Thursday, 16 December 2010

NCCPE Conference, London - Day 1

Tuesday 7th December 2010

Day 1 of the National Coordinating Centre of Public Engagement (NCCPE) conference (held right next to Westminster Abbey!) was chaired by Prof Kathy Sykes.

The NCCPE in Bristol was established in 2008 as part of the £9.2m Beacons for Public Engagement initiative.

Kathy began by introducing the 'NCCPE Manifesto for Public Engagement' (launched on the day!).

Its an invaluable call, urging every university and research institute in the UK to commit to public engagement, stating:

We believe that universities and research institutes have a major responsibility to contribute to society through their public engagement, and that they have much to gain in return.

We are committed to sharing our knowledge, resources and skills with the public, and to listening to and learning from the expertise and insight of the different communities with which we engage.

We are committed to developing our approach to managing, supporting and delivering public engagement for the benefit of staff, students and the public, and to sharing what we learn about effective practice.

The full 'Manifesto for Public Engagement' booklet can be downloaded here covering topics such as:
- the impact of public engagement on your university, students and staff, civil society.
- what your university can do: developing a strategic approach to public engagement.

Also launched later that day was the NCCPE Concordat for engaging the public with research.

The timely launch of the Manifesto and Concordat provided a great backdrop for the two-day conference.

After a quick 'hands up' it seemed the 300-strong delegate list included: researchers; senior university managers; charities; university support staff; managers and policymakers from outside of the UK; those that would describe themselves as 'catalysts'; and community groups (surprising to see at any 'conventional' public engagement/science communication conference and very refreshing!).

In the first plenary ('The Case for Public Engagement') we heard from Prof Alan Thorpe (Chair, Research Councils UK) on the RCUK 'vision' of public engagement:
- for society to value and have confidence in research.
- to inspire young people to pursue research careers e.g. The Researchers in Residence scheme.
- to increase the societal impact of research.

Alan pointed us towards the 'what's in it for me?' RCUK publication for researchers and touched on the 'pathways to impact' statement ("a visible commitment that every researcher has to consider").

Terry Ryall (CEO for v, the National Young Volunteers Service) followed with an inspirational talk around the role of community groups, young people and youth workers.

The plenary closed with a Q&A session, encompassing:
- how can RCUK work with the media to ensure the correct narrative? The need to move towards a two-way dialogue and working with major media outlets.
- the training of HE students, volunteering and credit with the need to acknowledge the impact of teaching and learning as well.
- representatives from the Swedish Research Council being surprised at "how open the RCUK is to letting the public inform decisions and frame the research design".

Parallel sessions took over from here and I opted to attend:
(1) 'Issues and Challenges in Co-Inquiry Research' hosted by Prof Sarah Banks, representing the Centre for Social Justice and Community Action (at Durham University) and also the University of Newcastle.

Dr Audley Genus presented his work with a housing co-op which included a series of workshops to research the community's energy needs and suppliers. Audley emphasised the "importance of building networks and sustaining them". He moved on to denounce the idea of 'selecting participants' via a rational sample with a successful community-University collaborative project being more dependent on "those who want to work with you and who you can work with".

Audley's top tips for researchers were:
- tune into what participants want.
- manage expectations.
- bring experts on board, bringing people together.
- deliver on your promises.
- write notes up quickly.
- get outcomes communicated clearly and quickly.
- try your best to build confidence about you.

Finally, Audley surmised that the "nature of co-inquiry means you have to be able to live with the idea that sometimes a project won't work in one, particular way".

During the co-inquiry (meaning co-operative experiential inquiry) session it was great to see community representation in the form of Maurice Clarkson from community group 'Thrive!'. We heard about Thrive!'s collaboration with the University of Durham on a project where medical students do placements in the community, experiencing the problems being faced, such as isolation and deprivation, first-hand. Maurice also mentioned the BBC documentary and their feature on YouTube which resulted from such projects, with Thrive! acting as a "brokerage firm between the University and the people they wanted to research".

The session also included discussion from Robert Moss and Dr Andrew Russell.

The Q&A that followed discussed the following:
- the practical ethical challenges associated with university-community collaboration, e.g. the sharing of power and leadership roles, respecting different expertise, confidentiality, acknowledgement of contributions, dissemination of outcomes, and issues surrounding university research ethics policies.
- the Participatory Network for Change (PNFC) conference is taking place on the 13th January 2011. For more information and to register (£10 attendance fee) you should contact Penny Vincent.
- the differences experienced across disciplines.
- "doing research with people rather than on people".
- where do you put your (limited) resources; capturing, evaluating and measuring the social impact or 'just getting on with it'?

Final thought: "if it doesn't make a difference in your lives/community, why bother?"

Overall, an inspirational session!

(2) 'Taster Session - Engaging the Social Sciences' co-hosted by Melanie Knetsch from RCUK Office in India and Clare Wilkinson from UWE.

The (varied) definitions of 'public(s)' and 'public engagement' came up, along with need for the 'public' and physical scientists to really grasp what social science is. Also on the menu: concerns about over-engagement, the 'general public' as some mythical construct, 'users' as non-academics, and an 'audience' with connotations of one-way, stunted dissemination.

Melanie pointed us towards the ESRC's 'social science for schools' website. It turns out Melanie had met dot.rural's Technical Director at a recent workshop in India. Small world.

After lunch, I plumped for the parallel session on:
(3) 'What does it take to do engagement well?', delivered by CUEeast at the University of East Anglia, and Lara Isbel from the Edinburgh Beltane.

This kicked off with a screening of a short film by two researchers who took to the streets of Norwich, armed with a video camera and a microphone, asking two very simple questions: What is research? Who is it for?

The main findings are summarised here:
- Need - the need should drive research (not the other way around) and the research must be targeted.
- Accessibility - its difficult for members of the 'public' to find research online, often only being able to access an abstract before needing to pay a subscription fee for the full article.
- Education - facts are important, c.f. journalism.
- Public Awareness - the researchers have a responsibility to understand more about concerns/needs of the public, especially regarding issues such as quality of life, health etc.
- Responsibility - its everyone's responsibility to engage in this two-way dialogue.
- Other - the most useful conversations were actually conducted off-camera.

