School of Computing

Staff Profiles

Dr Robert Comber



I am a Lecturer in Computer Mediated Communication based at Open Lab. My research explores the use of technology in everyday practices and the dominant themes across my work are food, activism, urban space, and sustainability. I take a human-centred approach to societal challenges and I am interested in the design of mobile, web and situated technologies that help people face those challenges.

I joined Open Lab (then Culture Lab) in 2011 on the EU FP7 funded Balance@Home project as a Marie Curie Experienced Researcher, where I explored issues of Human-food Interaction with a specific focus on situated food practices for health in the household. This work explored how families shopped, cooked and disposed of food. During the project, we designed, deployed and evaluated a number of physical and mobile digital systems to support the visibility of food (BinCam and FridgeCam), the social interaction around food (Telematic Dinner Party), and monitoring of food intake (mappmal). I am a founding member of the SIGCHI FoodCHI community and Managing Guest Editor of a 'Food and Interaction Design' special issue of the International Journal of Human Computer Studies (IJHCS).

Following this work, I was employed on the SiDE project (Social Inclusion in the Digital Economy) the design and develop a participatory platform for civic engagement. This work explored the development of social media and web technologies to support people in the citizen science, community education, and in the commissioning of mobile applications.

This work now feeds into my research in Digital Civics, an emerging field in HCI which explores community engagement with civic authority in the delivery of public services. I co-lead the Local Democracy strand of the EPSRC Centre for Digital Civics, with a focus on planning, urban computing, and spatial justice. In this capacity I research topics related to marginalised communities, social and environmental sustainability, big data and visualisation, citizen participation and science, and democratic practices. Tying together these diverse topics is a commitment to empirical studies of real-world contexts of technology use.

I have the pleasure to supervise a group of exception PhD students, and am happy to hear from people interested in topics under the umbrella of Digital Civics, food, activism, urban space, and sustainability.


My research explores the application and design of digital technology to people's lives in relation to food, sustainability, political activism, and urban space. This is a wide remit and my interest typically revolves around what people are doing, particularly in terms of social communication. My background is in Applied Psychology, and my PhD examined online communities and social networks.


I currently delivery teaching as part of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Digital Civics. Specifically I lead MRes modules on Research Methods for Digital Civics (CSC8602) and Introduction to Digital Civics (CSC8601). I both cases I try to take a practice focused approach and encourage student-led enquiry.

I am happy to supervise student projects that explore topics across Mobile, Web and Situated technologies to support practices around food, democracy and politics, sustainability, and urban space. Previous projects have included: developing visualisations of sensor data in the Ambient Kitchen, designing systems to support sustainable energy use in the office, and designing crowdsourcing to support self-rehabilitation.