What does real digital innovation look like in parks and public spaces?

I was for­tu­nate enough to attend Nesta’s “Digit­al Tech­no­logy in Parks & Open Spaces” event on the 30th July.

As always, Nesta fielded a genu­inely impress­ive lineup of speak­ers across all three of their ses­sions on how for­ward-think­ing loc­al author­it­ies and park man­agers are using tech­no­logy to increase pub­lic engage­ment, fun­draise and improve park management.

Over the course of the day, one speak­er – Aban­don Nor­mal Devices’ Seni­or Pro­du­cer, Ruth McCul­lough – stood out from the rest of the pan­el for me. She, above all the oth­er speak­ers, presen­ted a vis­ion of what it means to really engage the pub­lic in their own open spaces using digit­al technology.

The present­a­tion Ruth gave of the work AND have been doing over the past few years in pub­lic spaces had a sig­ni­fic­ant impact on my think­ing. It’s rare that one single speak­er at any event leaves me scrib­bling frantic­ally in my sketch­book. but her present­a­tion was so clear, it opened doors in my thinking.

AND’s approach to using cut­ting-edge tech­no­logy to engage with the pub­lic is clearly informed by an arts approach which places the pub­lic right in the centre  of the piece. I spent much of the rest of Thursday scrib­bling out ideas which flowed dir­ectly from what she had said.

What really opened up my think­ing was their use of all forms of “tech­no­logy” – not just web and mobile apps but a broad church of solu­tions includ­ing the Oculus Rift vir­tu­al real­ity kit, quad­ro­tor drones and even bespoke inter­act­ive pro­jec­tion sys­tems to engage the pub­lic with civic spaces and with one another.

This sort of ambi­tious use of tech­no­logy for pub­lic engage­ment helped to really lift my own think­ing about the work Folk Labs are get­ting involved with to encour­age great­er online and off­line civic engagement.

Could we deploy drones, 3d print­ing or inter­act­ive digit­al pro­jec­tion sys­tems to help cit­izens in Herne Hill to re-engage with their own civic spaces in a new and more excit­ing way? The idea of it is astounding.

Until I watched Ruth’s present­a­tion I hadn’t really thought at this level. Work­ing in loc­al com­munity tech­no­logy can stunt your ambi­tion if you’re not careful.

In future I feel as if I need to main­tain a more healthy level of ambi­tion or we run the risk of not bring­ing best prac­tices to the table.

I must also just men­tion Simon Poult­er from Met­al Cul­ture who also spoke pas­sion­ately about the import­ance of using the web appro­pri­ately to pro­tect the her­it­age of cul­tur­al assets cre­ated dur­ing loc­al com­munity pro­jects. His con­tri­bu­tion to the con­ver­sa­tion was incred­ibly thought­ful and sens­it­ive and I found his present­a­tion incred­ibly reward­ing and thought­ful. I could have listened to him for a lot longer.