The interactive, quick-fire Q&A exercise on perceptions and attitudes around public engagement (if you fled with the 'buzzer' you know who you are!) followed, with the aim of highlighting the subjectivity of perceptions. Any big surprises?...
- 3% of us in the room said they consider the primary purpose of public engagement to be to 'generate income and be 'accountable''.
- The percentage split between public engagement having to be 'paid' or 'voluntary' was pretty much 50-50. Would payment be an incentive for researchers? Should it be written into a researcher's job description? What is meant by 'payment' (financial/temporal/credits)?...
- The communication support most needed was thought to be related to identifying social, ethical and political issues and using technology and digital media.
- Regarding 'reflection', almost 70% of us present felt that we'd need more support with understanding/evidencing the impact of our work.
- The diversity and complexity of engagement activities, increasingly conducted across disciplines, means the skill-set required is no longer related to the type of engagement activity, but is much broader.

CUEeast gave us some tips on recognition and training...
- institutions should consider distributing awards for involvement in public engagement activities at, for example, graduation ceremonies.
- training at institutions should define clear learning outcomes, exploit links with professional career paths, and include reference to: film-making; presenting at Cafe Scientifiques; delivering professional demonstrations; understanding your audience; and empathy.

Lara presented the Edinburgh Beltane online training depository with the training agenda centred around the three key areas of communication, project management and public engagement pathways. For more info on this, see the interim review (p17) here.

Lara went on to emphasise:
- the inclusive approach adopted there with a philosophy to involve everyone at the institution (support staff, administrators, management, researchers, students...).
- the importance of sharing courses between institutions and the 'Beltane Bursary' where two places are reserved on any one course for those not affiliated with the host university.

Paul Manners
(Director, NCCPE) chaired the final plenary of the day, entitled 'A President's Reflection on the Role of Engagement in Universities' with Dame Prof Nancy Rothwell (President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Manchester and Principal Investigator, Manchester Beacon).

Paul took the opportunity to announce the relaunched website which includes a section bringing together some of the evidence for the benefits of engagement to research and teaching.

He also reported on how researchers can be supported to develop their skills in engagement.

So I've rambled...

After grabbing a quick bite, we all piled onboard the Tattershall Castle for Bright Club. I really enjoyed listening to the Neuroscientist but there were (certain) parts that induced flashbacks of holidaying at Butlins in the '80s. Bizarre!

I was left wondering what day 2 would have in store...


Gorry & Claire in London: Satellites, Public Engagement and Buses!

Monday 6th December 2010

So ahead of my National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) conference and Gorry's week of meetings in London, we took the opportunity to touch base with Avanti and, just around the corner, Inmarsat.

First stop Inmarsat...

We met up with Paul Febvre to discuss dot.rural-Inmarsat collaboration in the future and potential involvement with the DigiBus (coming soon!). The agenda also included the National Science and Engineering Week free, satellite-themed public event we're planning for 17th March 2011 at 7 pm - put in your diary! We're inviting satellite manufacturers, internet service providers, space agencies and more!

Next we hurried round the corner to Avanti to catch-up with Trevor Barker (guest speaker at Arjuna's NGA workshop at Digital Futures 2010) and Graham Peters...

We're working with Avanti on the part TSB-funded Digital Advanced Rural Testbed (DART) project so met up to kick things off.

In case you missed the spectacular satellite launch - making the DART project possible - you can watch it here.

It was great to meet with Paul, Trevor and Graham on our whistle-stop tour. Next stop, the NCCPE conference...

Bye for now!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Profile: Nico Rotstein

Name: Nicolás Daniel Rotstein

Start date: 22/02/10

Project/area: I'm currently working for FITS and starting soon with ASSURE

Favourite biscuit? Argentinian ones: alfajores Havanna, although a couple of my officemates expressed their opinion about me liking anything edible on anybody's desk

Favourite place? for whom to do what? Geographical place… mmm… away from urbanity, not cold, in a tent

Favourite word? In Spanish: "excelso"; in English: "whatsoever"

Twitter? Facebook? Other? Facebook and face-to-face

iPhone? Blackberry? Other? iPhone

What can you not live without? random conversation (which is different from chitchat)

Which character from film, television or literature most resembles you? The Godfather, I've been told - but I think they were referring to the actor

If you weren't working at dot.rural, what would you be doing? trying to start a career writing fiction

Use ten words to describe a dot.rural colleague (without naming names): that rules "ruthless" out - affable, amiable, congenial, cordial, demonstrative, convivial, companionable, sociable, gregarious, outgoing

Is there anything we don't already know about you? yes

Monday, 18 October 2010

Digital Futures 2010 - Day 3

The final day of the conference was comprised of two workshop sessions, morning and afternoon.

The first was Arjuna's - Enabling Universal Service Provision using Next Generation Access (NGA) Technologies. Unsurprisingly, the key to customer satisfaction when providing internet access is speed, reliability and cost.

We heard from Cybermoor, an organisation which provides internet access for the 'final third', going the last mile (download slides here). So what next? What follows Cybermoor?... Fibremoor of course!

If you're wanting to check out speeds in your area, have a look at Sam Knows.

Trevor Barker of Avanti delivered the second talk of the session (download slides here). We heard about HYLAS I (a satellite providing coverage for western Europe in 2010) and HYLAS II (Middle East and Africa, 2012). Trevor was understandably a little nervous - his satellite was just days from lift off... or disaster!

Avanti's portfolio includes: the Scottish Government's broadband reach project, getting more than 2000 customers online in the Highland and Islands; the department of Trade, Enterprise and Investment's rural broadband initiative in Northern Island; service provision in city-centre locations such as Birmingham; wind farm data analysis and dam monitoring.

So we know the delivery of broadband in rural areas is driven by population density, but what about the 'final third'? Maybe satellite technology can help...

The Hercules next generation satellite promises ~50 Mbps for ~700,000 customers meanwhile NXY will deliver a pilot service of iPlayer (with support from the BBC). The NXY pilot, to be rolled out to 100 homes in the UK, will be based on caching content on a hard drive, to be accessed (on demand) locally.

Its clear that satellite technology is not competing with the terrestrial, but rather complementing it.

It was interesting to hear from John Seton (BT Research and Development) and their ambitious plans: allocating £2.5 bn to roll out fibre to the first two-thirds of the UK by 2015; and the 'race to infinity' (a demand registration scheme, building a map of demand, with a competitive edge!).

