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.

Making movements into educational events

EventMovement is an online platform that allows communities to come together to propose, design and plan events. It is a free and open community commissioning tool for events.

Anyone can propose an idea for an event on EventMovement in just a few short clicks. Then, each event idea goes through three phases. The Support phase, the Get Involved phase, and the Plan It phase.

In the Support phase, users promote their idea to their friends, colleagues and through social media in order to gain support for their idea. Supporters can start discussing the idea on the event’s campaign page and are kept up to date with how the plans are progressing.

In the Get Involved phase, the community of supporters who have built up around the event idea start asking and answering questions about the event. They do this by raising and responding to talking points. Anyone can raise a talking point, and they can be about any aspect of the event. Supporters respond to these talking points with answers and can vote on each other’s responses. In this way the most important talking points and design decisions bubble to the top.

The last phase is the Plan It phase. Here supporters can summarise all the activity and design discussions that have taken place so far into a single document. They do this by selecting talking points, and choosing the most popular answers to include in a plan. This plan is both a detailed description of a community co-designed event and evidenced support for that event to happen in the real world.

We ran a short test of EventMovement at Newcastle University Library over three weeks in the summer. 43 students proposed a total of 28 events, with topics including everything from workshops on academic writing and copyright law up to a library cat café and baking classes! Not all the events were widely supported, but many ended up with excited communities of interest that designed and planned events to happen in the real world. With help from the University Library, three of those events are planned for the next few weeks.

In the future we hope to deploy EventMovement on larger scales and with a number of different organisations and businesses. We’re really excited to see how EventMovement might change the ways in which events are commissioned in the real world!

For more information please contact Dan Lambton-Howard.

App Movement: a platform for the community commissioning of mobile applications

App Movement is an online platform that enables communities to propose and promote ideas for mobile applications in response to community needs, collaboratively design the concept through a series of customisable features, and automate the development and deployment of a customised app.

Through the design of the platform we hope to understand how communities can commission technologies and services in order to establish community driven information resources to improve everyday life of community members.

App Movement was launched in February 2015 and now has over 38,000 users who have created over 85 app campaigns and automatically generated 18 mobile applications to support communities in finding dementia friendly places, gender neutral toilets, and drone flying locations, and many more.


App Movement logo


The commissioning of technology remains firmly in the hands of those with the skills, resources, and knowledge to do so. App Movement is the first step to democratising this process and enabling anyone, anywhere to automatically generate their own mobile information resource and support their community in establishing a shared information resource in response to the issues they face.

Removing the technical and monetary restrictions to developing a mobile information resource and scaffolding the process of collaborative design allows more people to engage in the creation of technologies to support communities. In order to automatically generate mobile applications the platform uses a templating approach that allows citizens to select different app templates that can be used to support their community. Currently, the platform provides two templates; a location based rating and review service (similar to TripAdvisor), and a how-to guide to share knowledge on community specific topics.

The platform uses a three stage approach to scaffold the process of participation and development. These phases are the Support Phase, Design Phase, and Launch Phase.

The App Movement process

App Movement supportCitizens start by creating a campaign page, known as a movement, to share their idea and leverage support from their community. Similar to a Kickstarter financial target, App Movement requires citizens to gather 150 supporters within a 14-day period for the campaign to progress into the design phase. This ensures that the community are willing to engage with the idea as well as contribute and sustain the information resource when it’s launched.

App Movement designOnce enough people have supported the idea, the supporters are invited to a design area where they can contribute their ideas and vote on other submissions from the community to select configurable options of the app such as its name, colour scheme, rating options, and logo.

The design area also allows the community to discuss features they might like to see, or how they intend to promote the app. The design area has been developed to be simple and easy to use, in order to encourage contributions from all members within the community.

App Movement launchAfter a seven-day period the design area closes and the winning contributions are selected. They are then used by the platform to automatically generate the native app for both Android and iOS. The platform will then launch the apps in the Google Play and Apple App stores and notify the supporters to begin using the app.

App Movement benefits

  • Democratising the process of commissioning community-driven information resources through automatic app development
  • Removing the technical barriers to commissioning technology
  • Structuring the participation of citizens to engage in the design and development of tools to support communities
  • Establishing a community around an information resource before it is launched to ensure knowledge is contributed and sustained through community contributions
  • Empowering citizens to establish an alternative information resource for the collection of data that can be leveraged for the purpose of civic action

App Movement – where did it come from?

