Technology and the On Hold movement

A new app aims to tap into and expand Greece’s “on hold” movement to encourage Greeks to support their fellow citizens.

Open Lab: Athens was set up in the summer of 2016 to explore the design and development of technologies that support and strengthen solidarity structures in Greece.

The OL: Athens team recently appeared on local radio to discuss their work and the political issues surrounding technology. They are working across a range of areas including education, health and democracy, but one of their most recent projects is with the “on hold” movement.

Customers in shops and cafes can buy extra products, such as a cup of coffee or a loaf of bread, “on hold”. The shopkeeper keeps them behind the counter to give to people who cannot otherwise afford them. In this way people can buy products for their fellow citizens.

OL: Athens has introduced App Movement to the on hold movement to create an app, On Hold Go. As with all App Movement projects, the app will be designed collaboratively by its future users, to reflect what they would like to see from it. This combination of organic social actions and digital technologies shows the potential for OL: Athens and has attracted the attention of local media.

Vasilis Vlachokyriakos, who leads OL: Athens, will also be taking part in a panel discussion at the launch of the European Social Innovation Competition, organised by the European Commission.

This year’s competition will be based around the theme of giving everybody equal access to the benefits of technological change. Vasilis will discuss this theme alongside industry leaders from across Europe.

Written by Mark Sleightholm. For more information please contact Vasilis Vlachokyriakos.

Welcome to Open Lab: Athens

Open Lab has a longstanding interest in the connections between technology and political activism and engaging local communities in decisions that affect them. In the summer of 2016 this research expanded to Greece, with the opening of Open Lab: Athens.

The financial crisis has led to huge changes to Greek society, including the development of a solidarity movement. Open Lab’s first ‘lablet’ aims to work with this movement to design and develop technologies that could facilitate more solidarity structures.

Open Lab has traditionally favoured participatory and embedded research, and OL: Athens is a further example of this: university researchers are working directly alongside citizens and solidarity groups.

OL: Athens is led by Vasilis Vlachokyriakos from Open Lab, in collaboration with researchers from universities across Europe, including Newcastle University, Northumbria University and Swansea University from the UK, Hasselt University in Belgium and Saarland University in Germany. OL: Athens also includes developers to design and develop technologies in collaboration with solidarity groups. The lablet also receives funding from the EPSRC Digital Economy Research Centre at Open Lab, Newcastle University.

OL Athens outsideIn addition to working with technology, the OL: Athens researchers will work closely with local communities. Volunteering and engaging with people involved in the solidarity movement forms a key part of the researchers’ work.

Athens provides a unique opportunity to learn about self-organisation and solidarity movements, and OL: Athens aims to combine the issues and values of the solidarity structures with the development of technology. Vasilis explained: “With the establishment of a local lab in Athens, we sought to begin to develop a collaborative relationship with these groups with the intention of assisting the development of technologies that would support them in their day-to-day activities.”

Currently the lablet is focussing on schools, health care, food provision and local democracy, although the specific areas of research will be determined by the solidarity structures that exist.

Eirini Schoinaraki worked as an intern at OL: Athens during its initial months. “During the past few years, Greece has experienced a long list of changes and is currently experiencing a new period of changes not only on a political / economic level but socially and culturally as well,” she said.

“This has led to an increase in solidarity movements within Greece and I strongly believe that technology will help in facilitating these changes by enabling citizens to progress their ideas and actions. That is why I believe that the initiatives and support provided by OL: Athens can bring about a good change and positively influence Greece’s solidarity movement growth.”

For more information please contact Vasilis Vlachokyriakos.

Open Lab interns

Over the summer three recent graduates joined Open Lab for three-month internships. They worked on various projects at the Lab connected with ways in which digital technology can have a positive impact on society.

Lynne Mackie

Lynne spent time at Open Lab working on an app for people who stammer. She recently completed a master’s degree in Information and Library Studies at the University of Strathclyde, and is the vice-chairperson of the Scottish Stammering Network.

“I applied for the Digital Civics internship after it was advertised through my department at University,” she explained. “It looked like an amazing opportunity to get some hands-on experience of research in a working environment.

“Additionally, the idea of thinking about new ways to use technology for civic good appealed to the librarian in me and I loved the creativity that seemed to go hand-in-hand with the research.”

Stammering workshopLynne attended stammering conferences in the US and Manchester to gather views of people who stammer, and what they would like to see from a possible app. She also researched existing technology for people who stammer, and developed her work into an academic paper.

At the end of her internship Lynne said: “During my time at Open Lab, I was able to see all of the different work that can happen simultaneously within an academic research environment and how ideas can come together to form something new. It was great to see how everyone works together to support and learn from one another.”

Jekaterina Maksimova

Jekaterina had a background in design and came to the Lab to work on three projects. One of these was the maker workshops with Janis. These workshops allowed people with disabilities to use maker technologies such as 3D printers to design and produce objects for themselves.

“I had an opportunity to work with physically impaired people, observe how they work with technologies and how they create an object for themselves,” Jekaterina explained. “Usually, disable assistive devices are developed by non-disabled designers.”

NUM website plansJekaterina also helped Angelika to design a new website for National Ugly Mugs, a network of support for sex workers, and worked with Tom Nappey and a team of Newcastle students who entered iGEM’s annual synthetic biology competition. The team’s project, ‘Culture Shock’, involved combining electrical circuits with biological components, and required the use of Open Lab’s workspaces. Jekaterina helped the team to design and make prototypes and parts for their project.

Jekaterina said: “This project gave me a great understanding how important design is for science nowadays and how interesting it is to work with people from other disciplines.”

Eirini Schoinaraki

Summer 2016 also saw the opening of Open Lab: Athens, and the third intern, Eirini, worked on a website for this.

Eirini headed to Athens after finishing the first year of her Computer Science degree, and explained: “I learnt to work under pressure in an office environment, but more importantly I noticed that although university gives you the tools to learn, these are usually provided in a safe environment and thus limit your understanding of the full scope of what a specific job entails.”

Eirini worked with Vasilis Vlachokyriakos, the leader of the lablet, to set up its website, which involved modifying templates and adapting the website to support the use of the Greek language. She also made the website mobile-friendly by introducing responsive elements to the CSS.

She also translated all of the text on the website, so that it could appear in Greek and English.

Eirini said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the programme (even though I was complaining about the Greek hot summer to Vasilis) and I wish I could have stayed longer.”