John went on to talk about the BT project with Cornwall Council - NGA for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. The plan? For up to 90% of homes and businesses in the area to get fibre access by 2014, building on the previous actnow campaign.

OK, OK, so its technically possible to deliver NGA to everyone, including the final third but what John really wants to know is what's everyone doing with it?! What do you really want to be able to do with high-speed broadband? Answers on a postcard...

John concluded by summarising BT's rural broadband research partnerships, to build a community of people, share information and best practice:
- the Wales research hub/rural observatory (coming soon!)
- Cornwall, Plymouth University and UC Falmouth
- Bute (a different way of serving 'not spots')
- and dot.rural!

Fresh from catching up with the Rural Broadband Conference in Penrith, dot.rural's Gorry Fairhurst led the fourth presentation (download slides here). Click here to watch Gorry's talk.

Jonathon Ishmael from Lancaster University brought the morning session to a close, introducing us to the 'Wray Living Lab' (download slides here).

The Wray broadband project built a live network testbed, leading to research into wireless mesh and social impact. Jonathon talked about the essential information required to maintain the network, user contention and security concerns.

My 'Engaging the Public with the Digital Economy' workshop followed after lunch with a great line up.

I kicked off with the introduction (download slides here) and then Chloe Sheppard discussed funding opportunities and the benefits of public engagement to the research community. If you're a researcher and you don't already know about the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE), the Fresh Science initiative, and the RCUK guides and toolkits... you should do!

Paul Rosen (download slides here) and Cathy Brown (download slides here) then delivered talks on the Researchers in Residence and STEM Ambassadors schemes, respectively. Remember, the two schemes are not mutually exclusive!

It was a pity the number of workshop participants was down on the registered figure - probably due to the unfortunate scheduling. Nevertheless, interesting points were raised and engaging discussions had by all.

Does the UK academia place too much emphasis on public engagement in the context of schools? What about other community partnerships?

Mark Dyball from People Science and Policy gave an overview of evaluation, highlighted the distinction between evaluation and monitoring and emphasised the value in planning evaluation as with any other exercise (download slides here).

Geoff Parsons from the British Science Association made it just in time (straight from a schools talk) to talk about 'the three principles' - engagement, translation and credibility.

Another Q&A session followed before I announced - da, da, da! - the 'final challenge'!

The final challenge: To participate (plan/deliver) in a public engagement activity (public, schools, research users etc) before January 2011 and share experiences – good and bad – online via the dot.rural blog. We look forward to reading the entries!

So what's the overall verdict on the conference? Digital Futures provides a great platform for the Digital Economy (DE) Hubs, DE Doctoral Training Centres and industry to get together, network and share knowledge. I think DE students and research staff would benefit from bursaries enabling more to attend.

It seemed dot.rural and the challenges of rural communities was a little under-represented during the three days and, rather disappointingly, the content didn't appear to be balanced across the three subject areas: Computing Science, Communications Engineering and Social Science.

Remember, dot.rural were tweeting throughout - you can follow us and catch-up with all our tweets here.

On the final night, before flying back to Aberdeen, the fire alarm rang out and our hotel was evacuated at 4 am! Dazed and confused we froze outside for an hour until... crew from the three fire engines confirmed there was in fact no fire(!)

Don't forget, the full programme from Digital Futures 2010 can be found here.

Finally, thanks to all those involved in making the workshops a success and thanks to the Horizon organising team!

We look forward to SiDE hosting it next year and hope to hear about more projects with real transformative potential.

See you next year!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Digital Futures 2010 - Day 2

Microsoft's Andrew Herbert keynote launched day 2: 'New Technologies for the Digital Economy' on telemedicine, directing treatments to individuals (by mathematical proofs), e-science outputs, virtual worlds, ageing populations and Bayesian inference. Let's just hope Andrew didn't stick around to hear another presenter rant I hate Windows during her talk later that day...

The first session of the morning, entitled 'Digital Experimentation (In the Wild)', started with a team from Glasgow University on 'Mass Participation in User Trials'. Two mobile applications were presented: the World Cup Predictor and Hungry Yoshi. I just can't help thinking, are these really solutions to the pressing challenges that the Digital Economy was conceived to solve?...

SiDE Ph.D .student Kyle Montague talked about ‘Adaptive Design’, treating users as individuals and the IndoorNav project. He went on to point out that adaptive systems, like Amazon ‘remembering’ what you bought and recommending future purchases, actually have skewed models of who we are… since Amazon is completely unaware of his passion for BBQs!!

The session concluded with Adam Moore from Horizon talking about ‘Positioning in the Wild – Illustrating Emerging Issues’, augmented reality, navigate [the information space] by navigation, narrating the past and present by overlaying photos and annotations on mobile applications. The example shown centred around the now non-existent pub, ‘Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem’ – a great starting point for any research project!

This talk raised lots of questions for the geographers in the house, including: How do you define ‘place’?... Should we be adopting this kind of approach – real-time images, GPS, annotations, historical facts, and narratives – within the Enterprise & Culture or Natural Resource Conservation projects?

The morning session that followed, ‘Emergent Ideas’, took the quick fire format – ensuring the talks were snappy and engaging.

George Kuk presented the ‘Innovator’s Dilemma: Digital Inclusion vs. Innovation’ and ubiquitous computing, asking is such IT and Internet access a ‘right’. George also discussed codified knowledge – computer vs. information literacy – and posing social complementarity (i.e. reaching out to user communities) as the only solution.

Another topic with strong links to our Enterprise & Culture projects came from Ann Light, presenting ‘ and Ethical Marketing 2.0’. The talk focused on consumer interfaces and ethical information and the effort to make the provenance of goods more visible to all parties involved in the transaction, e.g. throughout the production, shipment and trade of, say, Indian coffee. Some key challenges arose during the project, including issues surrounding ethical credentials (which party gets what?), political sensitivity… and the question of the responsibility of researchers.

Paul Egglestone and Jon Rogers presented the next, rather refreshing, quick fire talk: ‘Bespoke: Increasing Social Inclusion through Community Journalism and Bespoke Design’. The title pretty much says it all! The Bespoke project puts the ‘grass roots’ approach into practice, asking the community directly about the types of products or services they would like. Paul and Jon achieve this, not by traditional methods such as surveys or questionnaires, but through the medium of journalism and community news as insight tools.

