The CHERISH project is currently enjoying Tim Kindberg’s (@timkindberg) visit to Swansea University. Tim is in the middle of a two week ‘residence’ organised by CHERISH and the new Computational Foundry.
Tim has a CompSci background and ,as a resident of the Pervasive Media Studio at Bristol’s Watershed, an interest in creative and interdisciplinary projects – so it’s been fascinating to talk to him about our experience as a project focused on digital innovation brought about through interdisciplinary research.
One of the many interesting things Tim has pointed out, and a significant point for the CHERISH team is not to worry too much about the concept, or challenge, of ‘co-creation’. If academics are interested in working together, there will almost inevitably be an interesting and worthwhile CompSci question to be explored – you have to trust in the momentum and energy of two people who are motivated to work together.
Tim is talking tomorrow (2pm, Wallace Landing, Swansea Uni, Tuesday 23rd Jan) on Blockchain for Sceptics and on Tuesday he is running a workshop Innovation in ways of working (10am – 4pm, Digital Technium).
We still have a week to go and will be talking with Tim about how to bring lots of individual research projects to life through a digital lens.
When I first visited Swansea University to see the venue for the launch of the NSPCC Cymru/Wales and Swansea University Stop TIME Online partnership project, I felt that sort of hushed excitement you get when the lights go down in a theatre and you’re waiting in the wings for your big entrance. After months of planning, designing, re-designing and preparation upon preparation, now all we had to do was actually launch it all.
Stop TIME Online is led by a dedicated team: Ruth Mullineux, Policy Officer at the NSPCC in Cardiff, Professor Nuria Lorenzo-Dus. Principal Investigator on the Online Grooming Communication Research Project at Swansea University, and Laura Broome, also from Swansea University, who studies the trends and patterns of groomers’ online profiles. Their project brief is to provide educational materials for one-to-one or group work between social workers and young people about the dangers of online grooming. It aims to help educate on how online groomers use language to approach and entrap their victims. Professor Lorenzo-Dus’ is the backbone of the project. Her findings show that some paedophiles are such skilful communicators, that they can successfully groom children online within twenty minutes; a disturbing statistic that will always stick with me.
As the Policy and Public Affairs intern, my job is to design the displays for the launch event, capture the spirit and journey of the project in a short two minute video and, of course, write a captivating blog about it all. I joined the team when the project was already on the homestretch and it was an interesting experience. Everybody else had been eating, sleeping and breathing it for months and I was still learning all of their names. After a few days of trying to make sense of it all, of reading up on hundreds of statistics and case studies and introducing myself to the finished designs, I was finally starting to wrap my head around it.
When we first met, I learnt how Nuria, Ruth and Laura had led the project. They’d started by consulting professionals all over Wales, gathering ideas as to how they could present their findings about online grooming to children and young people.
After this, the first concepts for Stop TIME Online were born. It was decided that an activity pack would be designed to help children and young people spot the signs of online grooming. Two acronyms were created: T.I.M.E and S.E.C.O.N.D. The first one described the overall model discovered by Professor Lorenzo-Dus about how online groomers attempt to manipulate a young person through their use of language:
The S.E.C.O.N.D. acronym focussed more on one key element of this model; how groomers gain the trust of a young person. It originally looked like this:
These designs were shown at the 2017 “How Safe Are Our Children?” NSPCC annual conference in London. A workshop of eighty attendees gave feedback on the project, which helped to solidify ideas, but the acronym for S.E.C.O.N.D. was still a bit rough around the edges: it needed young people’s voices. So, the project was presented to a group from Evolve Youth Club in Swansea. They responded well to the project and its aims and gave some excellent feedback on the activity pack. Their advice was implemented, helping to make the design more visually and linguistically appealing to young people. The colours were changed, the language was adjusted and a new acronym for S.E.C.O.N.D was crafted:
All this I learnt in eight short days which made my brain feel like a swarming bee’s hive of activity. The very next day we were scheduled into an all-day Project Team meeting at Swansea University, so I cobbled together thirty seconds of video to show the team and eagerly awaited another day of absorbing information. The meeting was fascinating; I began to realise all the hundreds of details that go into producing such an extensive project as this. Nuria led discussions on things that I hadn’t even contemplated before about the big launch day. What was the capacity of the venue? How many people would be able to attend? In which order would the designated speakers present? Was there to be a hashtag? (You bet! #StopTIMEOnline). We talked about media, press, catering, photography, live streaming and so much more. By the end of the day, my head was spinning with fresh motivation for the video.
My next day in the office, I practically didn’t leave my computer as I ploughed through a first edit of the video. The “journey” which Ruth had asked me to capture, was slowly taking shape and I felt a rush of excitement that I hoped would translate to an audience. I presented it to the office and the feedback I received was supportive and positive.
