Red Tales: A Participatory Interactive Documentary

Red Tales is a participatory interactive documentary about red squirrel conservation in the UK. It is composed entirely of user-generated content from diverse and geographically separated conservation communities across the UK. It features a variety of video, image, sound and text-based content, representing contributions from over 40 individuals. A unique, dynamically-generated introduction sequence (composed from the user-generated content) sets the scene for the documentary and introduces a suite of interactive navigational tools that help audiences explore and create their own interpretations of the content.

Rather than being a ‘standalone’ film, Red Tales integrates with existing ecologies, both online (via social media) and offline (via different co-located communities). Users can ‘curate’ and share collections of existing content, as well as add new content to the “living” documentary. Our aim was to reflect the heterogeneity of the content as well as the ‘unresolved’ nature of the topic. Thus, rather than presenting a linear narrative, audiences are invited to explore and contribute to the documentary through a technical framework and an interaction paradigm that builds equally upon current research in documentary/media studies and social computing, and pioneering interactive documentaries (e.g. Bear71 / 18 Days in Egypt).

Red Tales was produced through participatory workshops and developed in response to an ethnographic study of the red squirrel conservation community that revealed its inherent diversity, shared concerns and hundreds of individuals’ stories. The collaborative, multidisciplinary and participatory approach used in the development of the film demonstrates the potential of a new configuration for academic and third sector engagement, developed by the AHRC Creative Exchange Knowledge Exchange Hub. Furthermore, our ambitious, experimental filmmaking process yielded valuable insights into the practicalities of media production within the ‘digital economy’, particularly in relation to forging new experiences, supporting grassroots communities and production methods for co-creative, non-linear documentary narratives.

Affinity – Create4Dementia Hack

Affinity Mobile App


The Create4Dementia hack event hosted 50+ hackers with skills in software, design and healthcare to develop innovative technologies for those living with dementia in 24 hours. The team from Open Lab – Team Sonar – consisted of Andy Garbett, Ed Jenkins, Dan Richardson, Tom Nappey and Reuben Kirkham were awarded with the ‘Most Provocative Concept’ by the judges for their prototype location tracking and ambient display.

The day began with orientation presentations from leading experts in the field of health research around dementia, local care providers and technologists. During these presentations it became apparent we as care providers and developers of technology are quick to use technology on, rather than with, those living with dementia without considering the impacts this may have. Therefore the Affinity concept aims to turn the tables and enforce that carers use an app that records their location and makes that available to the person living with dementia through an ambient display.

The Affinity prototype consists of an ambient display that can be used as a clock face as well as a display that shows the person living with dementia an abstracted overview of where family members are and how close they might be to their current location. They can then send a notification to the carer’s smartphone who will then be prompted to contact their loved one. The second part of the system is the quantification of care in which care providers are being tracked and statistics are used to critically encourage competition between care providers and empower the person living with dementia.

The concept of tracking the those who track others raised questions around the negative implications of what might happen in the future and opened the debate into how we should proceed in the area of tracking those living with dementia.

Create4Dementia Open Lab Team

Digital Portraits


Digital portraits is a workshop process developed to explore the presentation of self using digital media. Participants are given portrait packs with inspiration tokens to generate ideas on the things that are valuable in their lives, including objects, places, people and sensory experiences. Participants then take part in workshops to create short video portraits using collage, photography, sound, music and words. Workshops were initially developed with an international women’s centre in the UK for women experiencing domestic violence to explore experiences that were important as they were moving on and re-building their lives. Short videos were made as a way of both imagining and expressing how individuals wanted their lives to be in the future and both shared in groups and taken home to discuss with family members.


NewsDrop: #newsHack

NewsDrop Physical Installation

#NewsHack is a BBC Connected Studios hack day where digital tinkerers and open data advocates are invited to create hacks within 24 hours. Open Lab’s team consisted of Andrew Garbett, Tom Bartindale, Sebastian Mellor, Jan Kučera who hacked away using BBC, TheyWorkForYou, Yahoo! and Twitter API’s to create NewsDrop (


National news coverage of Parliamentary debate is inherently non-local specific content and often communities are affected by these issues and are left without an outlet to discuss these issues. We envisage NewsDrop as a way in which communities can become more aware of this discussion through supporting local community journalists in aggregating and disseminating local news about Parliamentary debates.


NewsDrop is a toolkit for supporting community journalism of parliamentary debates using a physical installation that displays a live news paper, authored by community journalists through an online news production tool. The production tool aggregates related news, BBC programmes using iPlayer and twitter. The physical installation also allows citizen journalists to conduct surveys from the community readers of the live newspaper.

The Open Lab team were awarded “Best University Hack” for their NewsDrop Submission.



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Guardian Angel

A concern raised by the older people interviewed during the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project was that reduced mobility would lead to difficulty with accessing their money. This led in some cases to people divulging security details to carers, friends and relatives.

