It has been an honour and a wonderful opportunity to begin as a Digital Placemaking fellow, but it has meant answering a lot of questions. Particularly from my grandmother, who keeps asking me of which Royal Society I am now a Fellow? You have to love her optimism and belief in me (and her belief in the openness of the establishment, less realistically). But most of the questions have been asking what you may be asking, (don't worry, I asked too), 'What is Digital Placemaking?'. I have been exploring and explaining it thus: cities have an infrastructure like the transport system, the electricity, mapping, amenities and all the effort (visible and invisible) that go into making a city flow and function. There's another invisible layer in cities too, that wasn't there 50 years ago and that's the digital infrastructure. From wifi spots to fibre broadband, the digital overlay of a city is nowadays as essential as a road system. Like the built spaces which are planned, the digital spaces which overlay and intersect with them need planning too. That's some of what we are thinking about here.
I'm Grace Quantock and my research interest is inclusion in digital placemaking, particularly around appetite for inclusive digital transformation in policy makers and public services. I am interested in where health, housing and social care intersect, where digital placemaking informs this and how I can bring my professional and lived experience to these conversations.
My interest is where policy meets people, how we build inclusion into digital transformation, horizon scanning and future planning. Otherwise, we will simply replicate inequity in the digital realm. This happens already, of course. I am asking, how can we approach this differently?
My background is in psychotherapeutic counselling and working with people with multiple marginalised and oppressed identities. I am often working with people who are not able to access public spaces safely or independently. Technology enabled access, whether through apps, podcasts, video tours, social networking or augmented reality apps, can allow essential access. This is not enough, however. We need to build spaces that are accessible to all.
How does this apply when we are building digital spaces?
This is exactly what I am interested in finding out. We can see lots of examples of how this can go badly, generally when it's designed for a community, without the involvement of that community. But how can it look when it works well? As the digital space becomes more important, who is unable to access the dominant space and why? In building a digital future, how can inclusive culture be an integral part?
What does the future hold? I am excited to be part of this conversation and, towards that, I am beginning by listening. I am listening to what's happening currently, what's wanted and what's needed. But more than that, I am listening to what voices are missing from the conversation, what's not being said and where we need to look to in the future.