The week after, with fresh confidence, I made the final touches to the video. A sense of pride washed over me. This project is so important for the safety of children and young people all over the U.K. and it was a fulfilling experience being a part of it. From collating pictures and statistics, to editing the video, designing the displays for the event, re-editing the video, writing this blog and attending meetings with everybody involved, I can now happily share the final product with you! I hope you enjoy it:
By Dr Matthew Wall (Senior Lecturer in Politics, Swansea University)
One of the real pleasures of my work is that it affords me a licence to talk to people about politics. To be honest, if I wasn’t making a living from it, I’d be doing it anyway for free. In this post, I’d like to tell you about a brilliant weekend I spent discussing politics and policy with members of the public at the Oriel Science museum space on Prince’s Street in Swansea in the run-up to June’s general election and to explain how my CHERISH project helped me to assemble the technology, materials and personnel to make this happen.
I’ve been involved over the years in developing analysing and refining a technology known as a ‘Voter Advice Application’ (VAA for short). It’s fairly typical of academics to come up with such a cumbersome name for a relatively simple concept. With VAAs, the idea is that you answer a series of questions about the political debates of the day and then you are provided with a ‘match’ output that tells you how well your opinions line up with the policy positions of parties or candidates competing in an election. The concept originated in the Netherlands, and, before coming to Swansea, I spent 18 months as a Marie Curie Fellow working in Amsterdam with Kieskompas – one of the major innovators in creating VAA sites around the world.
As academics do, I thought critically about just what VAAs are designed to do, and how they could be improved. This led me to notice a couple of shortcomings that would lead to my CHERISH-DE project. Firstly, VAAs tend to be taken in isolation, with little in the way of context and, while there is research indicating that many VAA users do discuss their experience, this is not stitched into the process systematically. Secondly, a major problem of trying to engage the public with politics is that VAA users tend to already be politically interested – in a sense we have a problem of ‘preaching to the converted’.
These insights lead me to work with Dr Stephen Lindsay and my contacts at Kieskompas in putting together a successful bid to CHERISH-DE’s ‘Escalator’ fund for a project that would use VAAs to initiate and structure political conversation – and we decided that we should target this at the demographic with the lowest level of political engagement – those under 18. We worked with Kieskompas to create a bespoke website for young people and came up with a series of understandable policy statements that would highlight how the major parties differ in terms of their ideas such as ‘Wales should aim to become an independent country’ or ‘The voting age should be lowered to 16’. We then did a series of interviews with the policy officers of the major parties to ascertain their parties’ stances on these issues. You can see the Welsh parties’ stances on the ‘independent country’ question below.
In order to use this tool to create immersive political discussions, we printed a series of astroturf mats that represent the possible positions on each statement – ranging from ‘Strongly Agree’ to ‘Strongly Disagree’. With these mats laid out in front of the projected image from the website – we invite participants to ‘stand where you stand’ – which brings the concept of a ‘political space’ into being as a tangible reality. We use this as a starting point for a structured political conversation – where people are asked to ‘visit’ others standing in different positions to discuss and explain their stance. We’ve visited several schools with this project – and I have found funding for a PhD student, James Andrews, who is investigating whether these structured discussions can help to engage young people in politics.
When I heard of the Oriel Science project and with the election coming up, I thought that this would be an ideal opportunity to take my research to the public. The staff and organisers at Oriel were wonderful to work with – they helped me to create a ‘politics corner’ in their space with a projector and the mats as you can see in the image below. We had a steady stream of interested participants – with the election in the air politics was very much on peoples’ minds. We had some lively (but always friendly debates) about the issues on display – and the exhibition received some fantastic feedback, including: “The science of voting is what I enjoyed most about my visit today.”; “The voting workshop was great inside the venue”; “The voting workshop made me consider more things”.
Oriel Science let me bring my work to the people of Swansea right in the heart of the city centre – and ultimately gave me an excuse to do what I like best – talk politics!
The InterView is a new series in which we interview our colleagues at Swansea University, to find out a little more about them, their field of research, and its application within industry and non-academic settings.
Our new series kicks off with our first interviewee, Bob Laramee, Associate Professor of Computer Science. Bob, who hails from Boston in the US, started working at Swansea University in 2006. His main research interests are in Data Visualization, including scientific and information visualization and visual analytics.
Here Bob talks to Jay Doyle, Research Engagement Officer at the CHERISH Digital Economy Centre.
So Bob, how would you explain Data Visualization to a lay audience? The way I usually explain it is that Data Visualization is the non-fiction version of computer graphics. Computational graphics is normally used for entertainment – movies, games, that kind of thing. Data Visualization is using computer graphics technology to depict and reflect reality.
This involves generating images of complicated data sets. An example would be the weather report; this is data that has been collected by hundreds of weather stations, and then assembled into images. My job is to innovate and come up with new visualization designs and images.
