Author Archives: Stephen Brewer



The next 3 billion people connecting to the Internet will be “mobile-only” users and live in least economically developed countries. Access to relevant information about health, education, produce prices, weather, news and entertainment can lead to a better life and a route out of poverty. However many people are unable to harness the power of the internet due to both the availability/cost of data services and the type of handsets that they own being to basic. BluPoint, provides a physical access point to enable people in off-grid low resources communities to both access free digital materials on their basic and smart mobile phones and create/share their own digital content within their communities.BluPoint can be set up as a single unit or a network providing a pop-up, solar powered intranet, providing  digital content and services to locations without electricity or affordable internet.


Uplands Rescue Resilience

Uplands Rescue Resilience:

It is very expensive and time consuming for the Police and mountain rescue volunteers when a search is prolonged due to a lack of precise information about where citizens in danger may be located. One of the major problems for rescue teams is to know the correct location of the potential casualty in distress as the area of search can be very large and the weather conditions may be bad. Upland areas contain many “dead” zones that are blind to radio and cellular radio communications.


Pat Langdon

Pat Langdon’s experimental doctoral and post-doctoral research has contributed to cognitive science, artificial intelligence, robotics and psychophysical studies of the human visual system. His experimental PhD researched the psychological reality of certain Artificial Intelligence-based theories of vision and he was employed by an Artificial Intelligence Vision Research Unit at the University of Sheffield working on the area of robotics. Subsequently, he moved into Engineering Design Research at the University of Lancaster EDC, working on the application of AI and user centred design principles to complex engineering design systems. Since 1998 Pat Langdon has been employed at the Cambridge EDC, where he has pursued a number of research directions.

These include: (1) the properties and design of Haptic interfaces for use in accessible computer displays for the movement disabled; (2) the representation and formulation of statistical data on disability, for use in Inclusive Design; (3) Integration of software development and empirical methodology for Good Design Research Practice; (4) structure and survey of data for capability assessment; (5) comparative studies of clustering methods for design knowledge exploration; (6) cognitive scales for capability assessment; (7) methods for ethnographic and observational studies of aerospace (7) developing scales for product-capability interaction assessment in design.


Trusted Tiny Things

The aims of this pilot project are thus:


Lightweight model

To create a lightweight model to represent information about devices in the IoT such as: capabilities, security properties, ownership and provenance of devices and services. This will involve building upon existing work being conducted within the dot.rural Digital Economy Hub on vocabularies to describe sensors and Internet enabled devices using the W3C Semantic sensor network ontology and existing work on provenance.


Software framework

To build a “Trusted Things” software framework based on Semantic Web technologies and services to store and query information about devices in the IoT and their associated provenance. (This will involve attaching NFC tags to ‘things’; To develop an initial set of guidelines that could support IoT developers to describe information about devices according to our model. This will include specific guidelines on how provenance of the information generated by such devices can be tracked and how devices can be instrumented to provide real_time information to the “Trusted Things” software platform.



To evaluate this approach using a demonstrator application based on two transport related scenarios: the use of passive NFC tags in bus shelters in Aberdeenshire; the use of in-car black boxes to track the behaviour of drivers for insurance purposes. The latter will be possible by building a black box based on an Arduino programmable board and sensors. This will collect driving data such as speed, acceleration braking forces, route data and timing of journeys using a combination of GPS and accelerometer data and will transmit this to a our framework using an on_board 3G connection.


Project leader

Edoardo Pignotti leader of Trusted Tiny Things is a Research Fellow working on trust and provenance issues in Linked Data at the dot.rural Digital Economy Hub at the University of Aberdeen. He has more than seven years experience in Semantic Web technologies, provenance and policy based reasoning gained during his involvement with a number of UK eScience projects.

Libraries of the future

Libraries of the future has been one of the longest running themes that has been explored by the ITaaU Network+. The first related workshop took place at the Bodleian Libraries Delegates Room in Oxford. There have been a number of workshops following on from this around the UK. A self-selected working group has coalesced around this theme with many interesting ideas and concepts emerging.

Project Abacá: What is sensitivity and how do people make judgements about it?

We all feel we have an intuition about when a something is sensitive. Whether it is the hushed conversation with the neighbour over the fence regarding what Mrs Smith from number 45 was doing wearing “that dress” in the street last night or the piece of paper with someone’s bank details that might have slipped from a pocket in the street. Our social instincts tell us what we should do. These instincts, when applied to government records, are encoded as exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act. The act requires that the civil servants and archivists charged with managing public records withhold sensitive records from public view until the sensitivity concerned has decayed with the passage of time.

Of course the sensitivities that government deals with concern many more matters than the personal data examples that we are familiar with from normal life. These sensitivities include:

  • matters of defence and national security
    (e.g. Nuclear missile deployment)
  • Commercial Confidentiality
    (e.g. Notes of contract negotiations)
  • Damage to International Relations
    (e.g. Insulting remarks about a leader of another country (or even a former leader))
  • Personal Privacy and Health & Safety
    (e.g. Religious beliefs or names of informants)

Because the exemptions interfere with the principle of open government that underpins FOIA, many have a “public interest balance test”. In essence, despite the presence of a sensitivity, does the public interest of release outweigh the negative consequences of release? Hence, decisions about what is and is not sensitive and whether it should be exempt are rarely simple.

