“Crucible takes you away from your natural environment and strengthens every aspect of what a researcher should be…”

By Dr Simon Fairclough, University of Manchester

UK Digital Economy Crucible 2018 Participant

Above: Dr Simon Fairclough

It can be a lonely world research. Exploring the frontiers of understanding every day. Most of us relish this… but, the more you strive in your goals, the more you become distracted and burdened by funding, exams or just general admin.  There are seldom opportunities to reflect on tackling the world of academia and “what do I need to do improve ‘me’” in this ever competitive industry. Most of all, as an early career researcher there is this expectation that you are a full formed practitioner that can promote, communicate their own work but handle those big first research grants with no prior experience or expertise. Sound familiar…?

The Crucible addresses fundamental gaps in this standard career training and guides you to the next level often asked by funding bodies, in making what they like to call ‘the leaders of tomorrow’. It does this by taking you away from your natural environment and then teaches and strengthens most every aspect of what a researcher should be. With the added bonus of gaining a network and infrastructure that gives you support and specific insights that are far broader and influencing than a university-based scheme can give.

From the first coffee of the first day, (btw there is plenty of great coffee), the thing you will notice is that the crucible is melting pot of expertise, bringing together speakers and cohort alike from a host of backgrounds. Whilst the underlying theme is digital economy, it encompasses technologists and users of technology, to people you are interested in the social and political application and implications of technology. The first people I met where a social scientist, an architect, marine biologist, political theorist, educationists and health care professionals amongst the expected computer scientist and technologist. The fact that you spend 3 workshops together you come to realise that technology and more urgently digital economy needs to embrace the social, ethical and political implications of technologies that you may have to collaborate far broader to tackle the problems of tomorrow … indeed I am now collaborating with people who when I started, I didn’t think I had things in common… but I digress. 

Above: Simon and his team pitching an inter-disc research idea to the Dragons

But back to the nitty gritty of the crucible. The workshops are a tour de force of expertise, you are greeted by facilitators (comperes) who are enthusiastic, passionate about you, and bring out insights from experts that perhaps you would have never known about. How often do hear that TV presenters before giving a speech, breath out deeply before they start, not only does it naturally drop your shoulders and voice, but makes you look more relaxed and confident, especially if internally you are nervous.

You are then introduced to the speakers who are broadly broken up into themes of personal development, media & public speaking, demystifying research councils/grants/grant writing, getting in to policy making, ethics and entrepreneurship. Here the Crucible will bring in experts such as the BBC, Channel 4, Parliamentary Office of Science &Technology, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft and Amazon. Amongst these there will grant writing consultants, alumni and academics who have become entrepreneurs. The expertise is certainly eye opening and the advice even more so. For me, this came in the form of the research councils, hearing the common mistakes and their pet hates, indeed just listening and interacting with the council members both in session and at the dinners has humanised the whole grant proposals. The insights of industry specifically the likes of Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook discussing technology and digital economy and the social and cooperate responsibility which they want/are being forced to embrace, perhaps gives a new perspective of the future.

As well as learning off them, throughout these speeches it is amazing to think that industry, media and policy makers want to engage and learn about you too. Indeed the networking is real and it was amazing for me as two weeks days after our media workshop I was asked to give comment for an article for the BBC, about a month after the policy workshop I been asked to comment on briefs for MPs, which I definitely would not have been done otherwise. NB This isn’t a requirement of the course but highlights it definitely opens doors.

Above: 2018 cohort

For all the great speeches and training on grant writing, the training culminates in a Dragons den for real seed corn funding, against some formidable dragons. As cohort groups, with almost carte blanche … the melting pot of experts, ideas and having known each for several months at this point proposals coming out are really out of the top draw. The telling point within the groups was when people start saying “whatever the outcome of the Dragons den pitch let’s do it anyway…” have I mentioned how great the melting pot of people is??!!!

Whilst I have talked mainly on things that you might expect from any course like this. One of the things that some courses sweep under the carpet, but this Crucible tackles full on is… ‘how important it is to celebrate failures’, ‘how to build confidence’ and ‘how to build peer network within academia, government and industry’ both for collaboration and support. You know this is valued when you see alumni of the course queuing to come back to help and talk on this….