Can you give an example of how your work has been applied outside of academia, say, in industry? We have developed software that is sold in commercial products. We have developed visualization solutions for a company called AVL, who optimize automotive engine components. Another collaboration that we’re currently working on is with a company called QPC, to visualize call centre data. We have also worked with a local company called We Predict, to visualize automotive warranty data. From this they are able to make recommendations to inform how long an automobile component lasts. This is highly valuable for insurers and manufacturers to indicate when parts are going to fail.
Basically, every company is collecting masses of complicated data, and they are always looking for ways to understand it better and to get the best insight and value from it.
Research culture is often viewed as being rather inward looking. What do you say to that? I think I agree with that. I think there is a gap between research culture and, let’s say, the private sector. But I would add that I think this is true for all of Higher Education, not just research.
Societal and economic impact are now important measures of academic impact, beyond publications and citations. Do you think we’ve got the balance right? That’s a real challenge. I don’t think we have the balance quite right. However, to achieve a more balanced real-world impact versus, say, academic impact, we would need more resources because academics are already stretched. So in order to achieve the balance, or more of a balance, some extra help would be needed.
What’s the motivation for you in working with industry, and what are the biggest gains for each side? A few things come to mind. I like to meet new people and whenever I do, I learn new things. So for me those collaborations are a learning experience. I also enjoy working on things that I know have direct relevance in the world, and real impact in the private sector.
Academics are good at innovation, and industries are always looking for innovation to stay competitive; part of what it means to be competitive is to innovate, so companies may gain by discovering that innovation can come from working with academics. It also adds academic competence to the company – skills which are not readily found in industry.
And what do you think are the biggest challenges to collaborating with industry? I would say that one of the challenges is matching complimentary interests and skillsets. Industries are looking for certain skillsets and so are the academics, and to get them to align is certainly a challenge. Time management is certainly a challenge too. Each collaboration carries costs in term of time, effort and communication. This can be a barrier. Funding is also a challenge; collaborations require investment, and securing the appropriate level of funding can be a real issue.
From your own experience, what do you think are the most effective ways for researchers to achieve wider impact from their work, outside of academia? I think one possibility is to publish findings in popular news outlets. Any outlet that has a wider audience beyond the academic community is very beneficial. I think that social media can also be used. YouTube, for example, is quite powerful. I think videos include a lot of useful information that is not available in traditional printed or text based media. At the end of the day, people want to communicate with other people, not necessarily machines, and YouTube brings you a little closer to the person.
Are there any desirable industry sectors to which you have yet to see your work applied? Yes. I have not yet established collaborative links with the Computational Fluid Dynamics industry in the UK. I see a lot of mutual benefit in aligning our interests.
What impact do you think the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will have on your research? Well, I can tell you that three of my PhD students are funded by EU money, so it’s going to have a very real impact on my students. There’s a program called KESS, which is jointly funded by the Welsh Assembly Government and the EU. They finance a number of MRes and PhD students until 2020. Such a great program will likely be impossible if the UK withdraws from the EU. There will also be a drop in the number of EU students generally, and that has consequences in terms of the number of publications we can produce. The average level of education for students in Higher Education may drop, especially at the MRes and PhD levels.
What are your hobbies? Exercise, healthy eating, meditation and Latin dance.
What would you do for a career if you weren’t doing this? I think I would probably start my own business creating digital products for pedagogic and research application. For example, an online Data Visualization class that anyone can pay for and download.
Following a successful campaign and a competitive selection process, CHERISH Digital Economy Research Centre is delighted to welcome the following Early Career Researchers to UK Digital Economy Crucible 2017: (list updated: 27/04/2017)
Adeline Paiement, Medical Image Analysis (CS), Swansea University
Alvin Orbaek White, Engineering, Swansea University
Amy Jenkins, Neuropsychology, Swansea University
Angela Dy, Entrepreneurship, Loughborough University London
Caitlin Cottrill, Geography & Environment, Aberdeen University
Chiara Bernardi, Digital Media, University of Stirling
Federico Cerutti, Artificial Intelligence, Cardiff University
Gemma Webster, Computer Science, Edinburgh Napier University
Hendrik Baier, Artificial Intelligence, University of York
John Stevens, Design, Royal College Arts
Kellie Morrissey, Applied Psychology/HCI, Newcastle University
Larissa Pschetz, Design, University of Edinburgh
Marwan Fayed, Computer Science, University of Stirling
Mercedes Torres Torres, HCI, University of Nottingham
Pedro Telles, Law, Swansea University
Phil Bartie, Geospatial Technologies, University of Stirling
Phil Heslop, HCI, Newcastle University
Phil James, Verification/Computer Science, Swansea University
Ramine Tinati, Computer Science, University of Southampton
Riza Batista-Navarro, Natural Language Processing (CS), University of Manchester
Sandy Brownlee, Computer Science, University of Stirling
Sarah Clinch, Computing Architectures, University of Manchester
Sean Walton, Engineering/Computer Science, Swansea University
Simon Rowberry, Digital Media & Publishing, University of Stirling
Steve Snow, Social Science/HCI, University of Southampton
Yvonne McDermott Rees, Law, Bangor University
We will publish more about them later in the month.
