'In the making': a co-constructed mapping and feasibility study of digital fabrication labs and their potential to catalyse cultural change.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Salford
Department Name: Sch of Arts & Media

Abstract

Digital fabrication is a new technology which is growing in popularity. It allows us to print three-dimensional objects from computer files. We want to find out whether this technology can help to improve the lives of disabled people, their families and the communities in which they live. There are already examples of disabled people using this technology to design and produce objects, such as ramps, that make day-to-day life easier. We want to know if we can take this further. Could people make things that others want to buy? Or make things that draw attention to disability rights? Or make art? Working with disabled people, we want to offer access to, and training in, digital fabrication. We will bring mobile equipment to community venues so that people don't have to go out of their way to use it. Disabled people will help us with every stage of the research, and the insights that we produce together will be used to explore how people can make changes for themselves, rather than waiting for 'official' responses. By generating positive images and narratives about the skills of disabled digital fabricators, we hope to counteract the often negative coverage in the mainstream media of disabled people as passive, deserving of 'pity' or relying on benefits.

Planned Impact

This project intends to investigate whether, via mapping current inclusive 'Fab Lab' provision in the UK, and via the co-construction of inclusive Fab Lab opportunities, it might be possible for disabled people to lead cultural change, improving their own social and economic environments. If we can find ways to re-frame the experience and perception of disability through proactive entrepreneurial, political and creative activities, the economic competitiveness of the UK, the effectiveness of public services and policies, and quality of life, health and creative outputs will all benefit. This project uses inclusive digital fabrication facilities to stage a pilot investigation into how this might happen: what helps people to become self-empowered solution makers, rather than being perceived as a passive, resource-hungry, homogeneous group?
We combine the social and political insights of a national campaigning organisation with emergent technology, applying academic expertise in arts practice and human computer interaction to investigate the possibilities for both practical impact and academic development. We believe that a number of innovative syntheses will result from this co-constructed investigation. We will:

1. Explore the concept of 'entrepreneurial making'; how 3D fabrication might place disabled makers at the forefront of the digital economy, selling products and services via the worldwide web, and/or offering their skills to UK manufacturing.
2. Investigate different models of digital entrepreneurship, co-constructing pathways towards commercialisation.
3. Extend the concept of 'critical making' beyond its current use as a design-based process, exploring its potential as a political activity and applying those insights into 'real world' campaigning. In so doing, we may develop ways to change the nature of campaigning, from the traditional model of asking or demanding something of government, to actively leading change by the act of 'making'.
4. Co-construct opportunities for collaborative making with novice FabLab users (disabled and non-disabled) who, we hope, will experience improved levels of satisfaction and self-esteem in creating and exhibiting work, generating positive narratives of disability which will help to change perceptions.
5. Co-construct documentary, reflective and evaluative practices to elicit rich, complex data on the lived experience of disability. Arts practice therefore becomes a key interface between technological developments and social change, establishing a route to impact by generating 'human' evidence that policy-makers can use to inform their decisions.

These findings will be co-evaluated and synthesised into recommendations that will be presented to policy-makers and UK manufacturing representatives with the intention of scaling up the successful elements, seeking further funding and partnerships to expand and enhance activities.
 
