Story as utility by Erinma Ochu

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I’m Erinma (http://about.me/erinmaochu), a filmmaker and science communicator based at The University of Manchester. I like to tell stories about technology research – the people behind it and how it might make a difference to society – the upsides and the downsides. I am also interested in how, by telling stories, it can help researchers communicate their work more simply, reflect on their work and its impact on society and maybe even help generate new uses of the technology, create connections between ideas, people and places and perhaps help unlock new questions.

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I met Steve Brewer, the ITaaU network coordinator quite a while back at the annual conference of sister network, Communities and Culture Network+ (http://www.communitiesandculture.org/). I screened a film at the conference from a project I’d worked on called Everyday Growing Cultures (http://everydaygrowingcultures.org/). It was all about what happens when two communities come together, wannabe urban vegetable growers and open data technologists, and how they work together to find a way to digitally map places nearby to grow food. It explored ideas of community resilience, sustainability and making open data useful to people. Steve liked the film and told me a bit about the ITaaU network.

I then met Steve again after attending an ITaaU network meeting exploring human data interaction (http://www.communitiesandculture.org/ai1ec_event/itaau-workshop-human-data-interaction/) and what happens when big data gets personal. This was a great meeting, where I met a lot of people, got a feel for the network, and I met one of my citizen social science heroes, Professor Muki Haklay, who runs the Extreme Citizen Science group (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/excites) at University College London. Muki and his team develop technology with people to help solve social and environmental challenges. This is something I am particularly passionate about that technology is developed with people and that it’s useful to society, can help people in their everyday lives. I guess it’s a theme running through the stories I tell. I even got invited by Muki to speak at The Citizen CyberScience Summit (http://cybersciencesummit.org/) after meeting him informally at the ITaaU event. If it had been too formal, well who knows!?

After that I applied to one of ITaaU’s funding calls to explore my practice of using film to tell personal stories about novel technology and its relevance to society. It would draw on the human data interaction theme, by getting personal and telling more of the human side. I wanted to explore the idea of using story as a utility to connect people, ideas and place and to share knowledge creating through the storytelling process by talking about the film, blogging about it and screening it.

I always make these films available under a creative commons licence (http://www.creativecommons.org.uk/) so others can share the film and the ideas more widely than I might do alone.

After discussing it with Steve, it made sense to make a film about the ITaaU process and projects and to try and articulate what we mean by IT as a Utility through the different projects that have been funded in locations around the UK – from Southampton to Cambridge, Aberdeen and the Lake District – and even Rural Africa.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be blogging about making the film. Time is tight but stories matter.

About the author.

Erinma is a Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow based in Life Sciences at The University of Manchester.