Author Archives: Stephen Brewer

Story as utility by Erinma Ochu

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I’m Erinma (, 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+ ( I screened a film at the conference from a project I’d worked on called Everyday Growing Cultures ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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.


3D printers in UK schools

What could we gain by putting a 3D printer in every school in the UK? This was the fascinating question posed by entrepreneur Luke Johnson in the Financial Times yesterday. Johnson’s premise is that such an act, redolent of the move to put computers in schools all those years ago, would help spawn a generation of teenage makers who could become fully fledged inventors and fabricators.

So could this be achieved and would it work?

The simple answer is that we won’t know unless we try. Johnson’s response is to lead a challenge to try and achieve this. He has issued an invitation to anyone who can contribute to a task force to organise the logistics.

We in the IT as a Utility Network+ have already been supporting activity in this area. We have held one workshop on 3D printing, or additive manufacturing as we now now that it should be called, and we are planning a follow up event very soon. We have also begun investigating relevant topics within this vision. One of the as yet under explored side issues is the use, reuse and disposal of the materials involved in 3D printing. Prof Jeremy Frey at Southampton is looking into these issues from a chemist’s perspective as well as from the engineering and economic perspective.

Mark Wright and colleagues at John Moores University in Liverpool have recently begun a project called Cloudmaker, partly funded by ITaaU, that is working with school children to use the game Minecraft to design 3D constructions within this gaming world and then print them out into the real world.

As a network we would certainly be interested in supporting other projects to investigate the further use of 3D printing as an IT utility for use by school children. What we have found though in these kind of ventures, is that it is not simply about the technology. For these initiatives to succeed, experts from diverse disciplines need to collaborate to share ideas and experience, and often develop a common language. The interdisciplinary workshops and pilot projects that we have been running have helped us develop such a model.

So, what happens next?

We wish Luke Johnson well with his mission and we will invite him to our next 3D printing workshop to pitch this vision to interested parties who might want to assist or challenge the bold concept of a 3D printer in every UK school.

Watch this space.

Cloudmaker launch story from Wired:


Libraries of the Future: the story so far

Why Libraries of the Future?

The forthcoming workshop at the Sir Duncan Rice Library at the University if Aberdeen is the next in a sequence of events exploring the theme Libraries of the Future. So why have we developed this theme and what are Libraries of the Future?

To answer these questions it is perhaps worth stepping back to consider the overarching theme of IT as a Utility and the objectives of the ITaaU Network+. The goal of the ITaaU Network+ was to bring together researchers and others interested in the issues and opportunities surrounding IT utilities in the context of the Digital Economy. With this challenge we purposefully set out to focus on users by exploring some specific use case scenarios such as Libraries of the Future, Emerging Economies, Security in the Food Chain, Smart Spaces and Media Production Platforms. Through these we have, and will, learn more about the technologies and issues inherent in achieving solutions. We have learnt that key issues that require deeper understanding are: design, accessibility, security and trust. We have held separate workshops and these cross-cutting topics. Finally, but not surprisingly the key technologies that are needed to deliver solutions in these areas include cloud and other distributed platforms, mobile apps, 3D printing, sensor networks plus Human data Interaction.

Reports and outputs

The Libraries of the Future theme clearly fitted well within this framework with its opportunities for examining knowledge production, knowledge storage and knowledge retrieval, and the associated technologies needed to manage and maintain such a space. This we knew. However, the seam proved to be richer than we anticipated and so we have be pleased to run more workshops exploring various aspects of what may become the Library of the Future. Information about previous workshops can be found in the Events section of this website and further material is being collected under the Outputs section. In a number of instances the reports from the workshops identify recommendations for future actions that should be taken forward.  For example, we currently have a call out to fund Embedded Librarians.

We are therefore looking for librarians or other information specialists to become, at least for a while, a fully-fledged member of a multidisciplinary research team, contributing to the research process, advising on how to capture, store and interpret information whilst still maintaining contact with their central library. The embedded librarian will also guide the researchers towards any supplementary training that might be needed as well as looking at the bits and bytes emerging from laboratory equipment. Further details can be found in the Calls section of this website.

Why Aberdeen?

We have chosen Aberdeen as the location for the next Libraries of the Future workshop for three reasons: the location, Aberdeen with its coincidental alignment with the dot Rural community; the building, an exemplary new library and finally, the community engagement expertise which we are keen to draw upon as we host our first workshop in Scotland.

So who should attend this event? We anticipate a number of individuals who have attended previous ITaaU workshops and not just the Library themed ones. We welcome librarians of all degrees if specialism, not just community outreach. Whilst we welcome those concerned with the technological aspects of librarianship, we should stress that, despite the name, we are not focussed on the technology. Rather the opposite. We want to explore the needs and opportunities inherent in Libraries of the Future so that we can inform providers and developers on what are the needs and dependencies of the knowledge production institutions of the future.


