Sprinting with the Community
An approach for highly interdisciplinary, community-university research on digital technologies for social change
Catalyst is a £1.9M UK funded research project looking at how digital technologies either promote or act as a barrier to social change. Catalyst has developed a novel approach to such research which involves building partnerships of academics and non-academics (community organizations, charities, social enterprises etc.) to jointly imagine and develop digital technologies to address particular social agendas. Catalyst is run as a framework of projects — or sprints — in which teams form and very quickly work together on new ideas with long term sustainability in mind from the start. To date, Catalyst has involved around 70 community groups as well as academics from seven different disciplines (computing, psychology, sociology, management, health and medicine, art and design, linguistics). Projects to date have worked with charities for the homeless, adults on the autism spectrum, local sustainability initiatives, and the use of social media to connect communities.
In this talk, I will give an overview of the Catalyst project, describe its methods and approaches, and reflect on what has been learned about doing research with and for communities outside the university.
Jon Whittle is professor of computer science at Lancaster University. His background is in software engineering and human-computer interaction research but in the last six years, he has taken a keen interest in interdisciplinary research. During this time, he has led five major interdisciplinary research projects funded to around £5M. During this time, he has learned a lot about what works — and what doesn’t — when trying to bring researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds together.