Fostering digital participation through Living Labs in regional and rural Australian communities


QUT’s Fostering Digital Participation Project, which is employing a living labs methodology, held a two-day workshop in Brisbane as part of the Designing Interactive Systems conference on 4-5 June 2016.

“Fostering digital participation through Living Labs in regional and rural Australian communities,” is a three year research project funded by the Australian Research Council and managed at the Queensland University of Technology. The project aims to identify the specific digital needs and practices of regional and rural residents in the context of the implementation of high speed internet. It seeks to identify new ways for enabling residents to develop their digital confidence and skills both at home and in the community.

To build on this experience, a two-day symposium and workshop brought together researchers and practitioners from diverse backgrounds to discuss design practices and user needs in social living labs that aim to foster digital inclusion and participation. Day one consisted of practitioner and research reports, while day two provided an opportunity for participants to imagine and collaboratively design future digital participation strategies. The workshop acted as a Living Lab experience with the goal of identifying innovative and practical solutions that will foster sustained digital participation in regional and rural communities. Discussion included topics such as developing basic digital skills, youth entrepreneurship, community digital story-telling, and policy development.

A number of participants were from Brisbane, but others came from as far afield as Toowoomba, Townsville, Pittsworth, Melbourne, and Western Sydney, with international participants hailing from Nottingham, Cork, and Delft.

The program presented a variety of living labs projects from Australia and across the world. Tanya Notley and Amanda Third initiated the day’s discussion with a report on the “digital capacities index” as an indicator for possible directions to be taken by social living labs initiatives. This was followed by an introduction to the Fostering Digital Participation Project living labs experiences. The afternoon session included presentations on the development of digital infrastructure in Cork, Ireland, the establishment of a Young and Resilient Living Lab in Western Sydney to cultivate young people’s digital capacity, and a six-step workshop in Delft, Netherlands, designed to activate the hidden talents of young adult dropouts using the transformational role of digital fabrication. The development of digital skills in young adults from the UK and Brazil was also a concern in a project that used interactive artworks to foster digital participation and engage communities with issues of sustainability and climate change. These living labs experiences were rounded out by a project that investigates how emergent and innovative technologies have a role in engaging people traditionally absent from partnerships with health services.

Jock McQueenie’s closing presentation drew together many of the themes and issues that emerged in discussion during the day. Jock shared his experience in implementing community based projects that contribute to social/digital inclusion, encourage creativity, and provide jobs and professional development. The need to involve participants and partners in all aspects of project development, from conceptualization through implementation and evaluation, struck a chord with the living labs practitioners, helping to sum up a productive day of discussion.

In the workshop day that followed, participants built on the foundations of first-day discussion with an aim to address real-world problems with practical solutions that could be used in the development of future social living labs experiences. Ideas were presented and tested and relationships were forged, promising future partnerships and initiatives that draw on the social living labs model.

Workshop participants and invited contributors will contribute to a collection of essays, Digital Participation Through Social Living Labs: Valuing Local Knowledge, Enhancing Engagement, to be published by Chandos in 2017.

View the Workshop Photos

See more, including photos and videos, on the Fostering Digital Participation Project Facebook Page

By Michael Dezuanni

You can listen to ALLIN’s interview with Michael on SoundCloud

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