Patchworks is an eight-month research project to explore the health and communication needs of homeless people in Lancaster and Morecambe. Specifically, the project will explore how homeless people might co-design a prototype tool using cheap, open source technology that can help to monitor and communicate health and wellbeing.
Patchworks is part of Catalyst, a three-year research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Research Council (EPSRC) exploring how different communities use technology to make the world a better place. Patchworks is the first in a series of Catalyst sub-projects that engages community groups and academics from a range of research disciplines including social science, computing, design, biomedicine, environmental and management science to envision and build next-generation tools more suited to the job.
Unlike other projects of this kind, Patchworks depends on the imaginations, experiences, design and manufacturing skills of homeless communities themselves. To achieve this, a multidisciplinary team from Lancaster University is working in partnership with a local branch of Signposts, a national charity supporting homeless groups, and with MadLab, a local community of DIYBio innovators, geeks, artists and designers. The DIYBio community uses cheap, open source technologies, works outside official centres of academia and tap into the needs of citizens who want to play with and learn from technology in novel and sophisticated ways. Members of both the homeless and DIYBio communities operate on the margins of mainstream society, albeit in quite different ways. By encouraging a collaboration between people operating at the ‘margins’ as a starting point for Patchworks the project will tap into first-hand knowledge, experience, creativity and diverse skillsets as a resource to co-design new technologies to find innovative solutions for the social challenges that homeless people face. The specific challenge for Patchworks is to find out how low-cost DIYBio and personal manufacturing skills can work for homeless people to tune into and communicate their health needs and concerns. Working closely with both communities, the Patchworks team will up-skill and run co-design workshops to create a prototype for a bio-sensing and communication tool. It is envisaged that this tool and the co-design process itself will make a difference to the lives of homeless communities of Lancaster and Morecambe and beyond.
The Patchworks Team
Patchworks brings research staff from Lancaster University and representatives from two local community groups together. These two groups are: ‘Signposts’, a national organisation that works at a local level to empower the community by developing and delivering a range of targeted services that are accessible and affordable to everyone; ‘MADLAB’ a Manchester-based community of DIY scientists/ artists and designers working outside the traditional areas of business and research.
The Patchworks team will be holding a number of workshops and focus groups with Signpost volunteers and MadLab DIYBIO technologist to develop ideas and produce prototype electronic devices.