Institute for Social Renewal

Digital Innovation

Digital Innovation


Society is increasingly dependent on advances in digital technologies, and Newcastle's researchers are at the forefront of shaping our future for everyone's benefit.

In this theme we explore the social and ethical implications of technological innovation. We are especially interested in understanding how the positive benefits of technology can be harnessed to help people. For example, how devices can assist people to make their way safely through new areas, or how consumers can influence entertainment providers. We also investigate the consequences of technologies. For example, how data is used and stored, and how e-business works for consumers and for entrepreneurs.

We seek to highlight how in changing times, technology may be able to aid people’s involvement in society if it is accessible, affordable and widely available. This interest in the digital potential for social inclusion (or exclusion) links with the social justice theme. We also have a particular interest in how new technologies may enable participatory planning and processes of decision-making. Thus, this theme also connects with debates around citizenship and people, place and community.

A further area of overlap is in relation to health and inequality, especially digital innovation in public health. Finally digital innovation offers possibilities for education and lifelong learning, which we are exploring in tandem with the learning for change theme.

Theme Champion: Professor Peter Wright, Professor of Social Computing, School of Computing Science

Image of children taking part in a Skype conversation with grannies in the UK - part of the Self-Organised Learning Environment project from Professor Sugata Mitra and the Newcastle University SOLE centre.

Social Inclusion

The work of the Social Inclusion through the Digital Economy (SiDE) research hub.

This £12 million Hub is based at Newcastle University and is a key element of the Research Councils UK Digital Economy research programme.

Poor health, disability, family breakdown, poverty and unemployment are just some of the reasons why people may become marginalised from society. SiDE aims to tackle social exclusion by making it easier for people to access the life-changing benefits offered by digital technologies. Research focuses on four activities where digital technologies can deliver major social benefits: Connected Home & Community, Accessibility, Inclusive Transport, and the Creative Industries. 

Find out more about SiDE.

Granny cloud

Improving international access to learning in the Skype Grannies project.

Professor Sugata Mitra is well known for his work on Self Organised Learning Environments. ‘Skype Grannies’ is a project in India where four children work with one computer (linked to the internet) to answer questions set by a ‘Skype granny’. The ‘Skype grannies’ are volunteers and mainly retired people (nearly all women) from the North East of England. This approach could revolutionise the concept of education, especially in ‘remote’ and disadvantaged areas (both geographically and culturally) around the world.

Skype Grannies


iLab:Learn is a laboratory for developing appropriate educational applications of digital technology.

In July 2013 iLab:Learn played host to a research team made up of 12 high school students, school teachers, technology enhanced learning researchers and industry experts. The team spent a week ‘putting their heads together’ to share skills and expertise for the creation, use and evaluation of digital learning materials which promote thinking skills and collaboration.

The project aimed to address how young people come to understand the role and use of new technologies, particularly ones that are designed to be used by them for educational purposes. Central to the project was involving young people as junior researchers in the process, whose opinions, skills and expertise contributed greatly to the development of the materials.

Social marketing

Early delays in child development are often indicators of later problems at home and in school. Their identification can lead to additional support from a range of early years workers. Therefore it is important that children with such delays, whether in speech and language, motor or others aspects of development are identified as early as possible. Evidence suggests that many of these delays are more common in more disadvantaged groups. However it is equally true that these populations are not necessarily well placed to access existing universal services.

Professor James Law, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, and colleagues, are interested in adopting a more targeted approach and are examining the potential to employ a range of techniques known as “social marketing”: the systematic application of marketing concepts to achieve tangible and measurable behaviour goals for a social good by identifying sections of the population according to need and tailoring messages accordingly.