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.