As a part of the case study funded by the ITaaU, which we discussed in our previous article, Project Abacá has been looking at the research literature that reports studies of decision making; in particular decision making about documents. One thing is clear, this is a complex area of study where the results of experiments in one specific domain are hard to generalise to another. However, in our examination of the literature we have seen a common theme relating to narrative and the order in which documents are presented (e.g. studies of “threshold priming” in the Information Retrieval literature and work reported in wider studies). We have further work to do, but we have some tentative evidence from our initial discussions with government sensitivity reviewers that backs up the view of narrative order being significant. Our longer term aim is to use our interviews with reviewers and our literature study to develop some hypotheses as to the mental processes that sensitivity reviewers use when reviewing documents. We aim to design experiments using future enhancements to our proof-of-concept tool, together with measurements of the use of tool, to test these hypotheses. We will use these results to inspire further rounds of development of tools to assist the reviewer.

We have already produced a limited test of some ideas about assisting reviewers through the proof-of-concept tool we have built to prioritise documents for review based on an estimated likelihood of sensitivity. The estimated likelihood of sensitivity was produced from experiments on text classification using the Terrier Information Retrieval system to examine the statistical occurrence of sensitivity in a collection of documents compared to certain properties or features extracted from the documents. We published the initial results of our experiments at the recent European Conference on Information Retrieval in Amsterdam (ECIR2014). We aim to test our proof-of-concept tools and different ways of presenting the results of the classification through our engagement with real sensitivity reviewers in government departments as a part of the ITaaU-funded case study.

One thing is certain, sensitivity in government records is a tricky concept to nail down and define, but our step by step research is beginning to define the possible shape of tools to help reviewers.

Tim Gollins

Honorary Research Fellow

University Of Glasgow – School of Computing Science

ITaaU Theme on Trust and Security supports Project Abacá: Technically Assisted Sensitivity Review of Digital Records

Trust is something that should be earned through evidence of trustworthiness, security is not only about stopping terrorists who wish to main and kill; these two thoughts provide a context for Project Abacá “Technically Assisted Sensitivity Review of Digital Records” which the ITaaU is supporting. When discussing security we should not limit ourselves to considerations of criminality and terrorism; our societies security relies, at its deepest level, on the trust that the citizen places in the institutions of the state. Through the records of the state that it preserves, The National Archives is fundamental to this aspect of security.

Moral philosopher Onora O’Neill in her inspiring TED talk and her earlier 2002 Reith lecture made compelling cases for trustworthiness (rather than just more trust). One good source of evidence for trustworthiness (or otherwise) is the evidence of normal organisational transactions held as records in an archive, such as the records of government held at The National Archives.

Such archives provide the impartial witness that enables the executive to be held to account under the rule of law and in the court of history. They contain the evidence of actions of the executive, and the evidence of the decisions and policies enacted. This is central to Lord Bingham’s 4th PrincipleMinisters and pubic officers at all levels must exercise the powers conferred on them in good faith, fairly, for the purpose for which the powers were conferred, without exceeding the limits of such powers and not unreasonably”. How can we know what the executive have done if the records are not kept and made open for citizens to inspect?

Archive records


Paper records held at The National Archives (Image used under Creative Commons from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Mr Impossible)

In the past, government records were created and preserved on paper as memoranda, minutes, letters, ledgers etc. and released to public view after 30 years – as the enormous collection of public records held and viewable at The National Archives demonstrates. As you would expect, in recent years the records of government have become digital. The UK government adopted new technology through the 80s 90s and 00s, and these digital records produced by this technology are soon to begin transferring to The National archives as the old “30 year rule” progressively transitions to become the “20 year rule”.

However, there is a challenge: before any records (paper or digital) can be transferred to The National Archives, they must be reviewed to ensure that they do not fall under an exemption in the Freedom of Information (see: Summer 2013 Newsletter). Digital records are much more numerous and also, as a result of the changes to the administrative practices of government departments that arose with their introduction, much less well organised. These, and other factors, mean that there is the prospect that difficulties in sensitivity review may result in large swathes of digital records being withheld from public view for long periods of time.

The ITaaU is supporting Project Abacá to investigate and mitigate these challenges by funding a case study to begin to evaluate the project’s proof-of-concept tools and methods to deliver “ Technically Assisted Sensitivity Review of Digital Records”.

More details can be found on the Project Website, and we will be posting other blog posts soon giving more details of our work.

Tim Gollins

Honorary Research Fellow

School of Computing Science – The University of Glasgow


UX Boot Camp at ustwo in the heart of Tech City

Last Wednesday, 16 July, another batch of developers and designers experienced the intensive 1-day boot camp run by ustwo. As a regular collaborator with the ITaaU Network+ ustwo share many ideals about new technology and new approaches to developing and providing services and applications. Ustwo were recently rated as the top digital company in Design magazine and have also just received the Apple Design award for this year.