The Bespoke project trained up and commissioned community reporters, for the estate, from the estate itself. After distributing their stories in community newspapers and identifying themes, physical outputs were built. This culminated in the creation and deployment of ‘digital buskers’. Is there any scope for a Bespoke-type tool when engaging with, and conducting research in, rural communities?

A series of transport-related quick fire talks followed – are you listening Accessibility & Mobilities?... (Disappoint for John N though, no mention of taxis!).

SiDE reviewed their work on ‘Digital Transport: Using DE Systems to monitor and assess the technical and driving performance of electric vehicles’. Their research included identifying the related issues (power consumption/regeneration, driving performance, road topology, weather conditions etc). The end goal of mapping the perceived vs. projected range (e.g. how far can an electric vehicle travel along a particular trajectory) then considered all of these measurements and challenges... with surprising results! What was even more surprising was that after a day and half, this was the first mention of ‘rural communities’!!

Nikolay Mehandjiev’s talk on ‘Balancing Commuter Traffic with Agents’ continued the transport theme, introducing agents as transport segments (roads, trains, buses) and multi-modal routing. The agents regulate the segment load at peak times, negotiate with other, personal agents (e.g. journey planners) and enable ‘bidding’. The model is based around eco-credits, distributed as an incentive and able to be cashed in, for a tax return. Related issues of privacy and security need still to be addressed, while establishing the cognitive and social factors impacting multi-modal commuting is also outstanding.

It seems there’s considerable overlap between this research and, our: agents technology platform; our Accessibility & Mobilities projects; and the potential for developing associated business models and forging commercial partnerships with Royal Mail, local councils etc (i.e. our Enterprise & Culture projects).

Members of the Horizon DE Hub presented their talk on ‘User and organisational needs for ad-hoc car sharing’ and the socially connected journey, illustrated by two applications – car sharing and taxi sharing. Their findings include: the context of car/taxi sharing is important (another anecdote featuring line dancing!); car/taxi sharing is more found to be acceptable when occasional; time information is more important in the decision-making process than route information; the timing of setting up the car/taxi sharing is important; users are prepared to share their data; cost savings or incentives are well received. In terms of user interfaces and the delivery of information, it was reported that simple text messages were more valued, as opposed to complex geographical representations. So, what was their overall message? Technology can help, but within a social context.

Iain Buchan’s talk on ‘NHS e-Labs: Engineering Digital Health Economies’ doubled the number of ‘rural community’ mentions! I saw obvious synergies with our Healthcare projects and the topics Iain covered - chronic diseases, co-morbidities, the ‘what if’ policy simulator for planning and impact assessment, personalised and local healthcare.

The group from Cranfield University presented ‘Energy Harvesting MEMS: A promising alternative to power the digital economy’ and their potential use in sensor systems, the Healthcare sector and environmental monitoring. Maybe I was missing something pretty key but piezoelectric (quartz etc) and thermoelectric materials have been around for years... So I was left wondering what exactly was novel here? Meanwhile, Arjuna was left wondering if its possible to wirelessly 'share' energy between networks of MEMS? (Take a look here at one potential application, completely independent of the discussions which took place during Digital Futures.

The morning session came to a close and, rather frustratingly, I'd only just discovered the delegate list here. Hmmm... Surely an essential feature of any conference pack?

I managed a tad more networking over lunch which included an interesting discussion with a new SiDE student. Could the hosts of other Digital Futures work 'breakout sessions' into their programme? Even informal groups where, say, students are scheduled to gather for ~30 minutes for a short introduction could prove helpful.

dot.rural’s Director, John Farrington, chaired the first session after lunch, entitled ‘Digital Inclusion’. First up was Paul Watson on social inclusion in the digital economy, building up a pool of over 3000 users, highlighting strong links with our Healthcare project on chronic disease management and exclaiming we can't just solve this with a technology push. ‘Rural communities’ also got another mention, but hey, who’s counting?! At the end of his talk, I left wanting to know more about Culture Lab...

Lorna Gibson opened her talk on ‘Facilitating Appropriate Access to Consumer Healthcare Information’ with this stat: 68% of people in the UK have searched for health information online. Uh-oh...

The last talk of the session was Leela Damodaran’s on the subject of ‘Sustaining Digital Engagement: Some Emerging Issues’ and the Sus-IT project. Leela introduced the idea of a ‘virtual grandchild’ – a type of real-time, on demand reference ‘tool’ or person to assist older people with IT challenges... Great idea but where does it end? Would we need a ‘virtual great-grandchild’ to explain how to use the ‘virtual grandchild’ and so on... ‘The project is designed to prolong the independence of older people through IT use... of particular relevance for our Healthcare theme?

After the break, Edoardo Pignotti’s talk on ‘a provenance fabric’ included discussion on the security of data provenance and the need for an architecture to describe and uniquely identify artefacts, processes, organisations, people and social networks and to define relationships between these.

Martin Flintham from Horizon and the Mixed Reality Lab led the penultimate talk, on ubiquitous technologies, the power of crowd sourcing and the context of outside (i.e. not in a conventional TV studio) broadcasting where ‘we’ become the directors/editors). One example given was a Radiohead gig in 2009 where the audience filmed, edited and published the performance (crowd sourcing, citizen journalism and outside broadcasting in action). Some research examples given were based on the ideas of the viewer directing their own experience, mobile video-streaming platforms and marathons as ‘many spectators, many participants’ scenarios.

Chris Greenhalgh’s talk, ‘Towards a Platform for Urban Games’, lobby services on mobile devices and ‘exploding places’ concluded day 2.

Before dinner at Fothergills...

we had a rare few minutes to explore Nottingham's delights - well, the castle.

OK, the Robin Hood statue as well...

Day 3 is on its way...


Saturday, 16 October 2010

Digital Futures 2010 - Day 1

On Sunday October 10th, a few dot.rural's travelled down to the Horizon Digital Economy Hub in Nottingham. Profs John F and Tim, Dr Arjuna, and Chris B were all attending the first Digital Futures annual conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (whilst dot.rural's Hien was representing us at Innovate 10, London).

