By Hannah Gibbs
How can Digital Action support citizens, communities, voluntary organisations and community groups to design successful Citizen Science events and similar activities? How can Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) provide support? In November and December 2022 the HEIDI team ran a series of roundtable and co-creation events with groups across London, the UK, Europe, and the world, to explore these questions and talk about what communities need for Digital Action.
We invited people who work with or are interested in community groups (by this we mean groups of people who work for the benefit of the public, within a certain community), participants in the voluntary-sector (by this we mean people who are members of, contribute to, benefit from, or work in or with organisations who seek to create social impact such as charities, non-governmental, non-profit or not for-profit organisations run by and with individuals who do not get paid), anyone from the HEI academic or support staff community (by this we mean professors, lecturers, postgraduate teaching assistants, librarians, administrative staff, IT staff, those in support roles for both research and teaching, and more), and anyone interested in Digital Action, digital skills or who wanted to meet some like-minded people. Many attendees had not participated in Digital Action – they were just interested in the idea!
The roundtables provided space for people from across the UK, Continental Europe and North America to explore ideas about the impact in communities of using Digital Action, what community groups and voluntary organisations need for Digital Action, which digital skills are essential, and how HEIs can offer opportunities to develop such digital skills. Participants described their experience working to support local communities—particularly older people, emigrants, and local deprived communities—charities, and voluntary organisations with digital inclusion, either to onboard and manage volunteers with digital platforms or provide digital skills, technology, and tools (either at affordable cost or zero cost) one-to-one, in group settings, or pre-existing networks (such as through foodbanks or Age UK).
The co-creation event connected people from and interested in Higher Education, community groups and the voluntary sector across Europe and Southeast Asia to co-create methods to support Digital Action projects. We used citizen social science tools to explore ways we can record the barriers, opportunities, needs and requirements for Digital Action projects. The communal jamboards we produced we based on the Ax4 methodology (a user-centred method to describe experiences) and used four categories: actors (people), artefacts (things), activities, and atmosphere (context) to capture working relationships and experiences. We also discussed our experiences of using these tools, critiquing them, and sharing ideas about how to use them to support anyone from our sectors (HEI academic or support staff, students, local communities, and members of voluntary organisations) to assess any potential issues in order to successfully run a Digital Action project! Our participants described enthusiasm for using the visual training materials to assess Digital Action projects. Participants discussed what makes a Digital Action project successful, and connected this to the opportunities for academic and support staff, and members of voluntary organisations, to engage in Digital Action projects.
Following the events we shared details of our future in-person events where attendees can get to know each other and other interested parties in London.
What is the HEIDI Project?
We are HEIDI (“Digital Action at HEIs as a catalyst for social change in the Covid-19 crisis”), a research project at UCL, and we are interested in what Higher Education Institutions can do to support voluntary organisations, community groups, and citizens to shape better societies. The Erasmus+ project aims to provide training (for staff, decision makers, students, librarians, and communities) enabling Higher Education Institutions to better embrace and support bottom-up digital action (i.e. hackathons, makeathons and citizen science initiatives). Until May 2023 we will be running 90 events (in the UK, France, Malta, Cyprus and Greece) and aim to engage more than 3,000 people.
During 2022 we held a series of roundtables with HEI staff and students, which you can read about in the UCL ExCiteS blog here and the HEIDI Project page here.
We hold regular webinars and workshops, and you can find some of our past talks on our YouTube channel. At the end of May we will be holding a series of in-person events for our final event including workshops for specific stakeholder groups, and we will release the details of these shortly. You can register your interest here.
HEIDI is supported by the ERASMUS+ programme of the European Union under Grant Agreement no. 2020-1-UK01-KA226-HE-094667.