Description Working with local people who consider themselves to be disabled, we have discovered an enthusiastic interest in digital fabrication and its potential to change people's lives for the better. Our workshops, offering creative and technical training in the use of 3D printers, were over-subscribed, and attracted people of diverse age, background and ability. We discovered the potential for digital fabrication to help people practically, e.g. by making a bespoke cup holder to clip on someone's wheelchair; designing a stand to hold someone's paint brush; making a finger support that fitted someone's hand exactly. We also found that people enjoyed using the equipment creatively to make sculptures, 3D selfies and jewellery. Some people also had ideas for designs that others might want to buy, and were keen to discover how they might be able to make a living from the technology on offer. Overall, we found that people enjoyed coming to the training sessions, meeting others, talking, working together and being in a positive space where everyone was doing something constructive. People enjoyed helping each other to solve problems, sharing their skills and experiences. Some participants told us that they felt more optimistic and confident about life, having seen what they were able to make and achieve. Some participants expressed the strong wish to continue learning and developing their skills, and they have been signposted to their local FabLab to access the expertise available there. The most significant achievements from the award were bringing cutting edge technology and training to people who may otherwise not have been able to access it. We found very strong indicators that being in a collective "making space" was beneficial to people's wellbeing. We met the main objectives of the bid, in that we now have "proof of concept" that this technology has great potential to improve the lives of disabled people and their communities. However, we also found that suitably qualified trainers were hard to locate, and that their expertise was expensive. This suggests that we could take our findings forward on a larger scale. If we could develop ways of training people in the technical and creative aspects of digital fabrication then they could access rewarding careers. Another difficulty was in helping people to develop ideas to sell commercially. We found that not enough is known about digital entrepreneurship and intellectual property to support people who are not already experts in this area. This is another finding that we want to take forward. To help us do this we are now working with the Shaw Trust, Hack on Wheels, Fab Labs UK and the Department for Work and Pensions to develop a larger bid, which will allow us to explore these issues further and develop proven routes to skills and employment.
Exploitation Route The health and well-being aspects of the making space could make a contribution to people's quality of life and we are talking to local health and care organisations to see how we can take this forward. The findings on how people with a range of abilities can access and benefit from this technology will be shared with the Manufacturing Institute and FabLabs UK to feed into the development of FabLab practice. We are also in dialogue with the Department for Work and Pensions, the Shaw Trust and Hack on Wheels to take forward a new bid aimed specifically at employment and entrepreneurship.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

URL http://www.inthemaking.org.uk/
 
Description To date, the project has generated impacts of benefit to disabled people, their families and the communities in which they live; disability rights charities and campaigning organisations; policy makers; the UK FabLab network; and institutions interested in co-production, inter-sector and interdisciplinary working. Initial findings show strong interest in and demand for digital fabrication facilities in local communities, particularly from disabled people. We offered in total 96 hours of facilitation to over 100 disabled people, their friends and family members and carers. Courses were well-attended and some over-subscribed. These co-constructed spaces supported the development of a pedagogical resource, "Digital Fabrication for the 99%", showing that almost anyone, regardless of ability, can be supported to engage productively with digital fabrication technology. The value of makerspaces in terms of their potential to contribute to health and wellbeing is strongly indicated, as evidenced by two co-authored research papers and a submission to and citation in the APPG on Disability's investigation into the "employment gap". Initial analysis indicates that knowledge of publicly accessible makerspaces is not widespread among the disabled community. The cost and difficulty of arranging travel is a significant barrier. Many participants report that they would be unlikely to attend a maker space independently due to uncertainty about facilities, the availability of support staff, and lacking confidence to ask for help. We have also discovered that lack of resource dictates little or no diversity monitoring in public maker spaces. The investigators are now working with key stakeholders, including The Manufacturing Institute, Ultimaker GB Ltd. and Fab Labs UK to evolve a follow-on bid to address these barriers. As proof of concept, and basis for a subsequent bid, our project has shown that is is possible to co-construct inclusive Fab Lab opportunities accessible to a very wide range of abilities. We have shown in principle that it might be possible for disabled people to lead cultural change, improving their own social and economic environments. We have located ways to re-frame the experience and perception of disability through proactive entrepreneurial, political and creative activities, finding that quality of life, health and wellbeing all benefited. The findings begin to articulate what helps people to become self-empowered solution makers, rather than being perceived as a passive, resource-hungry, homogeneous group. These findings were achieved by combining the social and political insights of a national campaigning organisation with emergent technology, applying expertise in arts practice and digital technology to investigate the possibilities for societal impact. We also encountered challenges here, identifying a skills gap in creative/technical interfaces, which disabled people could be well-placed to fill. We believe that a number of innovative syntheses have result from this co-constructed investigation, including the co-construction of opportunities for collaborative making with novice FabLab users (disabled and non-disabled) who, our findings indicate, experienced improved levels of satisfaction and self-esteem in creating and exhibiting work, generating positive narratives of disability which will help to change perceptions. We have also co-constructed documentary, reflective and evaluative practices to elicit rich, complex data on the lived experience of disability. Arts practice was demonstrably the key interface between technological developments and social change, establishing a route to impact by generating 'human' evidence that policy-makers can use to inform their decisions. This is a transferable methodology. These findings were co-evaluated and synthesised into recommendations at a policy forum day in June 2016, attended by a wide range of stakeholders. With additional support and funding from the Shaw Trust, these findings are being developed into a report that will be presented to policy-makers and UK manufacturing representatives with the intention of scaling up the successful elements, seeking further funding and partnerships to expand and enhance activities.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Healthcare
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Submission to and citation in APPG on Disability and Employment
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmallparty/register/disability.htm
 