Dem Gerolemou, one of the participants at the UX boot camp has written a great blog post which captures the day perfectly:

Ustwo UX Boot Camp report by Tom Lodge

Tom Lodge, one of our Pilot Project funding recipients, attended the last ustwo UX Boot Camp that we sponsored on behalf of the Network+

Here’s what he had to say about the event:

We’re starting to flesh out the design of prototype deployments that we’re aiming to put in front of users in high-rise residential communities.  When the IT as a Utility Network advertised a UX Bootcamp at ustwo, in London’s Silicon Roundabout, I was delighted – is seemed like the perfect opportunity to learn how the professionals approach to the design process.   Actually I have to admit, I had no idea who, the ‘professionals’ were until I turned up at ustwo’s studios.  What a place!  This is hallowed ground – a carefully designed space, with all the accoutrements expected of a start-up (table football, juice bar and a variety of comfy places to lounge), but humming with activity.  Most spaces – pillars, walls, cabinets – were covered in examples of ustwo’s successes, or sketches and mock-ups / ideas related to (god knows how many) current projects.

The workshop kicked off in a large room on the second floor.  It was immediately obvious that the ustwo staff cared a great deal about their craft, and a great deal about getting it across to us.  On the wall was a minutely crafted schedule for the day which was kept to with unwavering precision.   The schedule was intended to take us right the way through the design process – and crucially – was a faithful reflection of ustwo’s own way of working.  Everything is geared to failing fast; get the ideas out there as soon as possible, scrutinise, iterate, iterate, iterate (elaborate and reduce in design parlance).  Our task:  to design an app to help users during a tube strike.   We were split into three teams then quickly began the process of creating personas, empathy maps, storyboards and even wireframe prototypes to test our ideas against. We were watched, nudged and gently rebuked by ustwo staff throughout the process.  At the end of the day each team had filled a wall with ideas and designs.  We each presented our final concept (and evolution of our ideas) to the rest of the participants.    Perhaps the most striking part of the day was the final tour of the third floor of the studio, where we saw evidence of the very same processes we’d been though plastering walls and offices.  Quite definitely the most useful and rewarding workshop I’ve been to so far…

Originally posted here:

The next ustwo UX Boot Camp will be run on the 16th July:

People Count by Erinma Ochu

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing phone call interviews to find ‘people stories’ behind what motivates researchers to get involved in designing these technologies. When I looked at most of the researchers websites, it talks about the technology, but not about the people behind it. It has been insightful and inspiring to hear why researchers came up with their ideas.

Each project seems to address a social need by providing simple, technology and skills to provide an innovative solution to the problem. The researchers clearly engage with potential users to design and test the solutions. Techniques include creating networks, spaces (e.g. virtual platforms and maps) to help people to communicate, relate and share information.

So for example, Aberdeen researcher, Edoardo Pignotti’s GetThereBus app (, crowd sources information from bus users to provide real-time bus schedules in rural areas where travel information is often sparse or out of date.

Common themes seem to be emerging in making low cost, simple solutions to enable skills development, communication and access to information, often in remote areas.

The other projects I’ve been in touch with, include Mike Santer and Blupoint (, Mike Wright and Anna Kronenburg who worked on Cloudmaker ( and I visited Pat Langdon who is working on the Upland Rescue and Resilience project.

It will be interesting to discover what else people have learned as a result of being involved in their projects – but that might be beyond the scope of a ten minute film.

Filming is scheduled for the two weeks in June and includes, weather permitting, a visit to the Lake District to see the Upland Rescue team in action with the Coniston Mountain rescue team and volunteers, doing a field test.

Sense and sensibility by Erinma Ochu

Caroline filming

Caroline filming

After an initial meeting with Steve and Jeremy in Southampton I got started quickly. The goal is to screen the film at the annual conference in June.

In order to scope out the film’s vision and get a sense of how things work, I wanted to understand how the network works in practice. I visited the ITaaU team in Southampton and sat in on a May workshop about Healthcare apps with my cameraperson, Caroline Ward, who also filmed the Everyday Growing Futures film.  We filmed some of the workshop, interviewed Jeremy Frey, the lead investigator and got some voxpops from network members.

Whilst we might not use all of this footage in the film (the film is only going to be ten minutes long!), it’s helped us to scope out the film, think things through in pictures and understand in simple terms what we mean by IT as a Utility. Jeremy and network members helpfully come up with some simple metaphors, to explain the term.

We also thought more about the kind of locations we needed for filming the projects.

Sky through plane window

Sky through plane window

Now, with a sense of how the network works and getting our heads around the jargon and buzz words, our ideas that were a bit up in the sky, can come back to earth as we hit the ground and start interviewing people about their projects.

As yet – no title for the film…. Ideas welcome! The current favourite and working title is: “The social life of data”.