The beauty of research is that you never know what tomorrow brings… but having been part of the Crucible, having demystified and humanised this game that is academia, having cherished the melting pot of people and ideas from both the speakers and cohort combined… you can definitely say you get a broader skill set and support network that you may not have before. But ultimately it gives you the knowledge, guidance and confidence to go on to what comes next… for you to go out into the world and progress to the next step and say ‘“follow me”, together we can make a difference’


So, what do you do? A blog on a basic public communications workshop for theoretical scientists

By Tashi Gyaltsen, CHERISH-DE


IMG_1643 (1)
 Above: Faro Marina

One of the key communications skills we look at in CHERISH-DE leadership development programme (UK Digital Economy Crucible) is how well you articulate your research to the public. When I was approached on recommendation to deliver a half-day workshop on the subject to an intimate group of theoretical scientists, my first reaction was that of thrill and apprehension. I accepted the opportunity and off I went to the University of Algarve, in Faro where the week-long workshop ‘CCC 2018: Continuity, Computability, Constructivity – From Logic to Algorithms’ was held. Workshop participants were expert in various computational disciplines and hailed from universities in Europe, Asia and North and South America. A full list of the participants and their institutions can be found here. They had a half day slot to take a break from the grueling conference sessions and explore how to communicate research to the public.

 Above: conference session in full swing 

Before diving into the tips and techniques, we had an in-depth look at the public – who they might be, what do they want and why they are important. I gave a snapshot of the public, including a single parent, a retired couple, a person with limited mobility, a young person at university, a young family and professionals such as a nurse, a bricklayer, a store holder and a member of parliament. They are from different ages and different socio-economic backgrounds, but they are all keen to know about things that affect their lives.

The public are crucial to academics because most research grants come from the public funding, and because ultimately knowledge has to help society.

Above: a random collection of members of the public 

We then got into how we communicate our research in the most common way: what do you do? This can be a challenging, often awkward, situation to be in. It is obvious, but the public are not experts so avoid using jargon or technical words (if you do use a technical word such as algorithm, follow up with a simple explanation). They are busy people and will have limited time to understand what you are saying. My other advice was to identify your research to everyday matters (such as weather, transportation, hospital, phones etc) when you need to explain further, and always relate to things that are important to people’s lives such as health, security, family, comfort, finance, culture, livelihood, convenience etc.


Above: Local fishing boats getting ready for the day


We had a further discussion on how it is especially challenging for theoretical scientists when they need to explain what they do and how it has impact on the public. To motivate the group, I showed a process: their expertise could be in computable analysis (for example) that uses mathematical models or computer simulations (or any other technical methods or approach) to solve problems in biology discipline that are active in the healthcare sector. This sector is heavily used by and linked with the public. And there is your connection!

 Above: Faculty of Economics, Gambelas Campus, University of Algarve where the conference was held

So when a member of general public asks that dreaded question, “what do you do?” Some examples you could consider are:

  • I am passionate about using mathematical models to create safer computer systems that are used in railways and airplanes
  • I build models and simulations that are used to predict disruptive weather events such as flooding, strong winds, fog and heavy snowfall
  • I help reduce dengue infections by using mathematical model and simulation of how virus among people and mosquitoes are spread

The above answers are more sensible to the public than saying “I’m a lecturer in computable analysis in the area covering discrete complexity”.

We then looked at how similarly we could articulate that in a written form when we engage with the public at an event or on the street – using a leaflet, a poster, or simply a postcard. We looked at this in two forms: a research headline, and a brief research summary. The golden rule absolutely applies here as to avoid technical terms. Use verbs or adjectives in your heading such as improve, developing, produce, increase, reduce that immediately tells the public your research is doing/achieving something. Make it exciting and fun. Also, again, tell them in the heading how it relates to things that are important to our lives. And lastly, keep it to 7-8 words (fewer if possible).

After an exercise we looked at some appealing heading suggestions such as:

  • Improving Thailand Railway’s signal processing
  • Making banking system safer by building a robust mathematical model
  • Using mathematical models to help eliminate dengue fever in Nepal

Above: Jaap van Oosten, Utrecht University, Netherlands, demonstrating his work on the Sierpinski Object in the Scott Realizability Topos!

We also looked at reaching out to the public on social media. Twitter and Facebook are powerful platforms to showcase, attract or simply inform your colleagues, friends and family members of what you do. As well as clicking ‘Like’ button on a post that has a cute dog, you can also express what you do – in an everyday language, giving practical examples. Donor acknowledgement or visibility in your social media posts are also increasingly important for public awareness – that the EU or EPSRC or AHRC has funded this amazing research which will aim to bring a meaningful impact to our lives. And to show an example, we did a mockup of a tweet of the conference (below).