Description Celebrating Diversity, Salford 
Organisation Celebrating Diversity
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Connecting research expertise to local need.
Collaborator Contribution Key members of this local charity have acted as consultants and voluntary supporters for our fieldwork and community networking activities.
Impact Voluntary sector, public arts, community engagement. Co-constructing community digital fabrication workshops, reaching community gatekeepers, attracting participants and supporting their individual needs to help them engage fully with the activities. Networking locally with key community stakeholders. Laying foundations for follow-on bid.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Shaw Trust collaboration 
Organisation Shaw Trust
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Dialogue and consultation with senior management/CEO of Shaw Trust with regard to application of digital fabrication technologies and employment opportunities for disabled people.
Collaborator Contribution Accessibility and Impact fund. Strategic advice on impact and influence. CEO chaired the end of project conference.
Impact Accessibility fund for end of project conference allowed provision of BSL interpreters, travel and caring expenses, enhancing impact and widening participation. Impact fund allows provision of consultancy, evaluation and publication of findings in stake-holder appropriate format, disseminating findings to policy makers
Start Year 2016
 
Description Ultimaker collaboration 
Organisation Ultimaker GB Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Exploring applications and potential of Ultimaker's 3D printers in community settings with disabled people.
Collaborator Contribution Expert technical advice and facilitation.
Impact Demonstrations and technical advice before, during and after the project. Staffing demonstration stands in public events. Advising project participants on developmental activities. Technical facilitation.
Start Year 2016
 
Description BBC News Coverage 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Special report on our project launch event by Nikki Fox, BBC TV Disability Correspondent. Package featured expert explanation of the technology as well as interviews with project participants.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.inthemaking.org.uk/2015/08/06/in-the-making-launch-event-featured-on-bbc-news/
 
Description End of project conference/exhibition 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A major conference exploring disability and digital fabrication took place in the Digital Performance Lab at the University of Salford's MediaCityUK campus in June 2016. Over 50 delegates representing service users, technical experts, policy makers and leading charities came together to discuss the potential of digital fabrication to support economic, physical and mental well-being. The free one-day conference was organised by the University of Salford, the University of Dundee and Disability Rights UK. It was supported by Ultimaker GB Ltd, a leading manufacturer of 3D printers, with demos and design clinics running all day. The conference was also supported by Shaw Trust, which provided an access fund to help support the needs of delegates. It was the final event of the AHRC-funded 'In the Making' project, and the conference heard findings from the project, which has been taking 3D scanners and 3D printers out to the neighbourhoods of Salford and involving the city's disabled people in the use of this new digital technology. During the day, service users and policy makers contributed to creative visioning exercises exploring what an accessible Fab Lab could be, and where our project could go next.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.inthemaking.org.uk/conference/
 
Description Guest Blog for Disability Rights UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Article written for Disability Rights UK blog. It described digital fabrication and explored its relevance to disabled people, beginning with existing work around DIY Assistive Technologies and summarising some of our research findings and goals.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2016/february/3d-printing-whats-it-about-and-what-can-it-do-y...
 
Description Launch Event, BBC, MediaCityUK 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact 2-day demo/taster sessions at the BBC, MediaCityUK. Researchers worked with FabLab Manchester and Ultimaker UK to offer masterclasses, demonstrations and further information about the research project and findings to date. 60 local people attended, with many expressing enthusiasm for the technology and signing up to participate in further, 2-day training courses.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-337801
 
Description Meeting Minister for Disabled People 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The investigators visited Justin Tomlinson MP, then Minister for Disabled People, at the Department for Work and Pensions. The researchers were invited to meet the Minister because he had heard about the project's successful workshops around the Greater Manchester area and expressed interest in its initial findings, particularly with regard to employability and entrepreneurship. The Minister offered his backing for the development of this technology and asked to be kept informed about the progress of this and subsequent projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://blogs.salford.ac.uk/research/2016/03/02/creative-writing-lecturer-invited-to-meet-minister-fo...