Note to self: Never stay in the 'Nottingham Central Travelodge' again.

Day 1 kicked off with an intro from John Hand (RCUK, Digital Economy Programme) asking us to note who is not here that should be? I looked around but couldn't see any users...

The keynote on 'Living with a Contextual Footprint' and delivered by Tom Rodden followed. Whilst Tom talked about privacy and permanency, I considered the irony of blogging about it later.

The morning session on 'Digital Identity and Storage' included talks from Richard Mortier on a decentralised future, 'the cloud', 'the mist' and 'droplets'!

This was followed by Wendy Moncur on 'Digital Inheritance' - an unavoidably morbid topic, however its presented. Wendy's talk threw up a few surprises; there's a very real possibility that anyone of us will be baptised a Mormon after death, irrespective of our personal beliefs during life.

The final talk of the morning came from Derek McAuley on 'all our data in one place', data mining, business models, trust and ownership.

We paused for lunch (four desserts for Arjuna!) before reconvening for the 'Digital Interaction and Experience' afternoon session.

Gabriella Giannchi discussed the 'case of Rider Spoke', mixed media experiences and documents and archives to help connect communities. The idea of mashups and annotating and tagging digital media to enhance experiences... Are there any links with our Enterprise & Culture and/or Natural Resource Conservation projects, e.g. wrt to tourism?

'Automics' was introduced by Steve Benford as automated comics, going on to present theme parks as a complex photo ecology. I was looking forward to this but was left wondering about the scope of such photo, experience-based and semi-personalised souvenirs. Would I buy one at the end of a day at Alton Towers? No, probably not.

I was thankful for the exciting talk on 'Collaborative Cross-Modal Interfaces' from the team Queen Mary which pepped up the afternoon. Nick, Tony and Oussama introduced auditory diagrams; a tool to make diagrams more accessible to those with no/partial vision (whether depicting management structures in companies, files and folders on computers, technical schematics or financial plots). Ever wondered what an arrow 'sounds' like? This seemed to be one real example of (potentially) changing peoples lives using technology.

Ella Taylor-Smith's talk on 'Web 2.0 for Collaborative Production', e-government, e-participation, inclusion, connecting institutes of 'local power' in the Big Society and stronger social networks... This one prompted lots of discussion from the floor: is there a tension between inclusion and innovation? Is e-participation techno deterministic? How can we get people to act altruistically? Paul Kindred from the Welsh Assembly asked: There's a positive UK (mostly England & Scotland) inclusion agenda right now (Martha Lane Fox etc) but what about Wales?

I'd never heard of the Good Gym before. Its a brilliant initiative where Londoners do good deeds whilst out running, like delivering library books to elderly or house-bound residents en route. Its probably the one thing, if nothing else, I'll take away from Digital Futures. Thanks Ella!... Is there anyway of adapting this model and applying it to solve challenges in rural areas?

A quick break, a little bit of networking and a lot of coffee and cookies later... The 'Digital Communities' section began (chaired by dot.rural's Tim Norman).

It was great to hear from Lorna Gibson on the Seeds For Design project and the digitally disengaged. Currently the project is centred around Leeds, Dundee and Kent. Are there any plans to extend this study to rural areas?

The next talk of the session was by Ruth Rettie on 'CHARM: The Social Norm Approach to Sustainable Behaviour Change'. The CHARM project is an example of using digital technologies to assist with behaviour change. Keep your eyes peeled for the associated iGreen Facebook app, to be launched soon!

Jon Whittle
from Lancaster University presenting 'VoiceYourView: Mapping Public Confidence in Policing' concluded this session - undoubtedly the most engaging of all sessions over the two days.

VoiceYourView is a super initiative involving perception maps and natural language generation (links with dot.rural's MIME and Accessibility & Mobilities projects, as well as a technology platform?). VoiceYourView collects observations (such as 'how safe do you think your neighbourhood is?...) and overlays these on geographical maps, publishing them on public displays in real-time, with a view to improving society. Take a look at their paper here...

Does the combination of perceptions (or indeed facts) and maps pose any opportunities for dot.rural's Accessibility & Mobilities projects? Could real-time mapping of perceptions and actual data (e.g. on bus arrival times) assist the informed flexible passenger project?

Jon's presentation prompted questions such as: What if you simultaneously mapped perceptions and reality? Could publishing perceptions actually shape data, creating extreme scenarios in society? i.e. If you believe crime to be high in an area, could that belief, when made public, actually drive crime up beyond the true level?...

After a short break the evening poster session began. Two dot.rural members were selected to present their research: Arjuna Sathiaseelan on universal service provisioning using next generation access technologies;

and Chris Baillie on provenance in the web of linked sensor data.

With a long and jam-packed day almost behind us all that was left was the conference dinner: tomato soup with mozzarella; apricot stuffed chicken with vegetables/squash crumble; and lemon tart. Thanks to John F, I attempted to challenge Arjuna's 'four dessert record'. Unfortunately, my two helpings of lemon tart, white chocolate 'slice' and raspberry coulis just wasn't enough to claim victory.

A review of day 2 is on its way...


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Carbon Responsible Transport Conference. Aberdeen 12/10/10

I attended a conference for the European Interreg project CARE-North at Aberdeen City Council where speakers from Scotland and other northern European cities presented. The presentations in the morning were related to the Scottish context and discussed transport policy as well as business, cultural and social factors that influence transport strategies and modal choice. Professor Richard Laing discussed the importance of public engagement in transport strategy and outlined initial findings from a study which indicated that the public on the whole support initiatives to improve air quality in Aberdeen City. Philip Smart presented on the importance of engaging with the business community when trying to reduce pollution from freight vehicles. In the panel discussion there was some debate about how to overcome the issues of the politicisation of transport and a quite extensive (and polarisedl!) discussion about a suggestion that lorries be allowed to use dedicated bus lanes to prevent them becoming stuck in traffic. There was also discussion of how the economic downturn was affecting the development of carbon responsible transport strategies.