We came up with the concept of the Guardian Angel service, which would address this concern. It would allow an account holder to give a delegate restricted access to their money in order to carry out specific tasks. An application for mobile technology such as an iPad would allow the account holder to customise the boundaries of the nature of this access. For example, they would be able to allow access at particular ATMS or shops within a certain distance of their home, set a limit on the amount of money that could be transferred or withdrawn, or set a time limit during which the task had to be carried out. The delegate would have their own card linked to the Guardian Angel service, negating any need for the account holder to give away their PIN. Furthermore, the service would notify the account holder once the task had been carried out.

Part of the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project.

Balance Ticker

Keeping detailed records of how much money is in an individual bank account and tracking receipts of transactions are highly valued by many older people who carefully manage their finances. However, Modern payment technologies and bank accounts have a tendency to penalise those who wish to keep tight control of their finances. There are fewer opportunity to receive paper statements and paper bills, and the paper receipt at the shop is now becoming something to be asked for rather than given out of courtesy. This is at odds with the experiences and desires of the eighty-something-year-old participants in the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project, many of whom enjoyed and took great pleasure from documenting the various incomings and outgoings.

The Balance Ticker is a simple device that helps support this practice in a period where physical records of transactions are becoming less available. An account holder keeps the device at home and it provides an ongoing and ever-increasing record of what money is going in and out of a specific bank account over a period of time. It is designed to facilitate record keeping and control, providing just enough information for each transaction (time, amount) that its owner still has to go through the effort of documenting where the payment was made and what it was for and chase up those transactions that appear incorrect.

Part of the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project.

Livewell Interactive Installation

This interactive installation was launched at the Great North Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne in November 2010 as part of the Livewell: Lifestyle Interventions Project. The institute wanted a multi user interactive install on one of the stands in the conference hall. Using a custom-built FTIR multi-touch table from Touchscape, we designed and produced software that consisted of two activities.

Studies have shown that significant health benefits are gained by abiding by a more Meditarranean-style diet, which would include more fresh fruits and vegetables, cereals and fish, and less red meat, dairy products and saturated fats. The first activity was therefore a food categorisation puzzle where users were encouraged to categorise food items into “Mediterranean” and “non-Mediterranean” groups. The second activity was an activity that allowed users to visualise the accuracy of their judgement of food portion sizes.

Digital Cheque Book

In the research stage of the “New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old” project, we conducted interviews with people aged eighty and upwards to understand the ways they managed their finances and any struggles they had with aspects of the current system.

A concern that continually came up was that the banks would stop allowing people to use cheques. Cheques were identified by many as an easy way to make payments, especially for those who cannot easily travel to withdraw money from the bank or are unable to use the internet to transfer it. Cheques give people a greater sense of security, as they have a designated payee and the stub is left behind as a record of what money has been paid out. Many people also felt that a cheque was more suitable than cash when giving monetary gifts.

Based on these interviews, we began exploring ways to better integrate traditional paper cheques with digital banking systems. We came up with the idea of writing cheques using a digital pen, which would record the details of the cheque and upon completion of it being written would send the information to an online payment service such as PayPal. This would then transfer the requested funds to the correct person. This allows for all the benefits of cheques, while at the same time being a cheaper and easier transaction for the bank.

Part of the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project

Press Release: The Joy of Cheques



Secure PIN Reminder

While meant to increase security, complex PIN and password systems routinely force people to compromise sensitive information. While conducting research for the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project, many interviewees said that, though they were aware of the security risk, they kept written records of PINs and passwords due to difficulty remembering them.

The Biometric Daemon is a personal device to securely remind users of their PINs. It registers the traits of its owner, such as gait (through use of an accelerometer), and fingerprints. As interviewees often spoke of remembering the “patterns” of their PINs and passwords rather than the numbers and words themselves, the device also uses a physical password, which the user inputs using a series of clockwise and anticlockwise turns, recognised by a gyroscope. Through recognising the gait, then the physical password, and finally the fingerprint of its owner, the device offers two hints and then the entirety of up to four passwords and PINs. Because the Biometric Daemon will only work for one person, it provides users with a means of reminding themselves of security information without compromising it.

Part of the New Approaches to Banking for the Older Old project.

Telematic Dinner Party

In collaboration with Pollie Barden at Queen Mary, University of London, we explored how internet technology can help two remote groups in casual settings to interact with each other. We used a dinner party as the setting, as many people use meals as a way to socialise with friends and family. We used Skype as the platform on which to run the dinner party. Two groups of three people sat around tables in separate rooms. A bird’s eye view of each group was projected onto the other group’s table, allowing all six people to see and talk to each other. The food was presented on motorised, wirelessly-connected turntables in the middle of each table (built using Microsoft Research’s Gadgeteer prototyping platform—guests in one room could therefore offer food to (or take it away from) guests in the other, enabling an experience that was reminiscent of the groups being physically together.