Lancaster University: Lancaster researchers launch engagement toolkit to support future digital projects

Researchers from Lancaster University Management School have launched a community engagement toolkit using social science insight from Mobile Access North Yorkshire (MANY) – a £6.4million Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) 5G Testbed and Trials project.

The MANY project – set up to explore how superfast mobile connectivity could bring benefits to rural communities in the region – has engaged with a wide variety of community members over the past year to understand their current experiences of connectivity within the area, whilst gaining knowledge about their hopes and expectations.

However, the engagement process, which has been a focal point of the project ensuring that the technical solutions proposed are right, has now been developed into a toolkit which will help guide future 5G and digital projects.

Professor Katy Mason, lead researcher at Lancaster University Management School said: “The toolkit has been developed from the lessons learnt from the community and partners involved in the MANY project. It is designed to guide other local authorities or those seeking to directly engage with communities in difficult and sometimes controversial projects; to help them use community engagement insight to shape projects and the value they deliver.”

Positive community engagement has helped provide many of the successful outcomes for the MANY project.

A close relationship has been developed with the tourist attraction – Forbidden Corner – which offers a unique labyrinth of tunnels, chambers and follies in Leyburn, North Yorkshire. The attraction is developing a ‘digital quest’ due to much improved connectivity delivered by MANY, which is due to launch in April. A representative from Forbidden Corner said: “We have worked closely with MANY to develop a solution which will work for our visitors. Through a close working relationship with Flo-culture we have found that the team have listened and taken away our thoughts and needs. This has been integral to the success of the new digital quest which will be launched soon.”

Katherine Pearson, Managing Director of Flo-culture, a mobile app production company, who led the projects work with Forbidden Corner, said: “The insight we have gained from working with the team at Forbidden Corner has driven forward the digital quest and ensured it works for the team and their visitors. This couldn’t have been done without working closely with the team.”

The toolkit also focuses on the need for joined up thinking with project members and other digital projects, which may be taking place in the same area. Dr Sharon Wagg, Research Associate at Lancaster University Management School, added: “Joined up thinking requires each of the different experts on projects – whether that is technicians, engagement specialists, use case leads or other projects – to know what they are trying to achieve in relation to others. By practicing joined-up thinking you will be in a better position to anticipate and manage the scale and complexity of potential impacts of the project on your community.”

Michael Grayson, Programme Manager at North Yorkshire County Council said: “Linking into other digital projects which are taking place means we have been able to ensure projects shape each other. For example, the MANY project has influenced SMART Places – a sensor based technology North Yorkshire County Council project – and the teams have had the opportunity to develop best practice. Joining up the thinking means that the results will provide a better-connected place, which will benefit those who live, work and visit North Yorkshire.”

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