developed for live band recording, it could have many applications beyond this, one of which is neighbourhood planning.

Giving power to local people

Neighbourhood planning is a significant change away from local authority created planning policy. It gives power directly to local people to create their own policies for the places where they live and work, but is a long and complex process which can sometimes take groups a number of years to complete.

post it notesOne of the problems with the process is the lack of public participation in neighbourhood planning, which means the plans are created by a fairly small group of people within the community. Although consultation is carried out, it often relies on traditional formal town hall meetings and fails to take into consideration the way many people now communicate – through new media.

I worked with six out of the seven working groups in Berwick, each of which are focusing on a key planning topic and are in the process of compiling evidence and starting to think about potential policies. I stayed for a week in Berwick and continuously met with the groups. We met in local cafés and, as we chatted about the area, we began to create a storyboard of what they wanted to film.

Once we’d completed this, I introduced them to the app before handing the phones over to the groups. The citizens enjoyed the process and, in total, 330 video clips were captured in one week! Many individuals within the groups also downloaded the app onto their own phones and continued to film and contribute to the footage outside of the workshops.

Once the groups have captured all the footage they would like to have included, they would like to create short films of the key issues and ideas to share on social media and to showcase to the community. They want to encourage other citizens to contribute footage and to give their views and opinions through this visual method. Moving forward, I’ll be staying involved with Berwick and, hopefully, I’ll help them begin to build a media representation of their neighbourhood plan.

For more information please contact Jen Manuel.

Virtual cultural collaboration

Technology has many implications for education particularly in scaffolding learning within and outside classrooms. This research focused on how digital technologies could provide avenues for schools and communities to collaborate to produce resources for cross-cultural learning purposes within classrooms.

My research interest within technology mediated cross-cultural learning sparked the curiosity to look at how video technology on mobile smartphones can: support the process of creating rich and authentic cultural resources for learning; support cross-cultural learning; and create new avenues for meaningful home-school and school-home communication.

In order to explore answers to the above questions I worked with three diverse cultural families in Newcastle who had at least one school-going child aged between 9-12 years. I asked the families to use two different video technologies on their smartphones and produce cultural content by recording cultural instances that occur in their everyday life. We held an initial workshop with the families to explore notions of culture and how to identify cultural instances in their everyday life. Following this activity, the families used the existing video application available on the phones to ensure familiarity and developed video content. In the next stage families used Bootlegger, an application designed to scaffold video capturing on mobile devices.

The content developed by the families were then taken to the teachers to understand how educators viewed such resources, and if such resource creation and curation could be included within school curricula. Findings from the study highlight the positive impact of the videos on both those who created them (parents and children) and those who viewed them (teachers) leading to cross-cultural and intra-cultural learning. The activity also showed how as a researcher, I often played the role of a broker, facilitating and mediating links between families and schools. This is important when working within cross-cultural domains where the presence of an actor (a human or a human-mediated-technology) with agency is key to not only forge relationships but also narrow the gaps between communities and classrooms to impact teaching and learning beyond school boundaries.

For more information contact Vidya Sarangapani.