Further details about the event including registration can be found here:

Eventbrite - IT as a Utility - Libraries of the Future: Community Engagement

Libraries of the Future: Community Engagement

Workshop – Libraries of the Future: Community Engagement

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 at 12:00 – Wednesday, 26 March 2014 at 13:00 (GMT), Aberdeen, United Kingdom

This event continues the series of workshops on the theme of Libraries of the Future with a focus this time on community engagement. We are very pleased to welcome you to the Sir Duncan Rice Library at the University of Aberdeen. This new library describes itself as a 21st century space for learning and research having been opened less than two years ago. We welcome all those with an interest in the theme of Libraries of the Future and especially those concerned with outreach and community activities and related knwoledge management.

The agenda for the two day event will be as follows:

  • 11:30 – 12:00 – registration
  • 12:00 – 13:00 – welcome and introduction to the IT as a Utility Network+ (light buffet lunch available)
  • 13:00 – 13:45 – talk: knowledge management for libraries + questions
  • 13:45 – 14:15 – Community engagement – key issues?
  • 14:15 – 15:00 – break out groups – discussion of community engagement key issues
  • 15:00 – 15:20 – coffee break
  • 15:20 – 15:50 -Report back from break out groups
  • 15:50 – 16:50 – Discussion on emerging ideas
  • 16:50 – 17:30 – Identification of possible follow on actions

Evening meal – to be arranged

  • 09:00 – 09:15 – welcome coffee and pastries
  • 09:15 – 09:30 – Recap from day one
  • 09:30 – 10:00 – talk: community engagement (from the Sir Duncan Rice Library library team)
  • 10:00 – 11:00 – library tour
  • 11:00 – 11:15 – coffee break
  • 11:15 – 12:30 – community engagement – discussion
  • 12:30 – 13:30 – working lunch – agreement on follow in actions and recommendations on community engagement.

Places are limited – please register if interested.
For further information on the workshop, please contact
Eventbrite - IT as a Utility - Libraries of the Future: Community Engagement

IT as a Utility – data analysis workshop

Friday, 7 March 2014 from 10:00 to 16:00 (GMT), Southampton, United Kingdom, University of Southampton Sports Ground

This workshop will focus on the anlytic aspects of data in the context of IT utilities in the digital economy. As such we welcome mathematicians and stataticians in addition to others who have an ongoing interest in our programme of workshops.

Professor Jeremy Frey adds, “the aim of the meeting is to take a look at some big data examples where in particular the linking between items of data/information is useful and important (i.e. the network graphs etc) as well as the detailed content of the data. We are interested in the confluence of statistical, mathematical and computer science techniques that are emerging to handle complex, heterogeneous and large data sets (so for example a large amount of small complex data as well as a great deal of simpler data).”

The structure of the workshop will be as follows:

  • 09:30 – 10:00 – registration (coffee and pastries available)
  • 10:00 – 10:20 – welcome and intro to ITaaU
  • 10:20 – 10:50 – Data anlaytics, IT utilities and th edigitsl economy – talk
  • 10:50 – 11:15 – Key issues for data analytics?
  • 11:15 – 11:30 – Coffee break
  • 11:30 – 12:30 – Break out groups – key issues discussed
  • 12:30 – 13:30 – Light buffett lunch
  • 13:30 – 14:00 – Report back from break out groups
  • 14:00 – 15:00 – Plenary discussion on ideas from break out groups
  • 15:00 – 15:15 – coffee
  • 15:15 – 16:00 – Agreement on follow-on actions

Places are limited – please register if interested.

For further information on the workshop, please contact

Eventbrite - IT as a Utility - data analysis workshop

Embedded librarian secondment scheme

ITaaU is looking to fund information specialists to spend two months acting as an embedded librarian within an academic research team.

The IT as a Utility Network+ has run a series of workshops on the theme of Libraries of the Future. In the context of the Digital Economy the role of the information specialist becomes increasingly relevant across many areas. Furthermore, the evolution of ICT technologies into services and utilities offers many benefits for libraries and other information repositories. As the role of libraries and librarians evolves, many opportunities and possibilities are emerging. Interestingly, a number of these resonate with the origins of libraries as locations for knowledge production. With the advent of IT as a pervasive enabler, many possibilities exist for librarians to support knowledge production from within the research team, particularly with the multidisciplinary research team.

Further details and link to application form: Embedded librarian scheme

BIS Capital Consultation- advance notice

BIS Capital Consultation – advance notice

As a Member of the EPSRC ICT Strategic Advisory Team I’d like to alert members of our ICT research community to the fact that a BIS Capital Consultation is going to be launched this month, probably with a March deadline. This is to identify UK priorities in building a world-leading science and research infrastructure for the 2020s, across the whole landscape and is for £1.1 billion in 2015/2016 and to grow with inflation to 2020/21.

Following advice from Dr Liam Blackwell at EPSRC, the earlier consultation on this has provided some direction on the balance between capital for projects, institutions, and national facilities (including international collaborations). This is now moving into a phase of securing input on choices for a more detailed plan for capital investment.

Once we get more detail on the timescales, EPSRC will be drawing this to the attention of departments in the ICT landscape, but in the meantime it would be helpful if you would use your networks to alert people to this forthcoming consultation. It would be also useful if you could reflect on the weighting this gives to areas which can plan out large scale capital investments, just because of the way the approach is structured.

More later.

Professor Gerard Parr
Chair in Telecommunications Engineering
University of Ulster Coleraine
Northern Ireland, UK