Open Lab is Newcastle University’s centre for digital civics research

Digital civics is the application of technology to solve real-world problems, in areas ranging from health and social care to education and politics. Open Lab is a world-leading research centre into human-computer interaction and social and ubiquitous computing, and includes academics from the fields of computer science, design, engineering and social and health sciences.

Technology at the edge

Professor, researcher, author. And organiser of the Tiree Tech Wave, bringing technological experimentation to a remote Scottish island. Alan Dix is among the most influential figures within human-computer interaction, and his career is as varied as it is distinguished. He is an author of one of the key HCI textbooks and has extensive experience of teaching, currently at the University of Birmingham.

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Working towards a Blue House roundabout solution

Following Newcastle City Council’s decision in August to rethink their plans for the Blue House roundabout, a working group was set up with representatives from the Council and local community groups. Open Lab has helped to facilitate this process, including documenting the consultation process on the working group’s website.

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Big Draw jigsaw

A key digital civics theme is looking at new and alternative methods to allow easier participation in how people’s places change. Within this theme, digital local democracy, we are looking at how technology might help enable ‘planning’, the discipline of deciding land uses, to include more people in how their areas change.

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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.

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Doing Double Dabble: organiser reflections

Feminist theory and practice came together at what could be the first of many Double Dabble events. Double Dabble: A Feminist Day of Making was organised by, a group of intersectional feminists at Open Lab who seek to explore and raise awareness of feminist issues in HCI. Angelika and Janis, two of the main organisers of the event, reflected on how things went.

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Creating technologies for people with dementia

850,000 people in the UK are currently living with dementia, but new technologies can offer ways to help them and their families. With Create4Dementia, an online competition delivered by digital civics researchers, these technologies could be designed by the local community.

As well as proposing ideas for technologies to help enrich the lives of people with dementia, members of the local community will be able to vote on and discuss each other’s ideas and shape each stage of the design process.

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Personal data: trust, power and innovation

Digital technology has opened up countless opportunities for collecting, sharing and using data: “a fundamental paradigm shift in our world,” according to Digital Catapult’s Lucie Burgess.
“What we’re seeing now is new models of companies being able to engage with users through their personal data in a way that builds trust,” she explained.

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Self Harmony: rethinking hackathons

Though there is an increasing amount of work on mental health within HCI, there is little work reported on digital technologies specifically for those affected by self-harm. A literature search showed that most existing work within the context of self-harm had been conducted within psychiatry and psychology, and I began to imagine the ways in which technologies could help those affected by self-harm: not just those who engage in the practice,

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Local democracy in action - a reflection on the #notwestminster conference

On 10 and 11 February, we attended the #notwestminster conference in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. This event brought together tens of people from local authorities, universities and tech startups to attend a series of design experiments and workshops centred around strengthening local democracy – however far we happen to be from London.

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Cycling in the city

After nearly a year of workshops, community consultations and research interviews, MyPlace researchers finalised their ‘Cycling in the City’ report. The main aim was to explore the potential of digital tools for those new to cycling in Newcastle upon Tyne. Rachel Clarke, Wilbert den Hoed and Pete Wright report on the use of social technology to increase confidence among new cyclists and the discovery of new routes.

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Helping people get help

Fulfilling Lives works with people in Newcastle and Gateshead with multiple and complex needs, such as mental ill health, drug misuse and homelessness. Many of these people are excluded from the support they need from various providers, and Fulfilling Lives works to help users navigate these services while also trying to change the system into adopting a more person-centred approach.

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Why make a hackathon competitive?

I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on my experiences observing, participating in, and organizing hackathons and hackathon-like events while writing an article for Interactions (forthcoming) with colleagues from Indiana University. In the article, we focused on an event that we organised with members of a local hackerspace. Our goal as researchers was to test out the adoptability of the prompt we designed,

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Metro Futures in Westminster

Researchers from Open Lab were part of the Metro Futures team which presented their consultation project to MPs at a Parliamentary Reception in Westminster.

The event was hosted by Nick Brown MP, whose Newcastle upon Tyne East constituency is served by the Tyne and Wear Metro. He was one of the speakers at the event,

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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.

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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,

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Debate the future of Newcastle's parks

Newcastle’s parks and allotments are facing big changes, but local people are being brought into the discussion.

Open Lab is working with Newcastle City Council to hold workshops and online discussions that include residents, allotment holders, the business community, local charitable groups, friends of parks and other interested parties.

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Sex education and digital civics

There is a problem with sex and relationships education in schools. School require all maintained schools to teach about human growth, reproduction and sexually transmitted infections (STIs); any further information is provided at the discretion of individual schools. Echoing earlier prohibitions on the “promotion of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship” – the notorious Section 28 of the Local Government Act,

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