Digital Public What?… An Interactive Design Documentary Prototype

Since the phrase ‘Digital Public Space’ was coined (Ageh, 2012), the notion of a ‘digital public space’ has been explored and problematized through a variety of research projects through the Creative Exchange (CX) Knowledge Exchange (KE) framework. While the original definition of the term continues to influence discourses across CX, its explicit link to BBC digital archives has been supplemented with a variety of insights from on-the-ground researchers. A series of mini-workshops, led by Bowers and Stewart, at the CX PhD symposium in Newcastle in July 2014 revealed diverse impressions of ‘digital public space’ across CX and the need for an improved working definition.

The question of how to synthesise insights from across CX is one of its central reflexive questions and, indeed, first-hand accounts of ‘digital public space’ from the variety of creative practitioners and academic researchers in CX have yet to be documented.
Video documentaries offer a rich platform for epistemological and semantic exploration within research by using narrative forms to structure complex multimedia data. In this paper, we present Digital Question Space, a video documentary inspired by Question Bridge (Johnson & Thomas, 2012) which used a chain of responses and questions to “facilitate a dialogue between a critical mass of black men from diverse and contending backgrounds”. Starting with a subjective definition of ‘digital public space’, we invited 18 Creative Exchange researchers (PhD students and senior academics) to respond to the previous definition and “improve upon it”, “expound upon (an aspect of) it”, or “ignore and redefine it”.

The result is a 15-minute documentary that presents a series of subjective facets of the ‘Digital Public Space’ through the voices of those who have been working in it and with it in the Creative Exchange Hub for the last 9-24 months.

We developed this idea into a prototype method for civic engagement that uses interactive video documentary to capture discourses within focused settings (eg workshops or focus groups) and translocate them to public spaces (via interactive vox-pops) and online spaces (via an interactive web- based tool). Our method aims to facilitate encounters and the exchange of perspectives between communities across these spaces. We describe how the method was developed through five stages, beginning with a workshop and culminating in a prototype design tool and offer preliminary insights into its potential benefits. We argue that a key strength of this method lies in its potential to support situated encounters and build connections between researchers, designers, institutions and members of the public, with potential benefits in the areas of user-centered research and design. Finally, we outline directions for future development, including a model for lightweight civic engagement that uses an “interactive design documentary” as a central component.

A full-text write up of this project was accepted as a work-in-progress at TVX2015, which can be found here: