SANDPIT - Bespoke: increasing social inclusion through community journalism and bespoke design

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: Digital World Research Centre


Many people in the UK are currently excluded from the benefits of digital technologies and the connections to other people, businesses and groups that these provide. These technologies are not affordable by the poor and not usable by many older or disabled people, leading to a double exclusion from the digital and social world around them. In this project we aim to tackle this problem at a neighbourhood level, by helping local people to tell their own social exclusion stories and using these stories to inspire simple bespoke design solutions created with and for the excluded people. Working closely with deprived communities in the Preston area and their local news media, we will give residents training in how to identify and report needs through a daily community newspaper and broadcast. Community members will then prioritise needs to be discussed in design workshops in the Sandbox: a media centre in the heart of the city. Designers on the project will take away concept solutions generated in these discussions to create new bespoke digital objects connecting people to each other and people to existing content and services on the web. A philosophy of the project is to make these as radically simple a possible, using familiar objects and behaviours from the real world. For example, someone without email could receive messages on a letterbox printer and reply and write back using a scanning postbox. The resulting artefacts and solutions will then be placed back into the community for feedback and comment in the ongoing community news system.
Description BESPOKE worked at a local level to give people the skills, technologies and support to tell a range of stories about where and how they live. Through training, mentoring and providing a platform, the project supported Insight Journalists living or working in Callon and Fishwick to share their perspective on issues that were important to them and their neighbourhood.

These text, video, audio and photographic stories were shared through a hyper-local website, a printed newspaper and at live screenings and events. These insights included concrete information that translated into a broader understanding of the joys and fears of residents. They included listings of upcoming events, portraits of dedicated youth club volunteers or stories that expressed concerns about crime and security. The journalism helped raise awareness amongst residents of the activities on offer to them, and gave service-providers insight into how their work was being received.

Our team of designers used these insights about the area to craft design responses, focusing on creating radically simple analogue interfaces to digital content or services. This dedication to combining digital services with accessible, physical, crafted forms united the two phases of our project, though we utilised different methods. For example, from our Phase I research we learned about the fledgling and broadly unknown music scene in the area, which led to the creation of the 'Digital Buskers', life-sized busking statues triggered by sending a text. In contrast, the 'Viewpoint,' a digital voting device housed in a push-button frame came out of the Insight Journalism in Phase II, when we learned of the frustration that

residents felt about being consulted, without knowing what happened next.

The Insight Journalism used on BESPOKE not only inspired the designs, but also gave residents a venue to interrogate them. Through the widely distributed newspaper and a press conference with insight journalists, the designs were subject to greater criticism and scrutiny than was possible through established research methods. Even within our own project, the comparison between the different research methods used in Phase I and II demonstrates that Insight Journalism led to more appropriate and effective designs, which can be truly described as 'community-centred'. Journalism kept the designers accountable, and helped ensure that community voices were heard. By inviting people to create their own stories, and honouring the differences and complexities among them, we have conducted community-centred, rather than user-centred, design. While they will likely have value and lives in other areas, the designs described here were developed with extensive attention to the particularities of life in Callon and Fishwick.

The experience of BESPOKE is also further evidence that, fundamentally, 'communities' are anything but static. The challenge is to develop methods that make the multitude of perspectives not only legible, but also inspiring. The method of Insight Journalism was proposed specifically to account for the competing concerns, hopes and desires of a diverse group of people who may be share a geographic area, but don't speak in a single voice.
Exploitation Route Insight journalism is a generic method for using community journalism in design of any kind of service, system, social policy or technology. The most successful digital device to emerge from the project was Viewpoint for public voting. This was developed further by a follow-on grant to Newcastle University (EP/J501359/1) to extend and deploy the system within communities in the Newcastle area.

The Insight Journalism methodology has been successfully promoted through a number of training courses and taken by Dr Jon Rogers to India via the National Institute of Design and the Unbox 2013 Festival. Furthermore, it has been applied to the discussion of local issues and policy in Preston through the Speak up Preston project funded by NESTA.