Above: a mockup of a user-friendly tweet about the conference


In a typical twitter post, you mention/tag the speaker, hashtag or tag what you are doing, in a simple language say what’s new or exciting about that speakers’ talk, and then tag your audience (@donor, @community, @household_names that people may search for), use #hashtags for what are relevant to the tweet such as subject matter, discipline, research area, trends; have a call for action – in this case asking people to read the speaker’s paper, and lastly take/upload pictures of what’s happening or of the event so the public can make sense of your information. When you tag a person or a donor or a community, it will pop up in notification on their Twitter account (so they are more likely to read your tweet). When you hashtag a subject matter or discipline or a trendy research area, you are including your tweet to be searchable on Twitter on those hashtag keywords, such as #AI #logic #discreetcomplexity #ML

We rounded up the workshop on how to follow up your simple research heading with equally simple sentence(s) of your research overview to go on a poster. There are many ways and versions of how you can write a summary in a succinct way. We explored a shortened version of a commonly used technique of articulating what the research does, normally achieving an overall bigger picture outcome, by doing xyz, normally research activities/approach. A couple of suggestions we looked at were:

  • The project transforms the treatment of eye diseases by creating algorithm, which is a mathematical set of rules, that enables a computer to accurately analyse eye scans
  • The project enables the Thailand rail authorities to adopt a safer signalling system by utilising OnTrack railway verification tool pioneered in the UK.

One interesting observation was that the participants spent time writing as best as they could. When they read it out to me, some of them didn’t make a great deal of sense. But when I asked them to explain what they were trying to say in the summary, it made complete sense! So, if you can, write it down first, explain it to a non-technical person, and then re-write it in the way you just explained! One of the most appealing written answers at the workshop was from Ulrich Berger, Swansea University (see below):

Above: for clarity, it reads: Driverless cars, programmmer-less programs
Human error is the main reason for fatal traffic accidents. Therefore, driverless cars are being developed to make driving safer.
An even more dangerous activity than driving is programming. Since computer programs control aircrafts, nuclear power plants, medical devices and banking systems, bugs introduced by programmers
can cause catastrophic loss of lives and livelihood. This project uses logical methods to automatically generate computer programs that are guaranteed to be free of errors, thus making our lives safer and happier

And lastly, an observation from the conference co-chair Prof Dieter Spreen (University of Siegen):

“Showing relevance or real-world application of the theoretical research has been an ongoing challenge. At CCC2018 conference, we wanted to explore how it is possible to address this issue by broadening our horizon on the general public and adopt simple, practical ways to communicate our research to them. We are going through a complex geopolitical time where donor visibility has become increasingly important and how we also communicate that to the general public is crucial. I’m pleased Tashi Gyaltsen from Swansea University delivered a passionate workshop on this subject that was fun, interactive and beneficial to the participants. I certainly took away some practical tips on how I can come across better when conversing with a member of public. So I thank Tashi again for his fantastic workshop!”

Online grooming prevention: Stop TIME Online

A guest blog post by Rosie Riordan

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:

The Science of Voting – Bringing my CHERISH-funded research to the public with Oriel Science

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.

Fig. 1 Screenshot from project website – Party positions on the statement that ‘Wales should aim to become and independent country’
Fig. 2 Our astroturf mats

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!

Fig 3. On display – set up and ready to welcome the public at Oriel Science
Fig 4. ‘Stand where you stand’ – two of our participants enjoy the experience.


The InterView: our new monthly Researcher Spotlight

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.

Picture Bob
Bob Laramee, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Swansea University

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.

You can find out more about Bob Laramee and his research by visiting his web page at http://www.cs.swan.ac.uk/~csbob/

You can also email Bob directly at r.s.laramee@swansea.ac.uk

Bob’s areas of expertise
Data visualization
Flow visualization
Information visualization
Visual analytics
Big data visualization

UK Digital Economy Crucible 2017 Participants Announced

By Tashi Gyaltsen


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
  • Dafnne Morgado Ramirez, Biomedical Engineering/HCI, UCL
  • Edina Harbinja, Law, University of Hertfordshire
  • Enrico Andreoli, Engineering, Swansea University
  • Ewa Luger, HCI, University of Edinburgh
  • 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!

Reflecting on those other Clouds

By Thomas Reitmaier


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.

Source: thenounproject.com

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.