Digital champions encapsulate spirit of the age

Posted on August 31, 2013


Reminiscence room

Video is more than just a useful tool when it comes to showcasing research results or the impact of an intervention – it is primary evidence. Whether you’re recording results in a lab or creating a historical record, video can easily convey more in two or three minutes viewing than a long written document that takes hours to read. Today’s researchers and policy makers have a huge advantage in using multimedia in this way because they have powerful video recorders at hand in their smartphones or tablet devices.

Of course, I should qualify that. Smartphone and tablet technology alone does not equate to brilliant film-making or instant objective evidence. Learning how to use the technology and knowing how to construct a ‘story’ is part of the deal. There is often a disconnect between the promise of the technology and delivery. It comes in all shapes and sizes, runs different flavours of software and hardware, in fact learning to use the technology warrants an education in itself. So socially inclusive projects like Digital Champions are invaluable.

Digital Champions was set up by North Tyneside Council (NTC) to bridge the gap for people who own mobile devices. Its aim was simple – to teach people how to use their tablet or smartphone to take better pictures, to use time-saving apps, to make the technology a useful tool and not just the latest gadget. Run in conjunction with the Voluntary Organisation Development Agency (Voda) it set out to tackle social and digital inclusion; to connect people by providing local residents with hardware, software and connectivity choices. From basic online skills to apps on the go, volunteers held drop-in sessions at libraries and community centres, or visited people in their own homes.

It was also a prime opportunity to record people’s thoughts about mobile devices and how technology might progress in future. Back To The Future brought together young and old to exchange practical skills and ideas, but it also asked them to consider what technology would be like in sectors such as health, transport, communication and entertainment in five years time. Look at the video above and you get an idea of the warmth and mutual respect between the generations, all from such a simple concept. That is a real connection and an excellent use of basic animation skills and video to record how technology is changing people’s lives.

Or look at the University of Newcastle‘s Social Inclusion Through The Digital Economy (SIDE) project, which set up a reminiscence room for people suffering from dementia. This innovative ‘living room installation’ was created to provide a therapeutic interactive space for people dispossessed by mental health problems. SIDE has a multi-million pound budget (and has just opened a £2m cloud computing centre), Voda and NTC had a tiny fraction of that, but both recognised the value in creating life chances and positive associations through technology. Both also realised that video could aid in evaluation, publicity and would provide insight to even the most casual observer on project aims and results.