Finally, some findings regarding the interplay between web and printed stories on the project have provided a springboard for a new EPSRC project called Interactive Newsprint led by Paul Egglestone (EP/I032142/1). This seeks to develop a radically new hybrid platform for community news comprising interactive paper embedded with printed electronics. This is generating new IP in the area and the interest of several large media companies.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

Description The Bespoke project emerged from the 'Design in the Digital World' sandpit as part of the Digital Economy programme administered by the EPSRC. This was a two-year project which finished in September 2011 investigating the role of community journalism in the design of more inclusive technologies for communities. In contrast to most digital inclusion initiatives involving the promotion of existing internet technologies to non-users (e.g. Race Online 2012), we developed a new form of engagement and consultation with the Callon and Fishwick community of Preston, resulting in the local innovation of bespoke digital technology. We call this process 'insight journalism'. The work has had a number of different kinds of impact on the local community and beyond. First, 25 members of the community received journalism, ethnography and media skills training at the Sandbox Centre of the University of Central Lancashire. Paid internships were provided through the Future Jobs Fund. Five participants in the programme went on to secure jobs during or after this training, two more have decided to go to University. Second, a community newspaper was produced by the community journalists and distributed to around 2000 households during the second year of the project, alongside the development of a community website containing a growing corpus of text, audio and video stories of life in the area. While the website was used mainly by project staff to inspire and direct design ideas, the print newspaper was read and valued by a majority of local residents who found it to be a useful thing in its own right. Third, a total of seven novel digital devices were designed and deployed in the community during the project. These included a pair of digital buskers, a community capture TV system, a 'family hedge' history system, an audio blogging pad, a talking memory box, an opinion barometer called 'Viewpoint', and a digital signpost system called 'Wayfinder'. The last three of these, produced in the second phase of the project were found to have real value, and are still in use. Finally, a less tangible impact on the community has been a more positive self-image and self-belief. Previous problems of crime and unemployment in the area had resulted in a feature on 'Neighbours from Hell' and negative reporting in the local press. The community's own newspaper and website was a corrective to this in its own right, as were a string of positive articles about the Bespoke project in Lancashire Evening Post and eventually the national press through two Guardian articles. The project finished with a high profile exhibition as part of the London Design Festival 2011 at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in which three community journalists participated on behalf of the community. Beyond the community, we have been approached by a number of groups wanting to learn more about insight journalism. These include housing associations, Design Schools, the local authority in Preston, Johnson press, overseas visitors to the final exhibition, and Nokia Research who lent us mobile journalism equipment to test. . Beneficiaries: Local community, unemployed youths, local media, local government Contribution Method: See summary above
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description Big Society research and impact
Amount £32,371 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/I507647/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2010 
End 10/2011
Description Enabling simple public voting and consultation in local communities
Amount £28,854 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/J501359/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2011 
End 06/2012
Description Interactive newsprint
Amount £372,320 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/I032142/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2011 
End 03/2013
Description Speak up Preston
Amount £149,751 (GBP)
Organisation Nesta 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2011 
End 08/2012
Description Bespoke Unboxed 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Bespoke keynote presentations and 4-day insight journalism challenge at the Unbox Festival, 7-10th February 2013. New Delhi, India.

BESPOKE is a unique partnership of researchers from journalism, design, computing, craft and social science backgrounds and was inspired, created and funded to bring together community journalism and design, and explore this as an Insight Tool and a platform for innovation in design and technology. A UK team will work with local journalists, students from the National Institute of Design and coders from Mozilla India to create something for the Chandni Chowk community of old Delhi.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
Description London Design Festival exhibition 2011 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Bespoke presented a number of its designs, and delivered a talk on the project's methodology at the V&A as part of the London Design Festival 2011. A 62 page catalogue of work was also printed and distributed at the event (see website for pdf copy).

Taking place between September Saturday 17th and Friday 23rd, Bespoke showed its Wayfinder, Viewpoint and Busker designs.

On Tuesday 20th between 4.15pm and 5.30pm, there was a talk and presentation at the Design Space in the Sackler Centre investigating how 'Insight Journalism' can be used as a catalyst for community innovation and engagement.

Four devices and the project methodology was exhibited over 9 days from 17-25th September 2011. The Festival attracts 350,000-thousand visitors each year and is an internationally recognized showcase of British design. We also gave a project presentation in the Hockhauser Auditorium on Tuesday 20th September which was attended by around 100 people.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011