The App Movement platform draws upon our previous research deployment, FeedFinder, a location based review service for breastfeeding mothers to rate and review breastfeeding-friendly locations. Newcastle in particular has some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding despite a large number of health benefits for both the mother and child, and in order to promote breastfeeding in public the digital civics research team coordinated with local NHS breastfeeding support groups to design and develop a smartphone app that enables mothers to rate and review the breastfeeding friendliness of local businesses nearby.

Launching in 2013, FeedFinder now has over 9,000 users who have contributed over 3,000 venues and more than 3,200 reviews within the application and continues to grow and support mothers in the UK as well as Europe, USA, Australia, and India. The research team at Open Lab have published a number of papers based upon women’s experiences of using FeedFinder and have observed first-hand the positive impact of FeedFinder on the lives of breastfeeding mothers.

App Movement usageThe potential for these forms of technology has been identified by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council who recently awarded the FeedFinder project with a Digital Economy Social Impact award for research that rapidly realises the transformational impact of digital technology on community life, cultural experience, future society and the economy. The team are now working with NHS breastfeeding support workers to utilise the data within FeedFinder to improve existing healthcare provisioning through a data driven approach to understanding breastfeeding practices within the UK.

App Movement as digital civics

When deployed within a willing community, there is a high potential for these forms of technology to have a positive impact on everyday life. However, identifying these different community issues is a challenging task that is often limited by the scope of the research team.

To overcome this issue we developed App Movement. This enables citizens to take a more proactive and independent approach to identifying their own issues and developing technologies to support their communities. The platform removes the existing constraints of commissioning technology and democratises the development and design of mobile applications that support a community driven approach to sustaining information resources. Through establishing these shared information resources, we as researchers are able to understand and explore how these technologies are used within communities, but more importantly, communities themselves are able to use this knowledge to improve and overcome issues they face.


App Movement was developed at Open Lab by Andy Garbett, Edward Jenkins, Robert Comber, and Patrick Olivier.

Commissioning in education

Using the notion of commissioning in education is one of the main research agendas in our educational technology subgroup. However, commissioning is a very general term that is used in a variety of ways. Below, I will try to explain what I mean when I say commissioning in education and especially as it applies to the general commissioning platform that we are working on.

In the North East, as well as in most other regions, there is a wealth of intellectual, social, and physical resources that are under-utilized, and in some cases not utilized at all, despite their great potential to contribute to improving the learning experience and social capital of students. A number of initiatives have been made by individuals or organizations to link schools and businesses, public sector, and non-profit organisations, but these are done on a small scale and require a significant amount of coordination. These initiatives have usually proved to be very successful, with benefits to all the partners involved, but due to the amount of effort required to coordinate them, they remain small initiatives lasting only for a limited period of time. Our goal is to build a platform that can play a major role in building school-community partnerships with minimum manual coordination to ensure scalability and sustainability. It is an ambitious goal with many challenges, but that’s what makes it interesting and worthy of being a major research project.

Accordingly, the platform needs to support the following main features:

  • Allow anybody, including students, parents or local businesses, to propose a campaign, learning resource or data collection.
  • Provide tools and channels to help in promoting this idea with the aim of collecting enough endorsements to validate the need and support for any proposal.
  • Once enough support has been gathered, the platform must provide the mechanisms to prepare the required resources. This stage will vary largely depending on the proposed idea.

The main roles identified here are those of the idea proposer, supporters, contributors, and users/beneficiaries. Any person or organisation can play any of these roles. That is, while a local organisation can commission a school to carry out a certain project-based learning activity that has an educational benefit, the school, or even the students themselves, can commission the community members to contribute resources or collect data for them to use in school projects. The platform must therefore allow for a reciprocal relationship between the schools and their communities.

A commissioning platform in practice

Here is an example scenario of how the commissioning platform can be used:

A village shop owner wants to increase awareness about the benefits of shopping from the local village shop versus larger city supermarkets. The owner proposes the idea on the platform with the aim of commissioning students of the village school to lead an awareness campaign on the benefits of using local shops.

The idea gains support from other shop owners and some parents, and a geography teacher at the local school learns about the project.

The project moves to the design phase. The shop owners, with the help of the teacher, shape this idea into a project-based learning activity with clear learning goals. They agree on some key points to address, a time scale, and possible outcomes, such as flyers and an awareness video.

This ends up being a well-defined project-based learning activity that ticks a number of learning objectives around economy, society, environment, effects, and change; one that other teachers can use for their local areas as well.

Whilst carrying out the project, the students decide to start their own commissioning activity where they commission the local community to record short videos on mobile phones and provide data for the students to use to produce their flyers and awareness video.

For more information please contact Ahmed Kharrufa.