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Participatory Design & Digital Civics

The Participatory Design and Digital Civics theme reflects our interdisciplinary focus on exploring the ways in which digital technologies and new civic infrastructures can facilitate new interactions and engagements between people, organisations and governments and enable the development of innovative solutions to tackling development challenges. Our work in this space often involves working with vulnerable and marginalised populations, including in conflict settings, and is typically driven by a participatory ethos where technologies, services and infrastructures are co-designed and co-researched with citizens and relevant stakeholders.

In conducting research on these topics we work with a wide variety of national and international organisations, and collaborate closely with Newcastle University’s Open Lab as part of the EPSRC funded Digital CivicsCentre for Doctoral Training and Digital Economy Research Centre. Our research here has included examining how peer-to-peer technologies might support the co-ordination and peer-led training of volunteers in rural India (with the Swedish Red Cross), and investigating the role that processes of localised social innovation play in aiding communities to develop their own sustainable responses to challenges related to education and healthcare.

A critical aspect of this area of research is exploring the ways emerging and potentially transformational technologies might be better utilised to address development challenges. For example, we are currently working with the University of Edinburgh,Lancaster University and Oxfam to understand how blockchain technologies support new forms of donating money and resources, promote trust and accountability, and automate certain aspects of aid governance. This is an exemplar of the type of work we do in this theme, as it not only involves engaging in the human-centered design of new digital platforms and infrastructures to be evaluated with our project partners, but also involves developing the methods and techniques required to help non-designers and non-technical audiences to understand and co-design these novel and complex technologies.

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