Bridging the Rural Divide

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: School of Computer Science

Abstract

Access to digital services is unevenly distributed across the UK and the urban-rural divide is particularly pronounced. A great deal of effort is being invested in providing universal access, but the development of services that meet rural demand is also needed to engage rural communities in Digital Britain and enhance their stake in the Digital Economy. This project seeks to bridge the rural divide through the development of novel mapping services that augment a broad range of activities underpinning the rural economy; activities such as walking, cycling, canoeing, bird-watching, and other everyday activities that sustain the rural economy. Specifically, the project seeks to develop community-based maps that enhance our engagement with the countryside and novel data services that enable individuals to input and/or access digital content in the field. By developing these services in the wild through direct user participation, the research will provide a blueprint for broader roll-out and provision of services that meet rural need.Current digital mapping services largely focus on urban environments. Google Maps, for example, offers rich street views of urban settings but such views of rural space are largely absent. Google My Maps offers users tools to map out their own routes and add content, such as photographs, video, and textual descriptions, but these are laborious and lack a great deal of contextual relevance. New developments in mobile, location and sensor-based or 'ubiquitous' computing now make it possible for users to move beyond the urban fringe and herald the spatial expansion of computing out from the city and into rural locations that have long been marginalised due to technological limitations, and the development of new online 'Web 2.0' services open up new possibilities for augmenting and sharing field-generated content. This project seeks to leverage new developments in ubiquitous computing and Web 2.0 to enhance our engagement with the rural environment and augment the activities that drive the rural economy.The project seeks to meet its aims through the interdisciplinary and user-led development of a 'rural ubicomp toolkit' that will enable people to create and share community-based maps that represent their distinctive interests and concerns. Thus, and for example, the toolkit will enable users to sketch routes out to indicate interesting pathways through rural space. Sketches will be augmented by GPS data generated in the field. When in the field, users will be able to access community content based on their location, in order to have contextually relevant information fed to them at appropriate points in their journey. Users will also be able to add to the evolving corpus of community knowledge by uploading geo-tagged content via mobile devices. The toolkit will also support more immediate social aspects of our engagement with the rural landscape by enabling content to be accessed, added to, and viewed via situated displays and mini-projectors in visitor centres.The results of the project will be an Open Source toolkit that provides a blueprint for the broader deployment of DIY sensor hardware, software APIs for mobile experience capture, representation and sharing, and tools for ordinary users to create engaging public events. The project is supported by the RCUK Horizon Digital Economy Hub, Ordinance Survey, the Countryside Council of Wales, Mark Williams MP, and the Minister for Rural Affairs in Wales.
 
Description This project was funded from a research 'in the wild' funding stream. Our core findings found that development of a system in the wild that suggests that the development and appropriation of innovative solutions turns upon the close coupling of multiple design disciplines and sustained user engagement in the construction of robust solutions. This sits uncomfortably with current characterisations of the turn to the wild, which suggest there is less need for interdisciplinary work, computer science expertise and software engineering acumen.



Our experience of developing the PlaceBooks system suggests that there is a need for the existing model of research in the wild to be revised. Of particular note is the need for the emphasis on deployment and evaluation to be reappraised. While deployment is an important activity, shedding light on real world challenges of appropriation in context, it does not stand-alone. Rather deployment needs to be reconfigured as part of a broader collaborative process, which embeds researchers in relevant user communities and leverages understandings of user needs and the nature of current practice into the construction of robust solutions that ongoingly engage users in design and drive appropriation.
Exploitation Route Additional to the information provided above, it would be possible to use the technology developed in educational contexts and design contexts. The ability to build and share dynamics books and link them to data-sets open up a plethora of possibilities that could have a very diverse set of uses outside of the academic context. The system that we developed as part of this project - PlaceBooks - has already been taken up and adopted by the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments, as part of their innovation stream in regard to their Peoples' Collection of Wales project - an innovative bilingual digital platform where users can discover, learn and contribute your story of Wales alongside content provided by other people and organisations. People's Collection Wales represents an innovative approach to collecting, interpreting and discussing Wales's cultural heritage in an online environment. PlaceBooks is currently being further developed and used as a tool to explore tourism and heritage by the EPSRC Scaling the Rural Enterprise project.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

URL http://www.bridgingtheruraldivide.com
 
Description Top five impact highlights arising from the project • Development of Placebooks, the project's primary software output: http://www.placebooks.org/placebooks/ • Uptake of PlaceBooks by Peoples Collection Wales (PCW); Placebooks hosted on PCW servers • Internationalisation: working with the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments Wales, we have started the process of internationalising our system (Placebooks). Through their partnerships in France and Spain we will be providing a system that is useable in a variety languages, and used by different cultural organisations across Europe. • Bringing together world-class key senior researchers in the UK in order to engage the associated research communities and develop further understanding of working in-the-wild. Efforts include: o Workshop at ACM Designing Interactive Systems Research in the Wild with Alan Chamberlain, Andy Crabtree, Tom Rodden, Matt Jones and Yvonne Rogers. This event brings together award in-the-wild award holders and creates a platform whereby they can discuss their research and hear the experiences of others. o Special journal issue Andy Crabtree, Alan Chamberlain, Tom Rodden, Matt Jones and Yvonne Rogers. The Turn to the Wild. ACM Transactions of Computer Human Interaction (ToCHI) accepted 2012. • Invited presentations, including: o Digital Past 2012 and The Archives Discovery Forum 2012 at The National Archive, meant that we were able to appropriately target and disseminate to non-academic groups that would directly benefit and/or be able to use and adapt the tools that we had built (Placebooks). o Presentations to academic audiences involve in research in the rural space, including the dot.rural DE Hub in Aberdeen and Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance. o Demonstrations of Placebooks including: Digital Engagement 2011, Innovate '11 Networking Conference, Horizon Digital Economy Research Conference 2011.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description Bridging the Rural Divide: Research on the Wild in the Wild 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Informing public of research and challenges

Informed public of research and challenges
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Bridging the rural digital divide in Borth and Ynyslas 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact News article.

Informing public of research and challenges
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Extending technology reach to rural areas 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact promoting awareness of projects and challenges
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Helping to bridge the rural divide 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact News item.

Informing public of research and challenges
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description Placebooks: rural participation, people and place 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited presentation about the project for the dot.rural DE Hub at Aberdeen and Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance joint event 'Rural Needs in Scotland'.

Promoting awareness of technological developments and research challenges
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012