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Technology and Placemaking: A Digital Catapult Centre Brighton taster event

As part of the Digital Catapult Centre Brighton’s series of taster sessions, we held an event on Technology and Placemaking on Wednesday 1st July. 

Here, event chair Jenni Llolyd and event attendee Rich Denyer-Bewick provide an overview of the event and share their thoughts on the subject matter going forward.

Jenni Lloyd, Founder, PurposeLab @PurposeLabUK

On Wednesday 1 July I chaired an event organised by the Digital Catapult Centre in Brighton to explore the opportunities afforded by having this new, collaborative R&D centre in our midst.

The topic was ‘Technology & Placemaking’ and it was billed as a taster session, one of a series being organised by the Wired Sussex team to start convening the community around the Digital Catapult Centre Brighton  — seeding ideas, building connections and building a platform for action.

It was a hot and sunny evening and I was surprised (and grateful) that so many people were willing to forego the beach to take part. I had no particular expectations about the evening as this is a new topic for me and the Catapult is still emerging in terms of its community and remit.

We started off with a welcome from Phil, who spoke briefly about the Catapult and what it’s here to do. It feels very much like the invitation is for the community to shape the Catapult however they want — that it’s a platform for ideas and activities, and not a fixed entity. This is exciting, but also a little confusing. But getting comfortable with that state of emergence feels important for something that is aiming to support innovation and innovation in a space that has yet to be fully defined — the Internet of Place. This lack of definition makes the role that the Brighton community has to play even more interesting. The innovations that come about through the Catapult don’t have to conform to a fixed idea, but can rather reflect the very nature of Brighton — and bring that to life in a way that capitalises on our strengths.

So an event that wanted to explore how technology connects with placemaking was something that really interested me — and I was very happy to take part in.

Our three speakers represented a range of perspectives, giving little tasters of what might be possible. Peter Passaro explored the possibility of data, Liz Whitehead spoke about Fabrica and how artists use and explore place in ways that help us understand ourselves better, and Ava Fatah gen. Schieck, shared her project ‘Screens in the Wild’ which connects communities using interactive screens. There were some great questions from the audience after, but I got the sense there were plenty more questions to be asked, opinions to be shared and ideas to be explored.

So we’ve started the conversation, we’ve made some connections but there’s more to be said and more to be done.

Personally, I’d love to connect further with others who are interested in the topic and could help me find ways of answering the questions I posed at the end of my presentation:

  • What is Brighton?
  • What does it mean to be from Brighton?
  • What should the world expect from us?
  • How can we make this place everything it can be?
  • What kind of place do we want to make?

Rich Denyer-Bewick Founder, Wegonow @TheRichDB

tech and placemaking image

I found the event really thought provoking.  Particularly Peter’s talk on data and how it could be used to support social change; creating a better city, a better place for everyone to live in. And there was something visionary about a city data centre which everyone (yes everyone!) put their data into that was ‘owned’ by the people of Brighton and Hove.

It made me reflect on what I was doing at this event. I’m no tech expert. I don’t work in the sector. I am an unlikely candidate for catapulting!

But there is something in all of this that fascinates me. A belief that technology can support the building of communities and the ‘rehumanisation’ of work and play.

In some circles there’s a pervasive feeling that technology is going to ‘dehumanise’ work, eventually taking over people’s jobs – and that in a dark future, the robots will assume control and humans will become ‘redundant’.

I don’t think this way. I believe if we ethically harness the power of digital technology we can do some amazing things to support communities to be healthier, happier and more resilient and self sustaining. I want to support the tech sector to help the public and voluntary sectors make that social change happen and the presentations we saw inspired me to continue on that journey.

What I heard from Liz was that digital technology not only has value as a medium for creating art but also that there is art to be found in the collection of ‘people and place data’ – beauty in a 3G signal!

I also loved Ava’s answer to the audience question about the Screens In The Wild project: “Do we really need more screens?”, which was simply “No!” – a Zen Slap moment of realisation that what we were learning about here, was research and development in action; a design process – not a market product…

And so this event came with a warning, which was nicely picked up by Jenny Lloyd in her opening presentation: all design should be informed by and start with User Experience (UX). People first, right? Without user experience informing the show, the tail of technology wags the dog of design… and we end up with a dog’s dinner of a development.


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