The afternoon presentations were from speakers from Leeds and some of the European partners. I particularly enjoyed the presentation from Michael Glotz Richter from Bremen about Low Emissions Zones (LEZs) and Car Clubs where he demonstrated that even though the LEZ was initially very controversial with the business community, it has been successful and has attracted widespread interest from around the world. Also, Steve Heckley from Leeds Metro highlighted the importance of developing robust (low cost) methodologies for monitoring carbon impacts which ties in with the work of the RGU team by Amar Nayak. In the final panel discussion a delegate who had worked in transport in Africa raised the point that high polluting vehicles from Europe were being exported to developing countries thus shifting the problem of emissions around rather than tackling the problem on a global scale. There were also discussions about the relative importance of developing electric and other 'clean' vehicles vs promoting modal shift to walking and cycling.

Although there was recognition of the tremendous challenges for local governments developing carbon responsible transport strategies the tone of the conference was very upbeat and I left feeling positive for the future development of low carbon transport initiatives in Europe.


Tuesday, 28 September 2010

EnvironmentYES: The Result!

So the updates fell by the wayside a bit but there was good reason for it. Firstly, the Internet provided by our hotel was shockingly bad and it took the best part of Thursday afternoon to load our blog from Wednesday! Secondly, the competition was peaking and all our resources were ploughed into generating the best business plan that we could!

Our hypothetical business had some credited members who provided a well rounded team of entrepreneurs. Introducing PIP (People Inspired Power)...

Managing Director: Dr Anna Evely, having recently been a senior manager at Solar Central Ltd Anna is well placed to lead our business into the renewable energy sector, her natural ability to enthuse others makes her a driving force in the team.

Financial Director: Emily Lambert, with a strong background of financial representation and a personal interest in environmental issues, Emily has spent many a late night working streams of numbers into understandable business projections.

Science Director: Dr Laura Lehtovirta, a string of academic accolades make Laura highly equipped to deal with the technical logistics of the PIP strip, prepared for any question she will excite interest in this product like no other.

Marketing Director: Gina Maffey, coming from Hydro Electric Gina already knows the energy market well, her attention to detail may result in late finishes but PIP is now ingrained on many people's memories.

So with this fantastic team we ventured into the board room to face the investors. After a 5.30AM finish we were riding purely on adrenalin, however lack of sleep was never going to stop us. The standard of competition was high but we felt we delivered an exciting and high energy pitch, and left the investors asking for more... literally... they were genuinely interested in the idea and had a lot of questions. We left the room relieved, happy and ready to hit the bar. Which is exactly what we did.

After a two hour wait all the teams returned to the board room for the results to be delivered. We soon found out that the investors had chosen...

the Northern Irish group...

in all honesty we were a little sad, how could we not be after the intense few days we'd been through. However, all was not lost, we found that the University of Aberdeen BiotechYES group had won their round!! Congratulations guys!!

In retrospect what are our take home messages from this event:
  1. Have Fun!! We managed to avoid arguing all week, despite the stressful nature of the project.
  2. Application is key! Having to use skills we had only been taught minutes before increased our level of understanding at a phenomenal rate.
  3. Keep it simple stupid! Keeping communication at a level that is understandable for a broad audience is key. If people want to know more they will ask questions!
Finally... PIP has the People, PIP has the Inspiration, PIP has the Power, all PIP needs now is YOU!

Gina, Anna, Emily and Laura

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Day 2 at EnvironmentYES!

Well today has been intense! After an educational taxi ride, where we were lectured on why the government is failing society today, we arrived at the conference centre. With 15mins to spare before we started, Emily and Gina managed to sweet talk the café manager to give us some biscuits having missed out on breakfast. We were all very grateful of these as from 9.30am till 1pm we were put through five packed lectures on aspects of finance, marketing, patenting and business plans. If you were following our tweets you’ll see that some of these were far more interesting than others!

Following lunch refreshed, refuelled and ready to go we headed to our individual conference rooms to begin outlining our business plan. Throughout the afternoon we were visited by four experts to help us develop our ideas. As the blog detailed yesterday we had been playing around with three concepts, and having slept on them we were all equally enthused by the energy transfer idea (Sorry Mark and Steve!), and had begun to explore this further doodling logos and the like throughout the morning.

The input from the experts has been invaluable this afternoon and as things drew to a close at 5.30pm we were reminded that at 6.30pm we had to give a 60sec elevator pitch to the rest of the groups. An elevator pitch is a hypothetical scenario where you are in a lift with an investor, and so have 60sec to concisely communicate your idea. Whilst sitting in the room waiting to hear the other groups speak we suddenly recalled that this pitch was also a competition, with a prize for the winning team! The tension increased!

Below is the transcript of our pitch that Gina delivered, hopefully you should understand our business idea from this, although please remember the technology is entirely our imagination, it is our business understanding that is being tested here!

As we are continually reminded energy resources are depleting, yet there is an untapped resource that continues to grow year on year, week by week and day by day… PEOPLE.
My name’s Gina and I am from ‘People Inspired Power’ or ‘PIP’. We have developed a new product that harnesses the power of footsteps. At its simplest the PIP STRIP is a pressure pad mat that converts kinetic energy into electricity.
Imagine a tube station where 10s of 1000s of commuters pass through ticket barriers everyday. Installing a PIP STRIP into this forced thoroughfare would generate enough electricity to not only power the station but to give electricity back to the grid as well.
PIP is safe, green, simple and cost effective.
Money may make the world go round but with PIP footsteps will drive it.

After all the groups had presented we had to vote for what we felt was the best pitch, although we were banned from voting for ourselves! HOWEVER, we managed to walk away with over 50% of the votes and an unquestionable win! Our winnings consisted of ‘The growing business handbook’ and a choice between book tokens or bubbly… naturally we took the wine. We have received a lot of praise from experts and teams alike, but have no fear this has not gone to our heads as we settle down to continue working and building on our early success.

With a late night ahead, and an early start tomorrow we’ll leave you now and look forward to hearing your feedback soon!

Gina, Anna, Emily and Laura

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Day 1 at EnvironmentYES!

Blogging from the EnvironmentYES competition in Edinburgh, a young entrepreneurs scheme aiming to increase the level of entrepreneurial awareness in the environmental science community.

Hi all,

So we have finally all made it to Edinburgh (Anna Evely and Emily Lambert all the way from London! Gina Maffey and Laura Lehtovirta from Aberdeen), and managed to find our apartment in preparation for tomorrow. We are currently camped out in true brain storming style... papers all over the floor, pizza delivery on call and wine chilling in the fridge!

