Ardler Inventors (Hacking for Situated Civic Engagement)

Ardler Inventors brought together university researchers, community members from Dundee’s Ardler neighbourhood and creatives from Dundee’s vibrant creative scene to think about how new types of technology could be put to good use in the community. The overall aim was to create knowledge, enthusiasm and relationships within the community that would allow them to continue doing this beyond the lifespan of the project. Ultimately, we wanted to democratise the use of technology so that it is not just researchers and developers who can shape it.

Background

Our past research has always been focused on exploring new roles for technology in communities. We’ve done this by working with individual communities over long periods of time to build relationships, involve them meaningfully in the design process, and test interventions in the community.

We began to notice a problem as these projects came to an end: as funding ran out and researchers moved on to other projects and universities, the things we built couldn’t be sustained. This is problem because they had clear value to the communities, and often the community had invested a lot of their own time and effort into the projects. Because of this, our current research looks at infrastructuring, which means creating the circumstances under which people can engage in design and innovation activities themselves.

Ardler Inventors

Our approach to the Ardler Inventors project was to connect people in Dundee’s Ardler community with creatives and technologists from Dundee’s vibrant creative scene. We worked with Ardler partly because we wanted to engage more with people outside the city centre and because Ardler Village Trust, a charity who support the community, were keen to be involved in the project as part of their digital inclusion activities.

The core activity of the project was a series of three Inventor Days, which took place over summer 2016. We based the events on hackathons, which have been successful in bringing different groups of people together around intensive bursts of creativity, but adapted the format significantly to engage a non-technical audience. For example, where most hackathons are 24–48 hour events, ours ran across three Saturday afternoons, so that parents and families could attend.

Over three weekends, we stepped attendees through the type of design process we normally use: looking at their local area and identifying opportunities for change; playful exploration with technology; and finally prototyping digital products that they could test in their community. It’s worth noting that this approach placed Ardler’s knowledge and experiences first: before we did anything involving technology, we placed participants from Ardler in the role of being experts about their local area, rather than us.

Outcomes for Participants

The project is best illustrated by the experiences of some of the participants who attended all three Inventor Days:

  • Rebecca attended with her daughter and focused largely on traffic issues in the community. As a childminder, she often had problems with children running ahead of her on the way to school, so she had an idea for a trail of interactive devices that would keep them away from the road. With a member of the local makerspace, she learned how to code and solder, but gravitated towards more craft-based activities, including the visual design of the device, and described how it enabled her to re-engage with her own creativity—which was normally channelled into children’s activities. Based on the events, she has started an after-school science club at her daughter’s primary school.
  • Another parent, Steve, attended with two of his children. He picked up and led an idea from another member of the group who wanted a community noticeboard for sharing information about events. Of all the participants, he was most hands-on with the electronics and coding, and continued his activity in-between the sessions and purchased a lot of his own electronics. One of the major outcomes for him has been an activity he can share with his children, and he frequently sends us videos of things that they’ve built together using skills developed through the Inventor Days, such as electronic Christmas and Halloween decorations.
  • Rhona, a member of Dundee’s makerspace, worked with Rebecca’s daughter on an interactive dinosaur based on ideas about local Ardler legends. For her, one of the main outcomes of the project was engaging with a different audience and developing her practice as a community co-ordinator at the makerspace. She now works at the Dundee Science Centre running public engagement activities, and credits her involvement in the project with helping to develop her skills and giving her the push towards this career (although we would say she was already an outstanding facilitator).

Continuing Activity

Although the project has now concluded, the community that formed around the events continues. Participants visited our studio at the university to help us shape the next stages of the project, and we also showcased their work in Ardler towards the end of last year. Rebecca and Steve have both helped us to share the work at the Dundee Design Festival and at Creative Dundee’s Make/Share events, and we worked with them to try out their inventions at this summer’s Ardler Fun Day.

We think we’ve been successful in forging a new kind of relationship with the community, in which the participants are not dependant on us, but who have the capacity to engage with the university and with Dundee’s creative community for additional support (for example, Rebecca has sought our help in applying for funding for her after school club). Our hope is that in the future, Ardler will be a fertile ground for future community technology projects.

Key Publications

Taylor, N., Clarke, L. and Gorkovenko, K. (2017). Community Inventor Days: scaffolding grassroots innovation with maker eventsProceedings of DIS 2017, ACM, 1201–1212. doi:10.1145/3064663.3064723

Taylor, N., Clarke, L., Skelly, M. and Nevay, S. (2018). Strategies for engaging communities in creating physical civic technologies. Proceedings of CHI 2018, ACM, 507. doi:10.1145/3173574.3174081

Taylor, N. and Clarke, L. (2018). Everybody’s hacking: participation and the mainstreaming of hackathons. Proceedings of CHI 2018, ACM, 172. doi:10.1145/3173574.3173746.

Funding Details

Hacking for Situated Civic Engagement. EPSRC/AHRC (EP/N005619/1). Nov 2015–Jun 2017. Additional support provided by RS Components.