UK Digital Economy Crucible is a UK-wide, multi-disciplinary leadership programme developed by Swansea University. We are passionate about developing the future leaders of digital economy, who will bring their diverse expertise in addressing common human challenges, and become change agents in shaping future products, services and policies. The participants can look forward to the following exciting programme at the skills labs and gathering:
Swansea skills lab (18-19 May) will focus on Insight. It will provide an in-depth understanding of digital economy and leadership, and offer an exclusive platform to interact with crucial actors of digital economy, such as media (BBC, Channel 4, The Conversation, and possibly the Guardian), funding councils (EPSRC, ESRC, AHRC, and possibly Wellcome Trust) and general public who are at the heart of our digital innovations.
Edinburgh skills lab (22 and 23 June) will emphasise on Collaboration where the participants will start to work together and interact with household industry names (Microsoft, NHS, DVLA, BBC, and possibly Google) to address common challenges, engage in an intensive proposal writing workshop and hear about how to put together a winning proposal through teamwork.
The last skills lab in London (27-28 July) will work on achieving Impact. The participants will interact with digital entrepreneur and social digital activist, learn how to feed into policy making at government level, get practical insight into achieving real impact through proven inter-disciplinary work from highly successful senior academics, build resilience as an ECR, and finally participate in a Dragon’s Den-style pitching.
At the Alumni gathering (3 Nov), which is a crucial part of the leadership programme, we’ll have a catch-up in a much more relaxed environment. We’ll discuss what the participants have been up to since the last skills lab – their achievements and challenges, discuss emerging opportunities and further collaborations, undertake a team bonding outing and foster a sense of common goal within the Digital Economy Researcher community.
We are truly delighted to have attracted such a rich combination of outstanding Early Careers Researchers from across the UK, and look forward to going on a journey with them to develop, collaborate, innovate and change the world!
Today is world meteorological day and the world meteorological organization is celebrating by releasing a database of cloud images. You can even submit your own. Looking over this stunning collection of images I’m reminded of the breath-taking world of wind and weather we inhabit. But as a computer scientist with an interest in mobile architectures those images look familiar in another sense and remind me of those other Clouds. For I often encounter such images in presentations, as splash images on landing pages of the next great app, and as icons on user interfaces and in technical diagrams.
Good design, as the eccentric design theorist Vilém Flusser (1999) reminds us, is to some extent deception. The metaphor of the computer file exemplifies this quite well. It only takes a moments reflection to realize that the file you store on your Desktop, beautifully represented by an icon, isn’t the bounded physical entity it pretends to be. Especially if the file is larger it might be fragmented across your hard drive (rapidly rotating disk coated with magnetic material) or SSD (complex integrated circuit assemblies). What makes the File metaphor so cunning is that at the moment of user interaction the system’s view of the file and the users point of view – e.g. that document I’m working on – converge (on this point, see Harper et al 2013). That is, the user can get on with what she wants to do, because Operating System, Filesystem, and User Interface are working together in consistent harmony.
The metaphor of the Cloud, however, works differently from that of the File. Its goal is not to bind together systems and user perspectives, but to render invisible and immaterial massive digital infrastructures – data centres, undersea cables, etc – as well as the software services that run on top of these and that we depend on every day. In the Cloud such services are opaque, and we can never really be sure if they are thoughtfully and robustly engineered with craft and care, form a tightly-coupled monolith that could buckle on load, or are something that is just cobbled together. When developing services in the Cloud, we seldom talk about user awareness and control but are well versed in discussions on how our system scales or how we can leverage and monetize user data often to the detriment of user control.
As we celebrate world meteorological day and marvel at the weather world we inhabit, we would do well to pause for a moment and think about those other Clouds that configure, constrain, and mediate so much in our lives. Perhaps a better metaphor is needed than an image of a beautiful meadow, blue skies, and fluffy clouds.
Flusser, Vilém. The Shape of Things: A Philosophy of Design. Edited by Anthony Mathews. London: Reaktion Books, 1999.
Harper, Richard, Eno Thereska, Sian E. Lindley, Richard Banks, Phil Gosset, William Odom, Gavin Smyth, and Eryn Whitworth. “What Is a File?” In Proceedings of the 2013 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 1125–1136. CSCW ’13. New York, NY, USA: ACM, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2441776.2441903.