Tomorrow on the agenda we have a morning of talks on various aspects of business and marketing, this is followed by an afternoon of exploring our current ideas with experts on tap. To give a brief outline of the competition, we are asked to market a real or hypothetical solution to an existing environmental problem. We are judged on our ability to market the product, not the product itself, although of course our knowledge of the problem has to stand up to some questioning! We have been asked to come with some ideas but nothing set in stone, so we would love to hear your thoughts on the following...

  • Vertical gardening - Similar to green roofs, utilising this commercial technology but marketing it on a domestic scale, and in a way that can be installed in existing buildings. This holds potential for small scale food production as well as bringing nature to communities and children that currently do not have access to outdoor spaces.
  • People powered energy plant - Harnessing the kinetic energy stored in each of us to effectively produce electricity. Applications include looking at games consoles, like the WII, to power the TV while it's in use, gym classes in schools to supply lighting in other classes and using the footfall of commuter traffic to light the underground (This last example has been piloted successfully in Tokyo station). This holds both small scale and industrial possibilities, along with running alongside health campaigns and energy bill reductions.
  • Flood warning technology - Using sensor systems that work on three levels. The first level sensor would be activated when water levels are moderately high and would alert the local meteorological station, the second level sensor would be activated if water levels continue to rise alerting local governments and councils that evacuation could be possible. Finally, the third level sensor would be activated when water levels are dangerously high to alert local communities that evacuation is imminent.

Right, we are off to watch another episode of Dragons Den, all in the name of team bonding and research!!

We will also be tweeting on @AberdeenCES this week and would love to hear from you!

Gina, Anna, Emily and Laura

TechFest Activity Weekend - technology museum pushes all the right buttons!

Another One Bytes the Dust
9.00am - 4.30pm, Saturday 18th & Sunday 19th September 2010
Beach Ballroom, Aberdeen

Ever wondered what one of the world's first computers looked like and what it could do? Want to find out how mobile phones can shrink? Curious to discover the link between musical drums and a hole-punch?... Then you should have joined the ~3000-strong crowd of visitors at the Beach Ballroom last weekend to find out!

With a van load of kit, a team of dot.rural researchers (and TechFest-SetPoint's Techie the Terrier!) were on hand to answer all of these questions and more!

After an absolutely jam-packed, exhausting and fantastic weekend, two days of lunches consisting of corned beef sarnies (the glamour!) and the gradual loss of our voices... we made it!

dot.rural's technology museum workshop proved a roaring success. Early estimates from the TechFest organisers (TechFest-SetPoint) suggest ~3000 people - adults and children - raced through the doors of the Beach Ballroom over the Activity Weekend.

Special thanks go to:
Ruth - for crazy amounts of hard work before and during and, of course, your ridiculous dedication to getting the Spectrum up and running!
Nico - sorry for plunging you in at the deep end.. you didn't sink! I've not seen you since so hope you've managed to survive after your 'scare'!!!
Gorry - what a help! Firstly, representing the Co-Investigators (dot.rural's first Prof to engage with the public!), enabling Ruth's Pong to join in the workshop, and then with the crucial transportation! (Note to self: Never get in a car in Aberdeen with no windscreen wipers!!)
Lizzy - for expert researching on the 'history of computing' and the TV that wasn't to be.
Gina and Hien - for dragging themselves down to the Ballroom on a Sunday afternoon to show their support for dot.rural! Good effort guys :-)
Everyone at TechFest-SetPoint - Yvonne, Liz, Sam, Sean... for a super efficient, slick event and the chance to take part.
John Reid - for passing on just a smidgen of your unlimited knowledge and the generous loaning of exhibits (courtesy of the University's Natural Philosophy Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments)... and for your patience!

So many visitors (more than we could have imagined!) turned up to see the progress of everyday technologies through the ages. Although there was a team of us on hand to host the workshop, in hindsight our dot.rural human resource needed doubling to cope with the demand...

The 'retro arcade' (Pong, BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum and iMac G3) attracted both the young and the, err, not so young!

The 'punch programming' activity was a real hit with the littluns. Gimme a bit of paper and a hole punch and I can program 'Claire' in the Baudot code in about 3 seconds flat.

The 'computer biopsy' activity provided an opportunity for parents to show off their knowledge of the inner workings of computers and for kids to surprise me (well done to computer whizz Calum, aged ~8)... and their parents!

Keep your eyes peeled for photos of Gorry and random TechFest attendee (Jack) appearing in local media and the College Bulletin soon.

More of our amateur photos - of course, all with the subject's approval - are on their way...

Check out for more info on this and other events in the TechFest in September programme!

Bye for now... and see you next year!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Last News from Birmingham

Hello world!!
Here at the British Science Festival we almost arrive at the end. In these last days there were a lot of interesting exhibitions and workshops. I'm going to give you just two little examples....
How happy are you in your life? Good news if your are around your 40s you will be happier than what you are at the moment, not really good news if you are around 20s-30s, things will get worse :( I hope I'll be an exception.
Dora, a robot that can discover the environment, was showed in an interesting event about how far we are from having robots that behave as humans.

This is all from Birmingham and it's already time for me to come back to Aberdeen. This festival is very interesting and exciting, it's an opportunity for discovering the new wonders of science and for meeting nice people. If you want to have a look to the news and some more information look here NEWS. And if you want some material from the festival just let me know!!
Goodbye from Birmingham!!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

British Science Festival: DAY 3

Have you ever thought about how to define NOTHING? Can you imagine it? The number zero, an empty space, a vacuum cleaner..... what about doing maths with CATS? Can you do one cat times zero? What's the result? Here in Birmingham we spend the evenings trying to find an answer... Any help?
Although I couldn't stop thinking about this today I also discovered a lot of interesting things happening around the world. The day has started with "how to predict earthquakes". They are not so easy to predict as all of you could probably guess but a combination of researches in history of the earthquakes, in structure engineering together with measurements of different factors can definitely help in saving lives. After these good news we met George!! George is an autopilot introduced in an award lecture of Dr.Young about the benefits of automating tasks in our lives but also the potential risks. The lecture was really interesting, even more for me because George is the name of my coffee machine :)
Let me know if you have any solutions...
Good night!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

British Science Festival: DAY 2

Hello people!!
Here in Birmingham the Festival is very very intense, no time for lunch or dinner today (luckily there is a chip shop :P )...
So today I started with virtual design of cars and simulations of crash tests. I give you just two numbers that have impressed me: for a new vehicle the engineers need to design 4000 new parts and the electrical components require more or less about 10 millions of line of code. AHHH!!!
I attended, then, a Charles Darwin Award Lecture by Dr. Grahn about the sense of rhythm in babies and how rhythms and musics can aid movements in patients with Parkinson's disease.
What we can follow here is incredibly exciting and various. In the afternoon I watched a Real play by a Real theatre company to describe the importance of having a unified database of medical records across the country and related issues about online data and privacy.
Walking around and attracted by a familiar accent I then discovered an "Aberdonian" research group. They use a Virtual Landscape Theatre to modify a landscape and discuss about that. We had an argument about improving accessibility versus enlarging the villages in an Aberdeenshire zone. We all agreed that we should change the weather first. :P:P
Ok, I think you are all bored enough but I just want to tell you that we finished this long day with the last results on the science of dating people. I got a lot of tips ...but I'm not going to share them with you.....
Goodnight everyone..and I apologise for all the mistakes I made but I'm really really exhausted...
See you tomorrow!!!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

British Science Festival: DAY 1

Hello everyone!!
I'm in Birmingham attending the British Science Festival 2010!!

For who doesn't know what this festival is I suggest you to have a look at
British Science Festival. It is one of Europe's largest science festivals, this year the theme is "better lives through science" and it focuses the attention on many of the region's key research strengths including medical technology, health-care, energy, and digital communications. (I haven't really seen anything about digital communications yet....but anyways...). But I think it's also a great opportunity to meet something new, different from the field where we usually work, presented by great speakers in a funny environment.
Unfortunately I forgot at home the cable to connect the camera so I will upload some pictures only when I'll be back in Aberdeen but I'm gonna give you a short introduction about the events that I have followed during the day!!
I started with the talk "The new psychology of Leadership" and the only hint I'm going to give you is that a successful leadership happens when the leader represents a social identity of the group of followers and the followers believe in this sense of "we-ness". It was a really interesting talk leaded by prof. Alex Haslam.
The UKRC has presented an event where three great women have presented their successful carrier in science. I liked the talk of Dr.Sarah Baillie for her interdisciplinary carrier. Thanks to her veterinary background and a Phd in computer science, she invented the Haptic cow, a virtual simulator for training veterinary students in making diagnosis.
I don't want you to get bored but finally I have seen this incredible Zero Carbon House have to take a look to these pictures to see what it is like .... have a look here...

And for today it's all.
Good night from Birmingham!!!

Saturday, 11 September 2010


Hi everyone, I'm posting from Desenzano del Garda, Brescia, in Italy. Although it may sound as a holiday, I came here for a conference: the 3rd International Conference in Computational Models of Argument (COMMA). As the interested reader might have guessed, this is the one conference entirely devoted to my subject, gathering more than 60 scientists from Argentina (2) and other countries (n-2). The event took place from Wednesday to Friday, with a pretty busy agenda: sessions from 9 to 5, plus a demo session and a discussion panel. Lunches, a cocktail and a gala dinner were included.
I had the pleasure of taking half a session for myself, painfully presenting two papers, long and short, respectively. The slides had nice drawings and animations. I could bore you with a summary of each paper but I prefer not to, and I believe you agree. In any case I'll be more than happy to do it in person, in the kitchen - you just have to accept at least two "mates".
See you guys on Tuesday, ciao!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Profile: Alice Toniolo

Name: Alice Toniolo

Start date: Spring 2010

Project/area: Looking at how Software Agents can support human decision makers for planning joint activities.

Favourite biscuit? Biscotti Galletti!!! Sorry I'm Italian I can't hide my origins!!

Favourite place? "The world"- I'm fascinated by every place, big cities, small villages, mountains and seas, deserts and glaciers, every shred of this earth has something beautiful... unfortunately I won't have time to see every corner of this planet but I'm trying!!

Favourite word? "Smile"

Twitter? Facebook? Other? Find me on Facebook!

iPhone? Blackberry? Other? ...sorry only a very old Nokia!!

What can you not live without? Chocolate and music.

Which character from film, television or literature most resembles you? No idea.

If you weren't working at dot.rural, what would you be doing? I would run my own bar or restaurant or both.

Use ten words to describe a dot.rural colleague (without naming names): hard-working, funny, friendly, curious, sociable, patient, happy, encouraging....

Is there anything we don't already know about you? I don't know, if you have any question just ask me!!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Profile: Mukta Aphale

Name: Mukta S. Aphale

Start date: 14th Dec. 2009

Project/area: Security and Privacy Policy Management. I am planning to look at how intelligent agents can assist in policy authoring and refinement.

Favourite biscuit? Bourbon; Parle-G also called as Glucose biscuits (India); Anzac biscuits (Australia)

Favourite place? There are many places near and dear to my heart.

Pune - My hometown in India where I spent 25 years of my life;

Konkan - Coastal area of Maharashtra state, India - full of small and peaceful villages with minimal contact with the modern world;

Newcastle, Australia - Where I started a new life with my husband Sumeet;

Aberdeen, UK - Yes, Aberdeen is my favourite place. Here I could see my life shaping up in a different direction

Favourite word? Food

Twitter? Facebook? Other? Twitter (mukta_aphale), Also facebook, orkut, linkedin, shelfari

iPhone? Blackberry? Other? I was loyal to Nokia sometime ago but now I am with Xperia X10 mini.

What can you not live without? Singing

Which character from film, television or literature most resembles you? I don't know. I think all the characters in films/television/literature are larger than life and I have quite an ordinary personality.

If you weren't working at dot.rural, what would you be doing? Working for some software firm.

Use ten words to describe a dot.rural colleagues (without naming names): Motivated, Friendly, Sociable, Helpful, Courteous, Intelligent, Enthusiastic, Sincere, Modest, Generous.

Is there anything we don't already know about you? I was able to converse in Japanese for business purpose 4 years ago. It is a big joke in my house, as I can only remember basic vocabulary and greetings now. I really wish to brush up my skills and learn more.